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.