Vigdís’s two principal concerns during her presidency were education and the nurturing of Iceland’s people, country and language, which she saw as one interwoven whole. She often spoke of language and words being precious to the nation and constituting the foundation stone of its culture.
“Words are Icelanders’ castles. In our smallness and poverty, we never lost our strength of character. We never forgot to put into words – the only lasting material that we have – all that we hold good and all that we think. It is precisely for this reason that we have found it so easy to create for ourselves a multifaceted modern culture.” (Inaugural address, 1980)
Vigdís has often remarked that nothing was of more use to her as president than knowing foreign languages and having an insight into the culture of other countries. In this way, she was able to initiate useful communication with other nations, publicise Icelandic culture and advertise Icelandic production. Wherever Vigdís went, she drew attention to Iceland, the Icelandic language, nature and history, and to her country’s links with the outside world. She has frequently stressed the importance of foreign language skills in international business. Knowledge of the language and culture of those one is negotiating with is the key to understanding their own culture and thus forms the basis of successful business transactions and other forms of communication.
In her first inaugural address, Vigdís spoke of the significance of the Icelandic language for the country:
“We are often reminded that it is the Icelandic language over and above anything else that makes us Icelanders. Language guards a treasure trove of memories, it gives us the words with which to express our hopes and our dreams. It is our true unifying symbol and force. But the Icelandic language does not only make us Icelanders, it also makes us people. It makes us citizens of the world who have a duty to make the greatest contribution we can to improve the human spirit.”
During her first summer as president, Vigdís made five official visits to parts of Iceland, including Grímsey. It was the first time that a President of Iceland had made an official visit to the island.
“I believe that everyone who is given the responsibility of living at Bessastadir prefers to be among their own people, their own nation. At home in their own country, at their beautiful home in Álftanes or with good people anywhere else in the country. These people are at all times hospitable and friendly, generous and cultured. Wherever the President of the country goes it is a memorable event and a source of true joy for me, now and in the future.” (Inaugural address, 1984)
Vigdís likened cultivating trees to bringing up children, saying that cultivating the land had close connections to nurturing humans, which has its foundation in how young people are raised. There was little point in cultivating a barren land if we forgot that the future of the nation rests wholly with its youth. She urged Iceland’s young people on to great deeds and reminded older generations to set a good example. In her third inaugural address in 1988, she welcomed the new wave of interest in conservation and land cultivation shown by Icelanders.
“There is a steady increase in the number of people to whom it is clear that the land that is our heritage demands that we cultivate and preserve it, return to it the vegetation that it has lost, and use all our knowledge and ingenuity to do this. This is our means to repay our debt of land to generations both born and unborn. We may judge previous generations harshly for treating our land more severely than good sense allowed but we need also to understand that they had no choice. We do not have the same excuse and our descendants will not forgive us on the same terms. For this reason we must know what we are doing, must know our land and our fishing grounds, must be aware of their qualities and their limits.” (Inaugural address, 1988)