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