Remarks at Fulbright 20th Anniversary Event
Secretary of State
Thank you so much. Well, I’m glad to have this opportunity to be here two years after my husband was here. (Laughter.) And I think, as Thao says, the Clintons and Vietnam have a very close relationship that I hope continues for many, many years into the future. And to be here at this great university, I really appreciate so much, Mr. President, President Hoang Van Chau, thank you so much for you and your leadership, and thanks to all of the students and the Fulbright alumni who are here as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Vietnam’s Fulbright Program.
I think it is easy when someone like me comes to visit or my husband or Secretary Leon Panetta, who was just here, to focus on the high officials who come to visit. But really, although that’s what draws the headlines, what is as important, if not more important, are the daily contacts between our people, so many Vietnamese and so many American people who get to know one another, who have a chance to work together or study together or even live together creating those bonds that really do bring us closer together. So I’m delighted to be here representing my country and the many, many millions of Americans who have a very positive feeling about Vietnam and who care deeply about the future of this country, and in particular, the future of young people like yourselves.
One of the ways we show that is by supporting academic study abroad. The United States has a long history of doing that, because we think it helps Americans to visit other countries to learn and form lasting bonds, and we want people from other countries to do the same in the United States. And it’s no exaggeration to say that programs like the Fulbright Program play a crucial role in America’s foreign policy. J. William Fulbright was a very well known, famous American senator in his time, and he believed so strongly that what was most important was breaking down the walls of misunderstanding and mistrust. Not that we will agree on everything, because no two people, let alone two nations, agree on everything, but that we will see each other as fellow human beings on a common journey, a journey that is filled with all of the possibilities that are available to people around the world. And it’s no accident that we have been focused on strengthening our people-to-people engagement here in Vietnam and throughout Asia as a way of building more and more of those relationships.
So over the past two decades, the Fulbright program has helped to deepen the ties between our nations and it has, as we have just heard, literally transformed the lives of over 8,0001 American and Vietnamese students, scholars, educators, and business people. And it has, indeed, already produced some remarkable leaders, and I know it will continue to produce remarkable leaders. Fulbright alumni are already major figures in Vietnamese policies – deputy prime ministers, a foreign minister – Minh, who I just met with, is a Fulbright alum. And others have gone on to make important contributions in science, in business, in the arts, and certainly in academia.
Now, some of the most accomplished alumni from all our scholarship programs are here with us today, and their remarkable stories show what is possible when you help talented young people get the skills and connections they need to succeed. Now, I could literally tell you hundreds of stories, but let me just talk about one example.
Do Minh Thuy, where is Do? Is Do Minh Thuy here? Ah, there you are, Do. Well, Do used her Fulbright scholarship to study journalism at Indiana University. And after graduating, she decided that her fellow journalists in Vietnam deserved the chance to have access to the kinds of skills and experiences she had. So she recruited some friends that she’d met in Indiana to help her create a program for training and mentoring young journalists. And today, her team has run workshops with over 2,300 participants in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. So one person, one scholarship has that kind of ripple effect in just one area of Vietnamese life.
Dam Bich Thuy, is Dam Bich Thuy here? Yes. Another Fulbright Scholar and a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania is now one of the most prominent women in finance in Southeast Asia. As vice chairwoman at ANZ Bank, she leads over 10,000 employees, and she has said that studying abroad helped her, and I quote, “to approach the world and people from other cultures with a more balanced, less biased view while maintaining my originality.” That’s a beautiful way of saying that.
And I think that these two women and so many of you are representative of the professionals and scholars who have studied in the United States and then taken that experience and put it to work back home. And even more young people are on the track to doing the same thing. Today, there are more than 15,000 Vietnamese students in the United States, and I believe this generation of students and scholars is well positioned to make great contributions to Vietnam’s future. And it won’t be just because of their education and their skill, it will be because of the relationship and perspective that they forge and bring home with them. And they then will be really at the foundation of creating new opportunities, new ways of thinking, innovation, entrepreneurship that will help so many other Vietnamese realize their own dreams.
I like to say that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. There are smart, hardworking people all over Vietnam, in fact all over the world, who may not get the opportunity that some of you have had. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon all of us to keep opening those doors of opportunity, because walking through it may be a young man or young woman who becomes a medical researcher and discovers a cure for a terrible disease, becomes an entrepreneur and creates a product that Vietnam exports all over the world and by doing so creates thousands of jobs, becomes a professor who then creates the next and the next and the next generation of those who contribute.
So we want to do more, and the United States is looking to do more to increase the number of education exchanges. I just met with the Foreign Minister, himself a Fulbrighter, to talk about what more we could do to get even more young Vietnamese a chance to study, and we’ll be exploring that and looking for ways to put that into action. But then I invite you to please give us your ideas about what more we can do working with you, working with the government, working with civil society, working with business in Vietnam to create more of these connections. Our ambassador, Ambassador David Shear is here, and if you have ideas, please let our Embassy know.
Because one of the things I most admire about what Vietnam has accomplished in the last 20 years is, among other things, the incredible resilience and dedication to improving lives and society, the role that women are playing in Vietnam – I go to many countries, and that is not yet the case, but it’s happening right here in Vietnam, women and men together building the new Vietnam – the emphasis on education which is the passport to a better future, and constantly opening doors for higher and higher levels of educational attainment. This is the best way that I think Vietnam can prepare itself.
People often ask me: What can an individual, what can a nation do? Well, the world we live in is unpredictable. There is no way that we will know everything that will happen in the future. But the best insurance policy is a good education at a great university like the Foreign Trade University or one of the others here in Vietnam or abroad. So we want, working with you and talking with the leaders of educational institutions as well as your government and others in society, to figure out how we can be a better partner when it comes to opening those doors for Vietnamese young people.
So I wish all of you the very best as you continue your own careers and professions. I hope that you stay in touch with those who you met and worked with and studied with in the United States. I am inspired by what you have accomplished in such a short period of time, and I look forward to continuing this partnership between our countries. It’s one that I think can be, as I have said before, a model and one that can become better and better because we work at it together. It’s not the United States or Vietnam, it is us working together to create that model relationship and to provide the opportunities for both of our people to live up to their own God-given potential. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)