To begin with, I want to send my warmest welcome to all the faculty and staff, families, fellow students, and guests who are here with us at this year’s Convocation Ceremony of Fulbright University Vietnam.
It’s been my honor and pleasure to “virtually stand here”, on behalf of Fulbright Class of 2025 to share my thoughts before the start of the 2021 academic year.
I know it’s been unfortunate that this year’s convocation is held online, which makes it impossible for us to give each other warm hugs that we might as well not gonna give offline due to the burning hot weather in Saigon.
So everyone, please don’t let this seemingly pitiful fact drag your mood down.
It’s also unfortunate that we don’t get to feel the sense of presence in the middle of a crowd when everyone stands up to applaud a random speaker for their impressive speech.
But for me, I’d be relieved, because if my first time doing public speaking does not earn any applause, I can just blame the technical difficulty of people not being able to turn on their mic on Zoom, not the quality of my speech.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to interact with the diverse and robust community of Fulbright for the first time, and had my eyes opened wide.
Here, in this amazing community, I see people forming connections and taking care of each other in a way that I’ve never seen before back in where I live.
Seeing love and care around every corner, it makes me feel warm, welcomed, and included, but it also highlights the loneliness we all feel in the middle of the pandemic, when distance keeps us away from our beloved ones, physically and spiritually.
This undesirable situation has put me in a new struggle: the feeling of not being able to relate to my own community, despite their constant presence on my social media account, or in multiple virtual events that I participated in every day of the Orientation Week.
It seems like everybody’s kindness has given me self-doubt, as to why I can’t be as caring and compassionate, and does this mean I am an emotionless solitary person?
I got to recall the days when I was a kid, parents, school, and society taught me a seemingly obvious fact that the world aspires for well-shaped behaviors, moral acts, and beyond that, kindness.
They also told me to actively adapt good traits to become a good person, for a utilitarian cause that good people will get respected and valued in the standardized world.
However, as I grow older and our world grow to be more complicated (yes you’re hearing from an 18-year-old who’s facing some of her early-life crises), I get to meet new people from all walks of life and find myself in instances when I unconsciously act selfish, when I can’t empathize despite my subconscious efforts to be understanding, when I can’t be the good person that my parents taught me to be, because I am now treating people who aren’t my families, my close friends but perhaps, more or less strangers, for whom my empathy doesn’t come naturally.
This process of realization makes me believe that none of us is entitled to kindness and compassion since we were born because if that’s the case, I would consider myself the forever-ugly and -selfish character in fairy tales, where we have inherently altruistic heroes, and the born-unchangeable villains.
So what makes the kindness of a person? Two things, I believe.
First, it’s the environment and the people who educate us on actual moral values and the righteous rationale behind our actions, not just blindly indoctrinate us to go after an unrealistic altruistic model like comic heroes, or even saint.
The environment in which meaningful discourses are encouraged so that we get to hear and understand the voices of people from different social backgrounds, in which we learn to overcome our own prejudices and give up stereotypes to treat everyone with equality and respect, in which justified reasons are the only legitimate driving forces behind every one of our actions.
Knowledge gives us self-justification.
In an environment like Fulbright, I very much appreciate the fact that we have initiatives like the Wellness Center, hours-long workshops about breaking stereotypes, and courses on Ethics and Morality to make us thoroughly understand the moral values of our actions so that we don’t have to hesitate over good deeds.
Second, it’s the community where we get the inspiration to become noble and selfless.
It is the people around us who act selflessly that make us want to sacrifice part of our comfort, property, and time to do the same thing to the world around us.
It is the people who give us care that make us want to give it back, or maybe spread that out to many others.
I see that when the whole Fulbright community calls for every possible action to provide help towards the aching and suffering Saigon in the darkest moments of the pandemic.
For all those reasons, I can’t help but be strongly touched by the community that I am so lucky to be a part of.
The community makes me realize that it’s okay to not be the most active and kindest version of myself all the time, because achieving this Fulbright-quality wholesomeness takes time and effort, and that the pressure as I try to be just as good as everybody is just the first phase of blending in, to slowly turning into a better, more compassionate, and loving person.
With that being said, I also acknowledge that being compassionate and kind is not something easy that would come at no cost.
Yes, it’s a process of learning to trade off some of the visible and invisible values that you’ve been upholding for the well-being of others.
It’s something you have to learn and sacrifice for, and hence your achievement on successfully learning it should be appreciated and congratulated upon, not being taken for granted.
For my last words, I want to send my deep gratitude to every single individual at Fulbright for making such a beautiful and loving community as it is.
I strongly believe that this community has the strong internal power needed to empower and nurture meaningful changes through education, self-less contributions and love.
Thank you everyone for listening.
Le Dao Minh Tam,
Undergraduate student, Class of 2025
Fulbright University Vietnam