Welcome, everyone, to Fulbright University Vietnam’s Convocation 2022!
To our distinguished guests, members of the board, graduate and undergraduate faculty and staff, friends, family, and most importantly, our students – it is an honor for me to speak with you today and mark the beginning of Fulbright’s academic year.
I have had this great honor to speak at Convocation since our very first undergraduate intake in 2018.
This year marks a special milestone in Fulbright’s history: It is our fifth intake of undergraduate students, and it is our first year with a graduating class of students.
For many, this is the moment we have all been waiting for. Fulbright will finally have a graduating class, and Fulbright will be continually building, broadening, and championing a liberal arts education in Vietnam.
This fifth intake and the first graduating class — and all of the years before and in between to make it possible — comes at a time when your generation — “Gen Z” — is in the “Age of Now.”
If you want food or milk tea now, you open Baemin or Grab or GoJek. If you want entertainment now, you open Instagram or Netflix or TikTok. If you want to chat with friends and family now, you open Facebook or FaceTime or Zalo or Zoom. And for the brave few — Microsoft Teams! If you want basically anything else now, you open Lazada or Shopee or Tiki.
So many things in life you want can happen now.
But what we want in life is not always what we need.
The world is changing rapidly. There’s an acronym to describe this phenomenon: VUCA. Our world is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. At the same time, the world is facing a series of looming and existential threats: climate change, labor market automation from the 4th Industrial Revolution.
We all are experiencing this rapid change and these looming threats ourselves: A global pandemic taking the lives of millions. A military conflict in Europe. Catastrophic flooding in South Korea and Pakistan. Wildfires raging in California. What next?
In a world where everything seems to go sideways, how can we maintain the energy and optimism to do something about it? How can we curtail the impending doom and gloom we see across the news? How can we address these massive, world changing problems that just feel so far off?
What we need in this “VUCA world” is not “life-on-demand”. Not everything at our fingertips now.
What we need are critical and creative thinkers, ready to take on the “Grand Challenges” of Vietnam, the region, and the world.
What we need are pioneering spirits, ready to embrace the uncertainty and define it for others.
What we need are community minded leaders, ready to create the broadest social impact for as many people as possible.
What we need is you.
If you will indulge me for the next 10 minutes, I want us to explore this question which our world is so at odds with: How can we create lasting social impact in the “Age of Now”?
In these next ten minutes, I want to share with you my perspective on answering this question, a case study demonstrating said perspective, and — as always — a distillation of what I shared into actionable advice.
I began my sharing with the significance of this year’s convocation — the fifth intake.
Your year, the Class of 2026 — the fifth intake — is the answer to how we can create a lasting social impact in the “Age of Now.”
The fifth intake represents a steadfast commitment to the future — to longtermism. This commitment comes despite all unforeseen changes. Despite all the uncertainty. Despite the critics.
Longtermism is the sincere belief that future people count. Longtermism is understanding that we here today must take seriously our role in shaping the future and the lives that will live in it. Longtermism — especially in our VUCA world with existential threats coinciding with the “Age of Now” — is to accept that we are living in a time of both exceptional opportunity and profound responsibility.
At Fulbright, we fully understand that progress takes time. It happens slowly. And, it rarely — if ever — goes in a straight line. Pushing for our better society, therefore, requires not only a high degree of patience and flexibility, but also a tolerance for contradictions, disruptions, and side steps along the way.
At Fulbright, we have become comfortable with this fact. We need to stay comfortable with this fact. And most importantly — we must ensure that those who walk through our doors will be prepared to embrace this fact.
Now, onto our case study . Fulbright University Vietnam is longtermism par excellence.
As Vietnam emerged from centuries of colonization and decades of war, this young nation was starting over again, having the chance to define its own future — this time, on its own terms.
Nearly 30 years ago — at least a decade before most of you were born — there came an idea from an unlikely pairing: former adversaries.
This uncanny relationship between Vietnam and the United States is longtermism. It is quite literally the belief that future people count — that you here today mattered, even before you were born.
The path forward 30 years ago was not always easy, or clear, or straightforward. Fulbright started small, as an ambitious Economics Teaching Program to equip and train Vietnam’s current and future leaders with the world’s most forward thinking economics and public policy practices.
As these leaders came of age with our young nation, year after year, decade after decade, it soon became apparent that we — Vietnam and the United States — must lay an even stronger foundation. To really cement this impact was to extend the reach to even more future people.
And so came Fulbright University Vietnam.
It was with the courage of their convictions — now our convictions — that if we can build a strong enough foundation, we can continue to determine our own future. And that to do so is to accept and recognize and invest in future people. Because they count. Because Vietnam’s future — our future — is you.
This might feel like a lot to take in.
Many of you, fresh out of high school, may not have signed up for a lecture to be told that our future rests in your hands!
I may be a few decades ahead of you all here today, but I am still playing my role in shaping our future — you matter.
So, as is the best way to approach such large and complex concepts and problems, let me breakdown longtermism for you all today: university student edition.
First, before you set off focusing on future people, focus on your future self. Making the most out of Fulbright means fully immersing yourself in the experiences and resources we have to offer.
This means approaching all of our activities, courses, events, opportunities, and people with an open mind. Some would argue that the purpose of college is to find out what you like, but I would argue that the purpose of college is to find out what you do not like. By being here today, I hope that you have come mentally prepared to challenge your own assumptions and, maybe, even change your mind on a thing or two.
Second, you do not have to be good at everything you do, but you should at least be interested in it.
We have worked diligently to build a student body that is diverse in the broadest sense: academically, geographically, economically. You will meet people from backgrounds that you have never met before, from places you have not yet been. You will meet people who are going to be better than you.
This is not to stoke competition. It is to remind ourselves that the world is so much bigger than us, and that we should be continually amazed and in wonder of what — and who — is out there. If you all here today can shift your expectations to not be the best at what you do, but the most interested at what you do — you will bring your own magic to this world. And that’s what we need. A little bit of everyone’s magic.
Third, go through your time at Fulbright in good company. Surround yourself with friends, mentors, faculty, and staff who care about you.
It’s going to be these people — these transformative connections — that can make or break your experience at Fulbright.
Your Fulbright community will be filled with some of the most interesting people in your lives five, 10, 15 years from now. Don’t miss out on the opportunity for when you see them in the future where you can say “Remember that time when…?”
The one thing that you can — and should — do now is Invest building meaningful relationships, they are our future people, too.
And, fourth — a bonus tip: Remember to call home. They miss you. More than you think. You’ll make their day — trust me.
So, 10 minutes have come and gone — hopefully no one is falling asleep.
How might you all capture the spirit of longtermism by making the most of your time at Fulbright? To recap:
Explore what is out there, and be prepared to change your mind — hopefully more than once.
Be immensely interested in what you do. Being the best is overrated.
Surround yourself with good company. There is nothing like a good adventure with even greater friends.
Finally — remember to call home. Maybe after Convocation is over.
When you do all the above. When that’s all said and done, perhaps at that point, four years from now, you will look to your friends and recall: “Remember that time when that lady told us how to make the most out of Fulbright?”
Class of 2026, to our future artists, creators, leaders, shapers, and visionaries.
To our champions of longtermism.
To our future.
Welcome to Fulbright University Vietnam, and welcome to the next best four years of your lives!
Dam Bich Thuy,
President, Fulbright University Vietnam