Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: Fulbright University Vietnam Class of 2023 Convocation

Sunday, September 8, 2019
Crescent Plaza, Ho Chi Minh City

Xin chào quý vị! Good morning and thank you so much for the warm introduction. First of all, allow me to recognize Fulbright University Vietnam President Đàm Bích Thủy [Dom Bic TWEE] and her team for their leadership and vision. The speed at which this young university is developing is nothing short of amazing. I applaud your work.

I would also like to welcome Provost Dr. Ian Bickford to Vietnam. Dr. Bickford, you have accepted a position with one of this country’s most dynamic and exciting organizations. I know you will find yourself dazzled by Fulbright University Vietnam’s students, faculty, and staff. You have our full support in your new role, and I look forward to working with you.

My thanks also go to Ms. Christy Le [LEI], who will be delivering today’s Keynote Address. Christy, I’m delighted to see you here. Through your passion, diligence, and imagination, you are an outstanding example of a 21st century global entrepreneur. There is so much that we can learn from you.

I can’t think of a more inspired choice than Christy Le to provide today’s keynote address and kick off the first academic year for Fulbright University Vietnam’s first undergraduate class!

What an honor it is to be here today with the members of the Class of 2023 and their families. To the 54 Co-Designers that are here: it’s great to see you again. We have spent a lot of time together over the past year, and you continue to inspire me. To the students that are now joining FUV: welcome to a wonderful community of learners.

I think I speak for everyone in this room when I say how proud of you I am. Fulbright University Vietnam is a new and different kind of university. It is looking for a new and different kind of student. So getting through the application and interview process probably wasn’t easy. I am sure that FUV asked you to think very deeply about who you are, what you want, and what you will give back to your community. I can only imagine how challenging the application process was.

And yet, here we are today. You made it. I applaud you all. I think you are about to embark on a very special journey. Why do I say this? I say this because you have all accepted a role in a grand project that is shaping Vietnam’s future.

Fulbright University Vietnam represents the next step for Vietnam’s education system. It is also the start of something bigger and more vital for the Vietnam of tomorrow. FUV takes the best of the traditional American liberal arts and sciences education and advances it through the lens of Vietnam’s aspirations, identity, and history, as well as through its rich cultural heritage. It is building an institution dedicated to serving Vietnamese society through innovations in education and technology, as well as through a spirit of discovery.

Fulbright University is helping Vietnam respond to an undeniable thirst for modern education. This university is growing as an educational laboratory that will develop and test new ideas about institutional independence, academic freedom, autonomy, admissions criteria, the relationship between students and teachers, research and development, student life, citizenship, communications, and technology. The success of these experiments translates into success for Vietnam’s education system, people, and society.

That’s a lot, isn’t it? Each one of you here today is involved in this grand project. And it’s no accident: there is something special about each and every one of you. Something that this university sees in you. You are here because of your talent, your creativity, your intelligence, your integrity, your empathy, and your imagination. You are here because you are capable of doing special things in life.

Has anyone here heard of Mark Twain? Mark Twain is considered the ‘father of American literature.’ He lived a long time ago, but we Americans consider Mark Twain our national author, our humorist, and our philosopher. One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes describes how important it is to take your dreams seriously, no matter how crazy they might seem to you right now.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Give yourself permission to explore, dream, and discover. That’s my message for you today. This is exactly the time and place for that: while you are a student at FUV. That’s what education is supposed to do. That’s the power of education.

Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate just like you, I was focused on mathematics. I planned to become a teacher. That was it for me; I was 18 years old and I had it all figured out. I wasn’t really thinking about other possibilities. Even when I was exposed to new things that intrigued me. Yet I had great mentors and advisors when I was a student, and they encouraged me to keep an open mind, to keep the doors open to new possibilities.

As time passed at university, I became inspired by international relations. My mentors encouraged me to look more closely at this new thing that interested me. They encouraged me to give myself permission to follow it if it excited me. And I realized that, yes, international relations did excite me. Quite a lot, in fact. I became inspired to become a diplomat, and I ultimately changed course away from teaching and mathematics. And, here I am before you today. I couldn’t be happier to be the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. I probably would have been happy to be a math teacher as well, but I can honestly say that by giving myself permission to try new things, I found the most meaningful career in the world for myself.

To make that change, I had to be open to new possibilities. I had to be willing to explore, dream, and discover, as Twain said. To me, this is the essence of a Fulbright University Vietnam student. Now is absolutely the time for you to explore, dream, and discover. Your possibilities are limitless, and Fulbright University will help you find those possibilities.

Dare to explore, dream, and discover. Give yourself permission. I promise you – you won’t regret it. I don’t.

Finally, I want to recognize all the parents and families in the room today. Thank you for your strong support for Fulbright University Vietnam and for believing in this outstanding group of students. I share your confidence in this university, and I of course share your confidence in the class of 2023.

Thank you and good luck to you all! Xin cảm ơn!