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

This Implementation Agreement for international student exchange is the third in a series of upcoming institutional partners Fulbright will be cooperating with.

Fulbright University Vietnam and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) recently signed an Implementation Agreement (IA) for international student exchange, beginning Spring Semester 2023. Fulbright students will have the opportunity to go on an international exchange for an academic term at SUTD, and SUTD students will have the opportunity to come to Fulbright for weeklong joint-immersion programs. This international exchange supports the growing set of innovative institutional partnerships within Southeast Asia and will be in effect for five years.

Professor Yeo Kiat Seng, Associate Provost for Research & International Relations of SUTD said: “We are happy to be partnering with Fulbright University of Vietnam. Through this new partnership, our universities will capitalize on both our strengths in interdisciplinary fields such as Humanities, Engineering and Computational Sciences to develop a one week joint-immersion hands-on program to encompass activities or workshops that help fulfil specific academic learning objectives. Students will benefit greatly from these joint discussions and project work to develop important competencies for life and work, including critical thinking, innovative and creative thinking, effective communication, reasoning, and collaboration. We are positive that this partnership with Fulbright University Vietnam would pave the way for deeper and more exciting collaborations between both institutions in time to come.”

Vincent Pham, Manager of Career & Partnership Development of Fulbright University Vietnam, is delighted to welcome another Singaporean institution to Fulbright’s international exchange program network. He shared: “SUTD is an outstanding university to build partnership with, being a cutting-edge institution, paving a new path for integrated, interdisciplinary higher education for Southeast Asia’s next generation of leaders. Fulbright is excited to learn from SUTD as a peer institution, and earnestly believes our students will have a meaningful learning and living experience on their semester abroad.”

Fulbright University Vietnam is determined to provide a growing number of institutional partners for international exchange to provide its students with exposure to diverse settings, experience with specialized faculty and programs at well-regarded institutions, and ability to expand personal and professional opportunities that come with international experiences.

About Singapore University of Technology and Design:

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) is one of the first universities in the world to incorporate the art and science of design and technology into a truly holistic interdisciplinary education and research experience that culminates in real-world design innovations. SUTD seeks to advance knowledge and nurture technically-grounded leaders and innovators to serve societal needs. SUTD also topped a list of emerging engineering schools in the world in a study commissioned by MIT.

A research-intensive university, SUTD is distinguished by its unique East and West academic programs that incorporate design thinking, human-centered innovation, entrepreneurship, coupled with local and international industry collaborations. SUTD’s key focus areas are Healthcare, Cities, Aviation and Sustainability, with Artificial Intelligence/Data Science and Digital Manufacturing capabilities across all of them. Multiple post-graduate opportunities are available. Skill-based professional education and training courses are also available at SUTD Academy. www.sutd.edu.sg

About Fulbright University Vietnam:

Fulbright University Vietnam is Vietnam’s first independent, not-for-profit, liberal arts university. We are an expanding international team of educational innovators, with deep roots in Vietnam, strong political and financial backing, and connections to educational institutions around the world.

We believe in the power of collaboration, transdisciplinary thinking, and risk-taking, and we understand that effective education requires putting students at its center. Globally integrated but deeply embedded in Vietnamese society, Fulbright is dedicated to providing a world-class education, utilizing the latest advancements in institutional design, teaching, learning, technology and other fields to create an institution that is both innovative and globally relevant. Importantly, Fulbright is committed to serving Vietnamese society through rigorous research and responsible civic engagement.

The biggest part of Fulbright’s community is undergraduate students, the generation of dynamic, progressive, and empathetic young people who wholeheartedly pursue what they believe in and have passion for. The vibrant and diverse colors of more than 21 booths from 16 Fulbright Student Clubs have made Fulbright Giving Week 2022 all the more unique and remarkable. 

Attracting more than 300 attendees, the Giving Fair, initiated and organized by students, successfully raised 1,300 “tamarind leaves” with each leaf equivalent from VND 10,000 to VND 50,000 (approx. US$2). This fund will support student social projects.

21 Booths: collection of distinctive pieces

One of the most exciting activities at the Giving Fair is a trilogy of Wheels of Fortune, Tarot Reading, and Bingo (Lô Tô), held by Fulbright Event Hub with the support from Fulbright Student Engagement staff. 

Wheel of Fortune

Lô Tô performers stir up the atmosphere at the Giving Fair

“We call it ‘Event Hub’ because we wanted it to be a space where everyone can be their own childish selves, freely play like when we were kids and we can grow up together,” shared Lê Thảo Tường Vy, President of Fulbright Event Hub. 

The recreational format was also chosen by other clubs with various types of challenges, such as Google Developer Student Club with programming games, FulPride & Alliance with quizzes on LGBTQ+ topics, Fulbright Basketball Club with a mini playground, Fulbright Philosophy Society with board games, while TEDx FUV and Running Club presented interactive activities and fun trivias.

TEDx FUV’s booth

FulPride & Alliance’s booth

Mini playground at the Fulbright Basketball Club’s booth

With a more academic theme, Fulbright STEM Club, Fulbright Consulting Club, and Fulbright Historical Society took this opportunity to introduce their recent activities. The participants were invited to listen to The Keen Podcast, experience business case solving, and explore the new research projects, all of which were engaging activities to expand the clubs’ popularity.

Fulbright Historical Society’s booth

Fulbright Consulting Club’s booth

Staying true to the “giving fair” concept, many clubs were selling items related to their clubs’ activities or handmade products. There were books at LIT Magazine’s booth besides poetry reading activity; artworks from the Fulbright Art Lab along with art exhibitions; or “pre-ordered” products specially crafted by talents from Fulbright CIDO. And Fulbright Business Club, with their  entrepreneurial mindset, could not miss this opportunity to sell ready-to-eat foods and souvenirs, which no one would refuse to buy. 

A member of the Fulbright Business Club is decorating the “signage” of their food stall

Fulbright CIDO’s booth

Fundraising artworks at the Fulbright Art Lab’s booth

Taking advantage of costumes and decoration, Fulbright Theater offered Polaroid photography with one-of-a-kind accessories and backdrop. Meanwhile, the Fulbright Debate Club invited participants to contribute in two ways: cash or hair to the Vietnam Breast Cancer Network. With the pure expectation is to create engaging activities and bring laughters to the Fair, Nguyễn Đỗ Nguyễn (President of Fulbright Theater) shared that the donation were the unexpected response which made the club members over the moon.

 “At first, our photography service was completely for free because we were afraid that no one would be willing to pay just to dress up and take pictures. But surprisingly, people loved it, some even came back 4 times. We are very happy because the donation shows that our passion for theater has spread to many people!”.

Get creative with Fulbright Theater’s costumes

Besides the Clubs, two student projects also joined the Fair, namely Hearty Plant Project (project to develop urban gardening model) and ICPC Project (programming project). They introduced their projects to the wider student community with presentations and hands-on experiences.

Members of Hearty Plant project

Fulbright Student Clubs – where passions are ignited and nurtured 

University life at Fulbright presents opportunities for students to participate and thrive in a dynamic, welcoming environment, where they can make discoveries and find their own voices. As a division of the Office of Student Life, Student Engagement aims to promote students’ campus-wide involvement in learning opportunities, programs, and events outside the classroom.

Student Engagement staff and volunteers accompany with Student Clubs’ activities

With guidance from staff and faculty advisors, students can come together to fully explore, develop and pursue lifelong passions, actively planning and participating in projects close to their heart.

The passion for theater has always been in Đỗ Nguyễn’s heart, yet it was not until he entered Fulbright where Nguyễn has truly lived with the desire to cultivate this art in the community. “For me, Fulbright Theater is a passion, a dream, and a voice for arts. Being a part of the club, I can perform on stage or stay behind it to prepare for magnificent performances – it is freeing to me.”

Another art club that is newly established at Fulbright is Blue Period, the club that collaborated with Fulbright Art Lab to organize the Exhibition in Giving Week 2022. Not just a space for art practitioners, Blue Period’s vision is greater than that, “In Blue Period, this is what we really want to focus on: to help students to have hands-on experience with painting specifically, while also having an environment that is inclusive for all, not just the art majors,” shared Phạm Bá Hoan, a Blue Period member.

Art exhibition co-organized by Fulbright Art Hub and Blue Period

Beyond the financial and professional support from Fulbright faculty and staff, there is the inner strength of the student community itself. The financial resources to promote students’ initiatives partly come from community funding activities, which solidifies and sustains the community.  That is the spirit that Fulbright recognizes behind the impressive numbers which the students have achieved during the Giving Week 2022.

An Bình

A group of students, including two from Fulbright University Vietnam, recently won the third prize in a contest calling for people’s initiatives to raise Ho Chi Minh City’s international status, organized by Tuoi Tre Newspaper and the HCMC Department of External Affairs.

Held between June 16 and August 16, the contest received more than 420 entries in the form of articles, slides, infographics, and video clips in both Vietnamese and English. Brother. In addition to Vietnamese applicants, many expats who are living in HCMC or have been to HCMC also sent entries.

Phan Hoang Dung and Hoang Ngoc Gia Huong (Fulbright University Vietnam), Nguyen Ky Nam (Sciences Po, France), Bui Le Mai Anh (University of Economics, HCMC), Truong Thanh Khoa (Hoa Sen University, HCMC) and Nguyen Thuy Dung (University of Architecture, HCMC) came up with the idea of the “Social Innovation Center” during the time of social distancing caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Subsequently, the students held online discussions to collect ideas for the introduction video and the infographic presentation.

Phan Hoang Dung from Fulbright University Vietnam said that this is not only a contest but also an opportunity for group members to do something for the city they call home.

Ho Chi Minh City boasts a dynamic, creative and vibrant economy. The city is home to warm-hearted, generous and kind people. However, in the eyes of international friends, HCMC still lives in the shadow of the old Saigon – “the Pearl of the Far East”. For young people born and raised in HCMC like us, this is something we need to really think about. As we are young people studying and working in various areas, from public policy, media to entrepreneurship, we see the city’s branding efforts as a way for us to position ourselves in this big world. “What makes us different?” Although our discussions sometimes got disagreeable, we decided to believe in our common goal of this “Social Innovation Center”, Dung said.

The project aims to build the brand “Social Innovation Center” so that Ho Chi Minh City becomes a convergence point for businesses to create social impact and attract international friends to Vietnam.

A painting by Le Sa Long featuring a HCMC steamed rice stall giving free meals to poor people during Covid-19

This fall, a select few Fulbright students with physical disability and/or mental disorders will be able to receive financial aid from Wheel Cards Scholarship. This scholarship is established through the generosity and commitment of Wheel Cards to support college students with disabilities in Vietnam.

As the world’s first wheelchair/ disabilities-related NFT project, Wheel Cards has garnered much interest from people around the globe. Recently, the project was featured on Binance’s NFT platform along with Maye Musk, the mother of Elon Musk. Featuring pixelated characters in wheelchairs, Wheel Cards were sold out in mere seconds for the past 13 days.

Wheel Cards was founded with a mission to raise awareness about wheelchairs and disabilities in the Web 3.0 Metaverse space. The founder, Kunho Kim, spent his youth in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam before attending Harvard in 2012. While at Saigon South International School, Kunho learned of the difficulties Vietnamese people with disabilities face daily. Kunho founded one of the first student-initiated non-profit organizations to donate wheelchairs to paraplegic patients in Vietnam.

With the mission to create a more disability-friendly world, the Wheel Cards team decided to create a scholarship specifically to financially aid students with disabilities at Fulbright University Vietnam. Nam Tran, who is the director of development and strategic initiatives, hopes that “The Wheel Cards scholarship can help raise awareness about disabilities in Vietnam and become a catalyst to create a more equitable world for students with disabilities. We at Fulbright University are excited to work with Wheel Cards team to embrace new technology including blockchain, and the possibility of a more inclusive future that Wheel Cards is envisioning.” 

Kunho Kim (right) donating wheelchairs to patients in Vietnam when he was in high school

Being the world’s first NFT project to create a scholarship program, Kunho hopes that the Wheel Cards scholarship can leave a positive impact. “This was my childhood dream to give back to a society where everyone helped me become who I am right after I had a ski accident in Montana, USA eleven years ago. I hope with this scholarship students with disabilities could advance into any area they want to without much financial burden while studying at Fulbright University. Our team is very grateful to a community of supporters who made this possible and hopes to continue supporting more students with disabilities in the future with our Wheel Cards community members.”

About Fulbright University Vietnam:

In May 2016, during his official visit to Viet Nam, President Barack Obama announced the establishment of Fulbright University Vietnam, Vietnam’s first independent, not-for-profit, liberal arts university. We are an expanding international team of educational innovators, with deep roots in Vietnam, strong political and financial backing, and connections to educational institutions around the world. 

We believe in the power of collaboration, transdisciplinary thinking, and risk-taking, and we understand that effective education requires putting students at its center. Globally integrated but deeply embedded in Vietnamese society, Fulbright is dedicated to providing a world-class education, utilizing the latest advancements in institutional design, teaching, learning, technology and other fields to create an institution that is both innovative and globally relevant. Importantly, Fulbright is committed to serving Vietnamese society through rigorous research and responsible civic engagement.

About Wheel Cards:

Wheel Cards is Door Labs’ first NFT collectibles project. Door Labs’ mission is to create an inclusive metaverse in which all abilities, colors, and genders are represented and celebrated. As part of the mission, Door Labs created Wheel Cards, the World’s first wheelchair/ disability-related NFT collectibles project, and aimed to raise awareness about disabilities, and wheelchairs in Web 3.0 metaverse space. Moreover, Door Labs recently partnered with the Korea Paralympic Committee to create Kaard, the World’s first Paralympic NFTs.

During our school visits across Vietnam to recruit applicants for the Academic year 2019-2020, Fulbright received lots of questions from students. One question was by far the most popular: “My English is not good, can I still study at Fulbright?”

On his Facebook, Khang A Tua, one of Fulbright’s 54 Co-Design Year students, shared his experience learning English at Fulbright. His thoughts below may help our concerned, potential applicants feel assured that you can study at Fulbright.

“Vietnamese is actually my second language; and even when I was in 10th grade, I still could not listen and speak Vietnamese fluently. However, I still went to class everyday, even gaining some awards.

It was not just by pure luck that I got those awards. It was because I have always considered language as a tool for communication, for people to express what they think. I didn’t need to fully understand every single word in a question. I just needed to understand the main point of the question and convey my thinking in the simplest way possible.

It is the same now with English. I am definitely not fluent in English at this moment of writing; but I don’t feel left behind in my study and my life at Fulbright, where almost everything happens in English.

So, you just have to use language in a way that it is created for: to connect people. It will help simplify your quest in learning a new language.”

Tua’s sharing is also what Pamela Stacey, Director of the College Bridge Program and Learning Support, tells her students. Ms. Stacey believes that as long as a student can convey what they think, even with limited vocabularies or weak grammar, they will still excel in an English-taught academic environment like Fulbright.

That is the reason why even though Fulbright’s program is taught in English, we do not require our students to take the IELTS or TOEFL test when applying to Fulbright. If we were to set a standard for English proficiency, we may miss out on great students.

These students may possess all the qualities that Fulbright is looking for: intellectual curiosity, pioneering spirit, community-minded, committed, and has integrity. They just have less opportunity or access to adequate English language training.

Khang A Tua, a H’Mong ethnic from Mu Cang Chai mountainous district, is that special student. He is well known for leading different social projects to search for, protect and uphold the H’mong culture. And in 2018, he accepted an offer to become one of Fulbright’s 54 Co-Design Year students.

Thus, for those who are still unsure about their English proficiency, do not worry. At Fulbright, there are many support programs that will help you improve your English.

One of those is the College Bridge program, which starts every summer for students whose English may be weaker than that of their peers. This program will prepare students for the academic rigor of Fulbright’s undergraduate curriculum.