My beloved students,
Yet another extraordinary school year has ended at Fulbright. As I write these words, I recall the many emotions shared by our Fulbright community members during last year’s End of Year Celebration. On that occasion, we gathered to look back on the Co-Design year, which had been marked by both immense excitement and trepidation. It was those experiences that had helped us grow and prepared us for an ever-changing world.
This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are not able to gather on Crescent Campus. I believe, though, that more than ever, on this special day, we are together in spirit. I write this letter in honor of the tradition we have started: the end of the school year remains an opportunity for the Fulbright community to reflect on the moments that have shaped us throughout the past year and to prepare ourselves for the years ahead.
While the Co-Design Year has taught us to survive and thrive under uncertainty, the unprecedented nature of the current crisis once again underscores the importance of being equipped to deal with the unknown.
The first lesson I want to share with you is something perhaps we have all heard before. To quote Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.” What we have witnessed during this crisis has reinforced his view: individuals and communities that are willing to adapt to unexpected circumstances are most likely to weather the storm.
Thus far, Covid-19 has proved to be the most difficult test to the resilience of our Fulbright community members. You might still recall how anxious we all were as we were forced to close our campus for months. There was a lot of debate over our decision to move an entire quarter four online, embracing a form of learning for which even the global higher education community is not fully prepared. But pushing past our initial misgivings, Fulbright faculty and students have co-designed an exciting online learning experience, all the while maintaining the community spirit of “learning together, growing together.”
In the process of adapting to these sudden changes, we have learned a valuable second lesson: resources are not the most important factor when solving a problem. Instead, the wise allocation of resources is the true factor that determines success. Vietnam is its living proof. While many developed countries in the world still suffer the catastrophic impacts of Covid-19, Vietnam, with its remarkably limited financial and healthcare resources, has overcome the epidemic without a single casualty. As international experts explained, the strategic and decisive allocation of resources to early prevention measures is at the root of Vietnam’s success.
In a recent discussion with U.S. university leaders, President of Harvard University Lawrence Bacow underscored this point. The challenges of Covid-19, he believed, have prompted the university community worldwide to seek to “do more with less resources.” This statement by the head of the school with the most abundant resources in the world is a meaningful reminder to the Fulbright community. “Doing more with less” is more than a solution to the immediate crisis. It will be our compass as we navigate a turbulent future.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought us more than just hardships. It has also revealed acts of kindness from compassionate people all around us – people we do not always recognize in ordinary times. Moreover, social distancing has allowed us to slow down, to spend more time with our loved ones, and to take better care of the community we live in. There is also beauty in finding each other in our most genuine and vulnerable moments – when we met online, for instance, with our bare faces, messy hair, or wrinkled clothes.
More than ever before, the pandemic has caused us to value deeply the community we are building together. Love, mutual care, and even sacrifice for the community have allowed Vietnam and many Asian countries to overcome the first wave of the pandemic. Similarly, our solidarity, civic-mindedness, and sense of belonging are the forces that help Fulbright overcome this crisis with confidence and excitement.
This Fall, Fulbright will open its doors to our new students. As we watch the Fulbright community continue to grow, I hope each of us will warmly welcome our new members with love, care, and encouragement, much as Fulbright community has done for two decades.
I wish you a summer filled with joy and meaningful projects!
Dam Bich Thuy
President of Fulbright University Vietnam