I want to give back by donating to the University of Helsinki

Jukka Nyrölä, LL.Lic., a child of a working-class family, embarked on an international career by educating himself at the University of Helsinki. In his retirement, Nyrölä wishes to pay it forward and support new students by donating to the University of Helsinki.

Already at 15 years of age, Jukka Nyrölä knew he wanted to go to university. However, going to university was not a given.

It was the 1950s. The Nyrölä family, father, mother and four children, had moved from the working-class Kallio district in Helsinki to Laivanvarustajankatu in the southern part of the city. His father worked as a printer, while his mother stayed at home to look after the children. Jukka went to primary school on Tehtaankatu and wanted to continue his studies at the Helsingin lyseo grammar school.

His parents were supportive of his aspirations, but the money needed for education was lacking.

“My parents told me that they were supportive of me, and could provide me with a loving home and food on the table, but could not help in other ways. Not in terms of money or substance,” Jukka Nyrölä says.

“I felt that I had to take charge of the matter myself.”

According to Nyrölä, there was nothing dramatic as such about the matter at the time. Many other people were in a similar situation.

“It was just something you had to do. I had a feeling that I was constantly making progress. That kept me motivated.”

Nyrölä was admitted to grammar school on a scholarship. His studies progressed well, and he also fared well in the matriculation examination in 1964.

After military service, Nyrölä applied and was admitted to the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Law. Two and a half years later, he graduated.

“Law was a good fit for my thinking, and I consider it to be quite a central element of a well-functioning society. I haven’t regretted my choice.”

Studying and an international career broadened perspectives

Education has benefited Nyrölä and his career in all stages.

After graduating from the University of Helsinki, the next significant step was completing a master’s degree at Columbia University in New York in 1974–1975.

“From New York, the world looked a little different. It added a global perspective to my worldview,” Nyrölä says.

“There were students from all continents in the programme. I gained a lot of good friends from all around the world, with whom I continue to keep in contact to this day.”

After graduation, a big law firm operating on Wall Street hired Nyrölä for a year. Subsequently, he returned to Finland to work as a lawyer at Pöyry, also pursuing further studies at the University of Helsinki to obtain a Licentiate of Laws degree. 

Nyrölä’s career at Pöyry ultimately led to the boardroom where he headed the energy unit, then the forest industry unit, and eventually served as executive vice president and became one of the five owners of the company.

Nyrölä, who is now retired, was involved in duties of an international nature. Among other locations, he worked in Singapore and Switzerland for several years.

Already during the time spent in the United States, he had the idea of some day paying something back for all of the good things he had received. 

Paying it forward is the right thing to do

For the past decade or so, Jukka Nyrölä has supported new students in their education by acting as a donor to the University of Helsinki.

“I think it’s right to help the younger generations by keeping the ball rolling. You also get a good feeling doing so,” Nyrölä says.

“I’ve always donated money to charitable causes. After all, you can’t take your money with you to the grave.”

Nyrölä believes he has personally gained much more than an education from university studies.

“They have broadened my perspective with regard to a number of things, and I’ve also made many friends from different countries,” he says.

“Alongside an education, a job and an income, I’ve gained a great deal of other social capital. And I’ve learned a lot about the cultures and literatures of various countries.”