Resounded in speeches impassioned and articulated at the ceremony’s virtual webcast, held on Sunday morning, October 17th, was Fulbright’s pioneering spirit in liberal arts education and its strong commitment to community service in Vietnam.
“Convocation is one of the most important ceremonies for any Vietnamese students. It is a tradition that Fulbright University Vietnam, a Vietnamese university, will always treasure,” said Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam, in her welcoming remarks for the Convocation Ceremony of the Undergraduate Class of 2025 and the Master in Public Policy Class of 2023.
Invoking the tradition endeared to students and faculty members from preceding years’ ceremonies, as seen in musician and educator Thanh Bui and his encouragement for students to be brave and creative in times of uncertainty, or entrepreneur Le Diep Kieu Trang with her message of serving communities, the Convocation this year had the esteemed honor of having, as its main speaker, Dr. Nguyen Lan Hieu, Associate Professor, Director of Hanoi Medical University Hospital cum Medical Director of Emergency Resuscitation Center of Becamex International Hospital.
While the invitation was “quite surprising” to Dr. Nguyen Lan Hieu, it is, however, an absolutely apt choice for Fulbright, for he represents and exemplifies the intellectual acumen, the tremendous strength and selflessness that medical frontliners have shown in providing health and social care for those in need during the pandemic. “Our country has undergone multiple outbreaks. […] Each accordingly requires different strategies and approaches apropos of the situation. […] Nonetheless, of all the lessons we have learned, the most pronounced thing is the core role of science in any attempt to successfully solve problems and overcome challenges,” he said.
“In the field of medicine, the number of innovations and breakthroughs from Vietnam that are recognized on a global scale is truly scarce. Our dated education model has produced many ‘golden hands’, meaning brilliant and excellent surgeons. Yet it’s nearly impossible to dream of novel medications or new and advanced technologies given the current state we have,” Dr. Nguyen Lan Hieu remarked.
An ideal higher education model, he pointed out, is one that connects and unites talents across disciplines to share and transform ideas into concrete applications that will serve our communities, as well as contribute to the nurturing of a progressive academic environment. “I’m very fond of the articles and discourses shared on Fulbright’s social media channels, for they illustrate a rational and scientific mindset worthy of Vietnam’s first not-for-profit, independent, liberal arts university. Such ethos is what I believe has empowered Fulbright to nurture its new generation of students,” he said.
Dr. Nguyen Lan Hieu exhorted the Undergraduate Class of 2025 and the Master in Public Policy Class of 2023 to “Instigate debates. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t back down from criticism. These lessons will help you grow as a person and prove invaluable on your path to success.”
“The pandemic has caused sufferings and adversities, but metaphorically speaking, it is a shower of rain that washed away the glorified veneers entrenched in our society,” he said. “So that the old will be replaced by the new, specifically the young thinkers and doers who will be at the heart and forefront of our country.” This opportunity to re-define the “new normal” and impact change in the community was also reflected in Fulbright President Dam Bich Thuy’s remarks, when she enlisted students to consider the following questions:
- 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?
Fulbright’s pioneering spirit
“The world is constantly transforming and your role, contribution, and service to society will evolve with it,” said Ms. Ann Marie Yastishock, Mission Director, USAID Vietnam, in her address to the students. “Covid-19, climate change, and digital transformation are some of the grand issues reshaping the world we live in. What you do here at Fulbright will help define this new world. As you write this next important chapter of your lives, I encourage you to explore your interests, pursue your talents, and nurture your spirit of service. To quote Aristotle, educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
Fulbright’s pioneering spirit is emblazoned not only with Vietnam’s 1,500 top leaders that its predecessor, the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program – now the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM) – has trained over 26 years. But in striving to deliver an undergraduate program inspired by the liberal arts tradition of open inquiry and critical analysis, through academic rigor and intellectual curiosity, the heart and soul of Fulbright is the desire to think and work beyond ourselves, to bring up creative individuals who will find their own paths and go after causes and endeavors they hold dear.
“We see that in everything our Fulbright community members do,” President Thuy said, stating Fulbright’s efforts during the pandemic from raising funds for Ho Chi Minh City’s hospital ambulances and its Covid-19 relief activities to the FSPPM faculty’s advisory work for the city’s government to the social projects our undergraduate and FSPPM students initiated, as examples of Fulbright’s unfailing quest for social good.
“I have high hopes that in this time of historic change, you will continue to follow in their footsteps, exercise this Fulbright’s pioneering spirit, and re-define a better ‘new normal’ for us all,” President Thuy urged the Undergraduate Class of 2025 and the Master in Public Policy Class of 2023. “Don’t be afraid to “think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts”, as the late Senator J. William Fulbright once said. […] 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.”
“One Fulbright, One Family.”
This year, the Class of 2025’s student speech was delivered by Le Dao Minh Tam, one of the 5 recipients of Fulbright Undergraduate scholarship. On the distance that kept people apart and the solitariness many have felt in the midst of a global pandemic, as well as reflecting on her new journey at Fulbright, where she has been “showered with love and care” by every member of the community, Minh Tam spoke of the meaning and education of altruism:
“Where does kindness come from? What makes an empathetic and compassionate person? Two things, I believe. First, it’s the environment […] in which meaningful discourses are encouraged, so that we get to hear and understand voices from different social backgrounds, in which we learn to overcome our own prejudices and dismantle stereotypes, to treat everyone with equality and respect, in which justified reason is the only legitimate driving force behind every one of our actions.
“Second, it’s the community where we are inspired to become noble and selfless. It is the people around us who act selflessly that make us want to sacrifice our own comforts and time to do the same thing. It is the people who give us care that make us want to give it back, or pay it forward. […] It’s something we have to learn and sacrifice for, and hence the achievement we obtain from it should be appreciated and congratulated upon, not being taken for granted. […] I strongly believe Fulbright as a community has the innate strength and qualities to empower and nurture meaningful changes through education, selfless contributions and love.”
Though virtual, the 2021 Convocation ceremony still honored a cherished tradition when our freshmen together recited, from their family homes, the Fulbright’s Honor Code, which exhorts all faculty, staff and students to uphold standards of integrity, shared commitment and excellence. “Today is a special day. It marks the beginning of a new life with new routines – and maybe a new way of thinking for our new students. But more importantly, it also marks one of the rare occasions in life when they can declare themselves as a member of a new community. And today, it’s the Fulbright community,” said Dr. Dinh Vu Trang Ngan, Dean of Fulbright Undergraduate Studies.
Joining in with welcoming the Class of 2025 were Hoang Hoa and Thuc Anh, representatives of Fulbright Student Council. Established in 2021 with 13 student-elected members, the Student Council represents and advocates for the needs, interests, and concerns of Fulbright students through open dialogues and transparency with the university. “I am sure the Council is not the only one who calls itself a family but other departments at Fulbright as well,” Hoang Hoa said.
“‘Embrace the Uncertainty’ is the motto that we, members of Fulbright, live by. The academic life at Fulbright wouldn’t be whole without the love and compassion that we share within this united community. I do believe nothing is impossible as long as we listen to one another, understand our individual stories, and do our best to support each other regardless of our roles and our cohorts.”
Closing the 2021 Convocation ceremony on a high note, Thuc Anh expressed her congratulations: “Welcome the Class of 2025 to Fulbright! And thank you for choosing this community. You are now an important part of Fulbright and we appreciate your contributions to make our community better. We wish you a great journey ahead, full of rewarding achievements, life-long friendships and extraordinary moments at Fulbright!”