When Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam, invited me to give a keynote speech at Convocation this year, she asked me to talk about how to break down stereotypes and create the world the way you want it to be. I was perplexed. I did not know what to talk to you about. There is an inherent paradox: I, myself, am against empiricism. If the goal is to break down stereotypes, why should you listen to your predecessor? And who in their right mind would want to share their experience in not following experience? To break down stereotypes, the first thing you should do is doubt predecessors like us, not follow us. 

I did live like that – I asked questions and doubted all experience my predecessors tried to teach me – and now here I am, telling you to listen to me, hear all the right things I have to say; isn’t it silly? 

This paradox exists everywhere. For example, liberalism. At the end of the day, liberalism is a system full of rigid principles, and sometimes, throughout history, people acted on behalf of liberalism to oppress others using violence. Who would want to impose freedom, with violence, no less? It is as if we, out of the blue, punch someone in the face, saying: “Who allows you to think this way? You need to think freely.”

I took a while to think, and question what the most important thing I learned in life is so that I can share it with you today.

Please allow me to share with you a German concept called “Bildungsphilister”, a concept introduced by Friedrich Nietzsche. It means “intellectual philistine.”

When I was 19 years old, I read quite a bit about philosophy. Back then, we were not as lucky as you are; the Internet was very expensive. In my first year in college, I worked part-time for a communication company and usually spent the night there because, at the office, there was A/C, instant noodles, and computers connected to the Internet. At the place where I rented, there were not these three things, especially instant noodles. During those sleepless nights at the office, I ate my noodles and then read Marx’s Das Kapital, the Teachings of Buddha, Kant’s ethics, and Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra; of course, I could not understand a thing. I thought if I wanted to be an elite, I needed to read. If I were to read, I should read works from famous authors, the classics. But works of those like Kant, I could not make a word out of it. 

However, in those days, I was fortunate to learn one teaching from Nietzsche, and that is: to simply read in a petty-bourgeois-self-complacent manner will not make you better.

A bildungsphilister is someone who reads newspapers and reviews and imagines themselves to be cultured and educated but lacks genuine, introspective erudition. You will meet these people everywhere in the world, especially in a society like Vietnam, where the Internet and the open market provide everyone with a wealth of knowledge – something that everyone has the right to think it is their own. 

You can see it from all the fan pages that collect excerpts of famous works; the hot girls who share famous life quotes while showing off their bodies; speakers who don’t have practical projects but always talk about Western books; journalists, and scholars who depend on some famous people for quotes… And it does not just happen in the field of science. If you follow enough fan pages and Instagram accounts, you will receive tons of knowledge regarding life, compassion, and the way to live – all quoted from somewhere. We are living in an era of copying and pasting. 

You may turn out like one of them in the future. You may read something, resonate with it, and think that you know more than others. Tomorrow, you might ask your friends if they were to know why the real estate market and Wall Street in America crumbled in 2008, all because you just watched a Michael Moore movie. You would say: It’s very deep, let me explain it to you. My friends, that is how a bildungsphilister would talk. 

I, and perhaps many professors here, will say that even if you finish all the movies by Michael Moore, and Adam McKay, or read everything from Noam Chomsky, you still don’t know what happened in America. Only until you look into how the banking system and the real estate market in Vietnam operate – let me emphasize, in Vietnam, in 2022 – then you’d know what happened in America in 2008. I think that is how a real intellectual comes to be. 

Reading, memorizing, and restating knowledge you get from books are not wrong. But it will never be right. Knowledge can only be formed through a process of contemplation, experience, absorption, critical thinking, and self-reflection. You may think that if Noam Chomsky says something, it must be absolutely right. But it will only become your own knowledge if you observe and reflect on it with what is happening in our world. If it does not intrinsically materialize within you, it is not yours; and you only repeat someone else’s words. 

That is basically how Nietzsche described “bildungsphilister”. I was fortunate to read this when I was 19 so that I did not become an “intellectual philistine”. And one should not become a “bildungsphilister”, even though living like that is very posh. It may look as though there is nothing wrong with saying what you read, what you watched, what you remembered. If others don’t read, it’s their loss. If I spend time reading newspapers, and books, and watching documentaries on Netflix, I am allowed to repeat what was said in those things. That should be my knowledge.

The professors will tell you that knowledge, even the most basic, most cliché concept, can only be truly yours if you actually experience it and reflect on it. 

Let me tell you a funny story. I previously told you that I read Buddha’s teaching when I was young. In those teachings that Buddha said to the bhikkhus – Buddhist monks or priests, there was one thing I strongly resonated with.

That saying goes: “The mind of the world cannot be understood. If you try, you may end up in insanity and agony.” (Roughly translated)

If the goal is just to interpret it, then the young me could easily do it. For instance, we, the world around us, and what is happening around us are unenlightened. We do not need to try and define its true nature. If we try to understand the mind of everything, we will go insane.

Of course, it is. This is wonderful. Excellent. You should definitely remember this.

And here is another story. There was this phase in my life when I dated two girls at the same time and could not choose between them. I did not actually cheat since I told one of the two that the other was my girlfriend. This “third-person” in my relationship also had a boyfriend then. When you have feelings for someone, you tend to hang out together with common friends; that’s what I did. But then my feelings for this “third person” grew day by day, to the point that the two girls could not take it anymore. They decided to meet and talked it out.

I did not know how the meeting went. But afterward, I met the “third person” first. She told me: “We should not meet anymore. You should go.”

Do you know what I told her – me, a 20-year-old “intellectual philistine”, who read philosophy every night and thought that the girls loved me because I was “intellectual”? I told her: “The mind of the world cannot be understood. If you try, you may end up in insanity and agony.” I quoted Buddha to fix my love problems. I swear. 

Then she said: “I don’t understand. You should go.” And that love of mine did not materialize because I could not go back to my official girlfriend either. 

15 years later, we met by chance. What’s left were only feelings between two old friends. We talked about life, and of course, about what we should try to care less about life. I suddenly realized that only then, we understood that saying. It is true that “The mind of the world cannot be understood. If you try, you may end up in insanity and agony.” Only then I understood, as did she. We were in our middle-age years. 

And even those quotes about love or life, we sometimes need a while, 15-20 years or so, to actually understand what they are about. 

Knowledge about love is very important. But anyway, today is a convocation ceremony of a university. Let’s talk about professional knowledge. To me, no matter what their profession is, one’s biggest tragedy is to “borrow knowledge.”

I have friends who are “intellectual philistines”. They have social status; money is not even an issue. This problem exists because access to knowledge is not equal in Vietnamese society. It may be more equal in your generation; but people in the rural areas, don’t even have Netflix to watch, 4G, or a bookstore. In my generation, the gap is even wider. I was lucky to find a part-time job with free Internet. But in the 2000s, most of my friends went to bed early (because even if they didn’t, there weren’t any instant noodles to soothe their hunger).

This gap enabled some to read more than others, to have better English, to have better Google skills – and they continue using that advantage to compete in life. 20 years ago, the publishing market was dominated by translated foreign books and publications. People did not know how to search for information – and there existed a group of journalists and experts who were good at paraphrasing what they learned from the Internet and made good money doing that. A lot of money.  In my first job interview 16 years ago, the only question that I still remember was: “Which Internet site do you use for information?” Back then, knowing where to read was a desirable skill. Reading in English was much cooler.  These “intellectual philistines” still have a place in today’s society. 

On the contrary, I also have friends who only write original works – what they think, reflect on, collect, or are enlightened. They may be slow in making money because they cannot mass-produce original works. Sometimes, they are only known for one life-work. Being original is much harder than borrowing from someone else.

In my life, I only respect the latter type – those who are original. The first type, even though they can drive an S-class Mercedes, quote Immanuel Kant in German, I still feel sorry for them. I genuinely do.

You probably recognized those belonging to the second type, the originals. Besides doctors, musicians, and researchers, there are mechanics, farmers, and snail sellers. They are the experts in their field because they observe and reflect on it.

Imagine two scenarios: one in which you are squatting in an automotive repair shop. You watch on as the mechanic takes apart your Kawasaki, inspects it, diagnoses it, and tries to find out why there is a weird sound in the engine. The second scenario is one in which you are sitting in a class taught by a professor with a Ph.D. However, you know for certain that the slides are just the Vietnamese version of something foreign and that your teacher only translated it and is parroting it. Imagine these two scenarios and you will understand what I meant when I said I respect one and feel sorry for the other.

But why do we need original knowledge if borrowing it helps us make money faster with less effort? I think there are two reasons for that: one is the sustainability of original knowledge, and two is the legacy you wish to leave behind.

Borrowed knowledge is not sustainable, even in making money. If you only parrot what other people say, it will quickly become outdated. I said before that when the country was first opened, making money from translating foreign content dominated the publishing market. But here comes your generation, those who can read English, and acquire information from free platforms like Reddit. You don’t even have to read newspapers. These “experts” will soon be out of work. You cannot imagine, that when I was 21 years old, I made the equivalent of today’s VND 70 million a month just by reading and translating foreign newspapers. You can’t imagine because who would need that profession now? Today, if you only know how to read newspapers in English, then you have no skill at all.

And right now, I am witnessing how these “intellectual philistines,” “borrowing experts”, or “Googling gods” are losing their ground. 

Architects parroted “Scandinavian style”, minimalism, or “Indochine style” because other people said so, not because they understood the foundations of these cultures. They still make good money in certain provinces but will gradually lose in markets where the quality of life is improving. Writers, copying Hollywood’s or Korean motifs and putting them in the Vietnamese context without a real understanding of the people and their situations, will lose to even foreign writers – those who spent their whole lives researching one specific topic.  

Communication experts, preaching Western models, quoting Philip Kotler or David Ogilvy, without understanding Asian or Vietnamese psychology, will lose to the self-learned mechanic I previously mentioned: If he ever decides to open a series of shops, he will, more than anyone, fully understand how the Vietnamese people behave and expect from their motorbikes. He will understand Philip Kotler better than those who read Philip Kotler in English and can devise an excellent marketing strategy all by himself.

We are not talking about how we can get a job after graduation. We are talking about a 30- to 40-year career. Google cannot sustain this career for you.

Your career can only be sustainable if everything you say is what you realized for yourself. It is sustainable because when you believe in what you say and what you do when it is part of you, it is your thinking, then making a lot of money or just a bit of money won’t determine the value of your career. Your career now is part of whom you are as a person, embedded in your heart, not the ladder of money. Super sustainable.

And believe me when I say our society will come to respect original knowledge more. And it will reward you.

The second reason why you need original knowledge is that it is the legacy you leave behind. It is also the theme of this year’s convocation: to create the world the way you want it to be. Legacy is not something so great as a statue; it is any good deed you do for the world. The world only needs to be a bit better when you leave than when you come in; that means you already leave behind a legacy.

How to acquire original knowledge? You have to read. A lot. You have to remember, but not to parrot, to live like an “intellectual philistine,” or to show off with your peers. You carve it in your brain, and life will provide you with more pieces, from which knowledge will be formed. Don’t allow yourself to say something, or parrot some particular knowledge if you are not confident that it is what you realize for yourself.

Copying and pasting are not wrong. It is only wrong when you don’t understand what you are “pasting.” I only realize what an “intellectual philistine” means after years of carving it in my head.

It is a more painful journey than going on Wikipedia or Pinterest to copy so you can meet your deadlines. But the professors here will tell you that knowledge, more than often, will form through loss, pain, and even regrets.

The journey to pursue original knowledge is also an unfair one. Sometimes you suddenly realized that those who copy knowledge are making more money and getting rich faster. You may wonder: “But my goal of getting a bachelor’s degree is to have a good job and make money. Is self-actualization or creating a better world that important?”

I would say that how much you understand and what you believe in depend on you. Because: “The mind of the world cannot be understood. If you try, you may end up in insanity and agony.”

Thank you.

Dinh Duc Hoang,

Author, Journalist

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

Good morning, everyone. To be honest, I was quite surprised to receive the invitation from Fulbright to speak at your Convocation ceremony. This is my first time delivering a keynote speech on a school’s opening day, so I’m afraid it might not be as good as your previous ones. However, I will try to do my best.

I’m quite sure the reason I’m invited is due to the fact that I’m one of the many doctors who joined hands in fighting against Covid-19. And so, I would like to start with a few remarks regarding the pandemic.

Vietnam has undergone several outbreaks. During the latest one, my colleagues and I have been deployed to Hue, Phu Yen, Ha Tinh, Kien Giang, and most recently, Binh Duong, to offer our service in the front line. Every outbreak accordingly requires different strategies and approaches apropos of the ever-changing situation, from the “zero-Covid” strategy which aimed to curb the spread of Covid-19 through imported cases from abroad to the current “new normal” policy of living safely with the virus. 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. Adhering to the guidance offered and based on science is the only way, there’s no alternative.

We have followed and gone through various developments caused by the pandemic. We have learned the hard lessons from afflictions that didn’t merely turn everyday life upside down, but cost lives. All because we used to be at times overconfident, and in turn, incautious and blasé, once we, against all odds, successfully saved critically ill patients, such as the case of “Patient 91”. Thus we had neglected the importance of strengthening an integrated system – the fight against Covid-19 cannot rely solely on emergency resuscitation centers, ventilators, dialysis nor ECMO machines.

Research has shown vaccines are the key to successfully control the pandemic. The medical response system which includes preventive healthcare and medical clinics in our districts, communes and wards – our fortresses – must play a crucial role. Central and provincial level hospitals are our final strongholds only when district-level facilities are overwhelmed with patients.

From the earliest days, every one of our actions in fighting against the pandemic has been informed by findings and research articles published in scientific  journals. The surge of infection rates in areas where we were put in charge was a direct result of limitations easily avoided, had local management not downplayed the role of science.

As Fulbright President has previously pointed out in her speech, the pandemic has inflicted sufferings and adversities. But at the same time, metaphorically speaking, it is a shower of rain that washed away the glorified veneers entrenched in our society. It has revealed the old way of doing and thinking that shall be replaced by the new, specifically the young thinkers and doers – like many of you present here today – who will be at the heart and forefront of our country.

The Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee of Binh Duong, where I’m currently stationed, has assured us that moving forward, Binh Duong will not put emphasis solely on attracting FDI to industrial zones, but they will invest in building high quality universities, hospitals and startup centers, to name a few. Only then will our development become sustainable and be able to withstand future upheavals. With the pandemic, leaders of Binh Duong have realized they must rely on scientific and intellectual resources so they can grow sustainably.

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. An ideal higher education model 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. It’s something that we’ve learned from you with regard to our own education program at the Hanoi Medical University.

Did you know? 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, where we lack the interconnection between fields and disciplines as well as research laboratories. Vietnam currently doesn’t have a proper animal lab nor support framework for doctors and talents to test or experiment with their ideas and turn them into reality. These are the biggest challenges facing our medical field today.

Nonetheless, I believe things will change for the better after the pandemic, that there will be more opportunities for young people like you. Seeing that you will benefit and be fully equipped from an environment such as Fulbright University Vietnam, I believe you will create your own innovations and come up with new ideas. I encourage you 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.

Finally, as traditionally required of any other speeches, I’d like to offer my congratulations to Fulbright students, faculty, staff and management. I wish you all the best, and most importantly, good health, which is something anyone in my position would like to offer their sincerest hope. However, I’m very certain that the pandemic or any illness wouldn’t be able to affect the Fulbright family this year, for simply put, your keynote speaker today is a doctor. My sincere thanks to you all for listening. Congratulations.

Associate Professor, Dr. Nguyen Lan Hieu,

Director of Hanoi Medical University Hospital 

 

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.

Students,

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.

Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, President 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

At Fulbright University Vietnam’s September 2019-2020 Convocation, CEO Le Diep Kieu Trang (Christy Le) shared, as our keynote speaker, her message to Fulbright students: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

Keynote speech from CEO Le Diep Kieu Trang (Christy Le) at Fulbright University Vietnam 2019-2020 Convocation

Good morning students, families, faculty, and friends of Fulbright University Vietnam!

It is my honor to be here on such a momentous and meaningful day not only for you, new students of Fulbright University Vietnam, but also for Vietnamese education. Today is the Convocation Day for the first inaugural class of the first liberal arts university in Vietnam. You are the epitome of Vietnam’s pride and hope, the living proof that with the right knowledge, creativity, and autonomy, Vietnam will continue to thrive further. 

20 years ago, I was exactly your age, just starting university, all excited about my journey ahead. I was ready to learn new knowledge, to explore the world; but I was also worried and unsure about who I would become and how I would lead my life. Just like you, I was proud to study at a great university while bearing the expectation of many people.

The only thing that differs is that my university was in England. There weren’t many Vietnamese people around; and Vietnam was only known as a country with a rough history. 

You are more fortunate than I was. You have a chance to study here in Vietnam at such a wonderful university, to be surrounded by your Vietnamese peers, to be guided and supported by experts from Vietnam and from all over the world.

20 years ago, I would never have thought that one day, I would have had the honor to speak on such an important day. This day may be the day you can never forget, especially for those who will dedicate their heart and soul to Vietnamese education. 20 years ago, I would never have thought that the world would have changed this much. 

Landlines were the only phones known to us; now over 60% of people use cell phones exclusively. 56kbs modems were starting to become common; now the global average internet speed is nearly 23mbs, 400 times faster.

CDs were replacing cassette tapes as the way to store and share music; now you’d be hard pressed to find a device that can even play CDs with nearly all music stored in solid-state drives or streamed in real time.

Photography mostly was film-based; now, if you wanted to develop a roll of film, it would be very expensive since there are only a few such labs left in the world. Nearly 100% of photography is digital and costs nothing.

Encyclopaedia Britannica and Microsoft Encarta were the go-to sources of definitive information; now information is institutionalized by the public on Wikipedia and Google.

Many major scientific achievements had not yet been discovered, like Higgs bosons, gravitational waves, and graphene. Even geography changed too: East Timor, Serbia, Montenegro, and South Sudan had not even existed as nations. Europe had 19 different currencies, instead of the single one as we know now.

Flying was as easy as coming to the airport, doing some quick checks and getting on a plane, and you could pretty much bring whatever you wanted on an airplane. No big deal. Now, x-rays, full-body scanners, and secondary searches look for the slightest object that can be considered dangerous.

As you can see some of the biggest companies or even industries that existed in 1999 no longer exist.

In fact, during these last 20 years, we have seen new entire industries that were unfathomable back then – social media, the gig economy, eCommerce, on-demand entertainment, and electric vehicles. In fact, we have jobs now that would sound like nonsense in 1999: data scientist, AI engineer, digital marketer, online influencer.

But we are just getting started.

Well, I’m here to say that you haven’t seen anything yet. Because just as we’ve seen existing industries die and new ones emerge, we will see the same happen in the next 20 years. I’m pretty sure medicine, logistics, energy, and even languages will take on new forms unlike what we know.

I can’t imagine people will still be seeing family doctors when we have AI-based diagnosis. 

No interpreters and no driving instructors as intelligent, autonomous machines will do both very competently. 

Deliveries will be done by autonomous drones. 

We won’t pollute the air with burning gasoline as electric vehicles charged from the surface of roads will become ubiquitous. 

And best of all, with plastics that are compostable, we won’t leave a legacy of pollution to future generations.

So get ready for an incredible ride.

We don’t have the luxury of time travel yet so going back 20 years to give oneself advice from an older self can only take the form of a hypothetical. But through you, I can sort of do that. Three things I would tell my 18-year-old self would be:

First of all, start building strong habits early. Start with an aim for small wins that you make slowly but consistently. Get good at handling boredom. 

Jeff Bezos once asked Warren Buffet: “Your investment thesis is so simple…. you’re the second richest guy in the world, and it’s so simple. Why doesn’t everyone just copy you?” 

And Buffet responded: “Because nobody wants to get rich slow.”

Bill Gates said of Donald Knuth’s legendary ‘The Art of Computer Programming’: “It took incredible discipline, and several months, for me to read it. I studied 20 pages, put it away for a week, and came back for another 20 pages… If you can read the whole thing, send me a resume.”

Secondly, Do NOT pursue your passions. Contrary to popular wisdom, I believe you should pursue what you are good at and you will likely become passionate about that.

As Mark Cuban said: ‘Nobody quits anything they are good at because it is fun to be good. It is fun to be one of the best… But in order to be one of the best, you have to put in effort. So don’t follow your passions, follow your effort… The one thing in life that you can control is your effort’.

Last but not least: invest in relationships. This is the most important one. You can’t make old friends. Your wealth 20 years from now, 40 years from now will be measured in the quantity, quality, and depth of your relationships. Keep in mind that it should never be about you, but rather iabout your fellow human.

And make sure no one gets left behind.

But let’s not only develop ourselves. Someone asked me recently – are we all heading in the right direction as a species? What do you think?

Well we now have smartphones, Internet, and social media. And more importantly, nearly every health metric has improved: infant mortality is down, malnourishment is down, average life expectancy is up. Nearly every human development index has improved: extreme poverty is down, literacy is up, technology adoption is up. So is GDP per capita and productivity.

At least this is true for most of us.

But for the Bottom Billion (great book by Paul Collier by the way), that is to say the poorest billion people – we’re talking people in sub-Saharan Africa, rural India and East Asia, parts of Latin America, etc. – well, they are actually doing worse on all of those metrics on an absolute  basis  compared to 20 years ago.

So no. Unless we are ALL heading in the right direction, we are not heading in the right direction. So go fix it. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Congratulations on your new journey. I hope that you will have an exciting adventure, one that allows you to freely explore, learn, experience, and finally, contribute to the world.

We were waiting for the first Convocation when we started our journey to find our first undergraduates about a year ago. Traveling across Vietnam’s provinces and cities, we searched for students at different schools, each time asking, “How do we find the gems in the rough?”

“The Co-Design Year will lay the foundation for Fulbright University Vietnam. Fulbright’s mission is reinforced by not only the fifty-five Co-Designers at this First Convocation, but also students from all over Vietnam, whom we have met and those we have yet to meet.

Their trust and support helped turn the idea of building a world-class university in Vietnam into reality,” said Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam. 

Fulbright University Vietnam will welcome fifty-four inaugural undergraduates at our First Convocation on Sunday, September 9, 2018. These students will begin the Co-Design Year 2018-2019, which will lay the foundation for next year’s academic program. 

We have been eagerly waiting for this Convocation when we started our journey to find our first undergraduates about a year ago. Traveling across Vietnam’s provinces and cities, we searched for students at different schools, each time asking, “How do we find the gems in the rough?” 

Departing from the traditional college entrance exam, Fulbright’s approach was innovative and unprecedented in Vietnam as we looked for students with real potential rather than simply basing our selection on past test scores. Our five months of searching were filled with memorable moments and emotions. Students share their energy, ideas, and passion for the future through their applications, giving us an idea of their vision and aspiration to contribute to the future of this country. 

We kept the handwritten letters that accumulated in our office; some of them were written right after a first encounter with Fulbright. Their words pulsed with a sense of liberation, passion, ambition, longing and expectations of a university education, concerns over choosing a future path, and sometimes even their feelings of failure, hardships, and moments when they overcame challenges.  

It was not only the students that had tough questions for Fulbright. We received many questions from parents because of Fulbright’s unique place as the first liberal arts institution in Vietnam. They also shared with us their worries and concerns on how we could help offer their children an opportunity of a top-quality university experience. As we got the chance to visit their homes during the Financial Aid interviews, we learned about their personal stories in-depth.  

We were fortunate enough to have met these people throughout our journey last year. Some of our Co-Designers are those who have been with us every step of the way. They joined us at many different events to have a better understanding of Fulbright. They even helped us recruit many of our very best faculty members through a series of faculty interviews we held. These students are the ones who possess a vision of what they want out of a university education and do not hesitate to realize this vision.  

Being a new university, these experiences helped reinforce our belief in our mission of offering a not-for-profit education to the young generation of Vietnam.  

Dr. Dinh Vu Trang Ngan, Director of Fulbright’s Undergraduate Program was part of the team that traveled to more than twenty-five provinces to talk about Fulbright. She shared: “Our Co-Designers have trusted us with their future. We will have to give them the opportunity to take ownership of their learning and shape their ambitions and dreams.” 

“The Co-Design Year will lay the foundation for Fulbright University Vietnam. Fulbright’s mission is reinforced by not only the fifty-five Co-Designers at this First Convocation, but also students from all over Vietnam, whom we have met and those we have yet to meet. Their trust and support helped turn the idea of building a world-class university in Vietnam into reality,” said Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam. 

At Fulbright’s First Convocation, distinguished guests, friends, and philanthropists who have supported us, shared in our difficulties, and followed Fulbright’s growth step-by-step will come together to welcome our first university undergraduates.