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

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

“University education nowadays is not limited to concrete buildings, where knowledge is delivered from the professors to the students.

The classroom should be extended to the rice fields in the Mekong Delta, the Northern mountainous areas, or the coastal villages in the Central part of Vietnam.

After four years at Fulbright, we hope our students can become individuals who possess deep and broad knowledge, can work in various different environments, and can solve many challenging problems; but most importantly, we hope they can become a good citizen with integrity”.

FULL MESSAGE ON VIDEO: