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President of the Republic at a ceremony for awarding state decorations at the Puppet Theatre, Tallinn, 23 February 2017


Distinguished ladies and gentlemen in attendance,
Honourable recipients of the decorations.

Estonia is grateful to you. In Estonian, it's just two beautiful words – Eesti tänab – but they have so much meaning.

When we look at this year's honourees, we see alertness and wakefulness when others were still sleeping. A stubborn perseverance when others had already given up. They sowed seeds where nothing had previously ever sprouted. They felt something calling to them inside, something that wouldn't let them rest until results were achieved.

But more than anything else, we sense joy when the work bore fruit. A joy that justifies all of the effort expended. A joy not limited just to the person doing it but everyone who partakes in the outcome of the work.

As the President of the Republic of Estonia, I congratulate you on receiving this state recognition. It's a tribute that comes from your fellow citizens. They were the ones who noticed your deeds. They drew my attention to your deeds. They wrote inspiring recommendations and supported your recognition.

Of course, the deeds of some of us here need no introduction to any Estonian. It's a great honour to hand out decorations to the athletes and cultural figures of national renown, and to the journalists who write well and from the heart.

But some of the recipients are also active in layers of society that not everyone cares to look at. But their greatness doesn't need to be explained to the people whose lives or health they have saved through their actions, or whose tribulations were eased through their actions, compassion and succour. To the latter people – doctors, police officers, rescue officials, social workers, defence forces members and blood donors, and NGOs that notice and provide assistance – I will say this: honouring you today is a reminder that we don't leave the weaker ones behind.

People who have been hurt in some way need to be noticed. They must be offered a new life. Your work will be that much easier if society dares and wants to be engaged with what you do every day. I promise to be a source of support for you in bringing these problems into the uncomfortable sunlight. In addition to the decorations awarded today, each one of you receives my pledge in this regard.

Some of us here today have professions that everyone knows something about and whose calling is to quietly and consistently do what we don't always think about every day – we only notice it within 24 hours when it's missing. Teachers, education sector workers, collectors of the local cultural layer.

Some of you have had contact in your community with more than one generation; you have shaped the values and worldview of the community as a whole. It's an immense responsibility you have taken and borne with honour. It's likely you don't think about the significance of your work every day in terms of cultural history. That's for the better, because if you did, the weight of the responsibility might crush you flat.

The recipients this year also include business people. Not all that many, because your competitors presumably have better things to do than nominate you as recipients; customers and partners want to work on getting better deals; everyone is in a hurry all the time. There are taxes, regulations and requirements, a workforce shortage, the constant chase for improved efficiency. Yet there are fortunately some among you who, besides looking out for your bottom line, contribute to the community, perhaps pay a better salary than the market demands, or ultimately just do your everyday work well, steadfastly and consistently, just like teachers or doctors. The beauty of a welding seam is harder to appreciate than a verse of song, but it does exist. Not every company produces a tangible product, but still it generates a real benefit for the state, employees and ultimately the owner.

The scientists and scholars we honour today should be especially grateful to their nominators, who are mainly their colleagues. It is very complicated for people outside of academia or the lab to understand how exactly each scholar contributes to his or her field. That is why we take your colleagues at their word and no doubt we are doing the right thing. Of course, we all can sense your contribution to society in general. I would be truly frightened of the prospect of a post-scientific age.

My dear recipients of these honorary decorations,

You are engaged in very disparate walks of life. Some of you are being recognized for actions you have taken as a part of your professional career, while others are receiving decorations for something you do as a sideline. What you all have in common is that you've done more than job descriptions, statutes or everyday expectations dictate. And after all, what is Estonia if not the sum total of what we decide to do or leave undone?

I am glad to fulfil the role today of conveying the Estonian people's gratitude to you!