To our distinguished guests, members of the board, graduate and undergraduate faculty and staff, friends, family, and most importantly, our students.
Welcome, everyone, to Fulbright University Vietnam's Convocation 2021! It is an honor for me to speak here with you today and mark the beginning of Fulbright's 2021–2022 academic year.
For our non-Vietnamese guests, celebrating Convocation may not be a familiar concept. Yet, Convocation is one of the most important ceremonies for any Vietnamese students. It is one of our modern day "rites of passage", a time of celebration in what our students have achieved thus far to get here, and a moment of wonder of what the next few years has to hold. It is a moment that marks the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a next. It is the tradition that Fulbright University Vietnam, a Vietnamese university, will always treasure.
On behalf of the entire Fulbright community, I would like to congratulate our Undergraduate and Master in Public Policy students for your extraordinary achievement. I hope that you will find your soon-to-be journey at Fulbright meaningful and worthwhile.
I would also want to take this opportunity to thank the parents, families, spouses, and loved ones who made all the sacrifices for our students to arrive at this moment. Without your support, we cannot gather such a talented and unique group of students here at Fulbright.
Last but not least, I would like to thank our friends and supporters, donors, the Vietnam and US governments whose trust and support have been critical for the development of the University these past years.
Needless to say, our Convocation this year is taking place during what I hope will be a once in a lifetime event: a global pandemic.
We are all too familiar with what the worst of the pandemic can bring. The loss of innumerable lives, strain on our healthcare systems, economic shutdowns — a disruption to our "normal" lives and ways of being. This disruption, somehow, reminds me of the past, my past, and perhaps the past of a few of our faculty and parents here.
I started my elementary education in the North, when the war was still raging. I did not know what a stable learning environment was. I studied everywhere I could, at home, at the evacuation sites, or even in the jungle. And I learned from everyone who was willing to teach me, from my mother, neighbors, or the older children in the village. I only knew what a real school was actually like in 1972, when I returned to Hanoi after the bombing stopped.
For my generation, the war and what came after it were our VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). Yet, the challenges and hardships did not deny me a thirst for knowledge, a desire to learn. I read and memorized every book I could find, from history, literature, to biology. I guess you can call that my own "liberal education".
However, my VUCA world then was small, limited and localized. Everyone experienced the same challenges and started off on an equal footing. But for you, my students, your VUCA world is entirely different and the disruptions it brings are now accelerated by the pandemic.
While we are gradually emerging from the pandemic, it is important to note that one thing this crisis has shown us is that we are more interconnected than ever. As much as we may think of how our actions, intentions, and lives are our own, we must be explicitly aware that we, nonetheless, belong in a community. A society. An increasingly globalized world.
Despite the challenges it brings, I personally believe that the pandemic also presents itself an unprecedented opportunity: an opportunity to re-define the "new normal" and make our community a better, safer one.
And that is the pioneering spirit Fulbright University Vietnam is known for throughout the 26 years of existence of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, which is now known as the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, and the 5 years of existence of Fulbright University Vietnam.
Let me take a moment to share with you about our "pioneering spirit".
Since the start of our establishment, Fulbright has aspired to do things differently. To educate and teach differently. And by doing so, we not only have a 26-year track record of preparing and supporting Vietnam's economic prosperity through academic rigor and intellectual curiosity, but we have also woven into our DNA the desire to think and work beyond ourselves. To give back our communities and society, and to always maintain the question: What does better look like?
As we pay homage to the 1,500 students who have walked through the doors of the Fulbright School of Public Policy & Management, alongside their steadfast leadership, academic faculty, and supports from home and abroad, we are entering a new era of Fulbright's tradition of being untraditional: Building an undergraduate program inspired by the liberal arts and sciences tradition.
We strive to continue to deliver an academic experience that fosters critical and creative thinkers and doers who will in turn find their own creative outlets to give back and support causes and endeavors that they hold dear. And we see that in everything our Fulbright community members do, from the advisory work our FSPPM faculty have been doing with the Ho Chi Minh City's government, to the social projects our undergraduate and FSPPM students initiated, or the COVID-19 relief activities to support Saigon.
And I have high hopes that in this time of historic change, you will continue to follow their footsteps, exercise this Fulbright's "pioneering spirit", and re-define a better "new normal" for us all.
Does it sound like an over-the-top responsibility? Yes, it is. But worry not. You are not doing this on your own. Everyone here at Fulbright, from your fellow students, alumni, faculty, staff, the board of trustees to Fulbright's friends and supporters, will be your companion.
Don't be afraid to "think 'unthinkable' thoughts" as the late Senator J. William Fulbright said. The truth is that while it is easy to look in hindsight at what the success of Fulbright has been thanks to the Fulbright School of Public Policy & Management, we must be aware that the achievements we have today were not necessarily apparent, nor even fathomable, at the start. We are where we are because we are not afraid to be bold, innovative and new; because we are willing to take the risk to realize what we believe in.
As we embark on this journey together of re-defining the new normal, I want you to ask yourselves:
· What will my very own new normal look like?
· How will I challenge my own traditions and build new ones as a result?
· What does better look like for me?
· Who will benefit from this and how can I even make better better?
You may not have all the answers now, but you have time throughout the course of your education, and beyond, to figure it out. As you begin your intellectual exploration, just know that we are always here for you as One Fulbright. One Family.
Finally, I would like to end this remark with a final ask. Students, you mean the world to your parents and family so even when you try to make the most out of this new chapter of your life, please don't forget to call home. Call your friends, familiar faces, mentors, and teachers who shaped who you are today. Send them your gratitude for all they have done and be sure to keep them updated with how you are carrying out the tradition of being untraditional. They will absolutely love to hear from you.
Members of the Class of 2025 and the MPP Class of 2023, welcome to the family!
Dam Bich Thuy,
President, Fulbright University Vietnam