Remarks as prepared
Good morning and what a pleasure it is to join you on this beautiful new location in this growing new neighborhood to inaugurate this campus.
I gave my first policy address in Vietnam in the auditorium of Vietnam National University where, on a monument to Ho Chi Minh at the university’s entrance, there was a quote noting his commitment to education.
He said “Non song Việt Nam có trở nên vẻ vang hay không, dân tộc Việt Nam có được sánh vai các cường quốc năm châu hay không, chính là nhờ một phần lớn ở công lao học tập của các cháu.”
He, like many of you here, recognized that if Vietnam is to become glorious, the people of Vietnam are to stand shoulder to shoulder with powerful nations throughout the six continents.
Of course, that’s also true for all countries, including those represented here today, and their success depends to a great degree your study efforts as their future leaders.
Vietnam is a country with a long tradition of valuing education. Similarly, the United States is a country in which education provides the best opportunity for personal growth, economic advancement and a thriving national economy.
St. Paul’s American School is an institution that, while relatively new on the Vietnamese landscape, integrates the best of American educational values into that long tradition of Vietnam’s academic commitment. In so doing, it serves as a model of Vietnam’s increasing integration into the global community.
And a Vietnam that is strong, prosperous, and independent and that respects the rule of law and human rights will be an indispensable friend of the United States and will become an increasingly important partner in the region and in the world.
This shared vision – in which nothing is impossible – is enhanced by a quality education.
Moreover, to have great education, you have to have an inspiring educational environment; a committed, well-educated staff; an ambitious and intellectually-curious student body; and supportive, interested parents.
From what I have seen so far on this, my first visit, St. Paul’s American School exhibits these crucial elements for success.
I understand that last year, the school marked its first graduating class with two students.
This year, I hear there will be seven.
I know your enrollments are increasing.
Your students and their families come from all over the globe, including Vietnam.
And, yet, these families have chosen to have their children attend a school that offers a distinctly American curriculum, where the language of instruction is English.
I’m sure they made this choice because, among other reasons, these elements will prepare the students to compete in the globalized landscape that is the 21st century.
So, let’s take a moment to explore the American education system to identify some reasons that so many from across the globe have chosen to follow it.
For example, at the tertiary level, more than 900,000 students from around the world, including almost 17,000 Vietnamese, attended America’s nearly 5,000 accredited institutions of higher learning in 2013.
The American education system reflects and amplifies who we are as Americans – our values, our history and our aspirations.
While I admit these are sweeping generalizations and freely acknowledge they don’t tell the whole story, it’s nevertheless true and well-reflected in our education system that Americans are, generally-speaking, optimistic and focus on possibilities.
We are problem-solvers (if sometimes of problems of our own making!) and tend to think we can make a difference, as well as giving of our time, energy and money.
We are diverse — socio-economically, in ethnic background, religion, gender and culture, which is a major source of our strength.
We are inclusive, though sometimes we struggle to do that better.
We participate in our religious institutions, despite arguing about the way in which they should influence our public and private lives.
We acknowledge the importance of the individual, yet strive to build and maintain vibrant communities.
We value tradition but are not bound by it.
We represent, for many across the globe, the “Promised Land,” “the American dream.”
As President Barack Obama has said “the story of America is a story of progress.”
So, what does that say about our education system?
For one thing, it means that we have diversity in academic programs unrivaled in the world.
What kind of diversity?
Well, every kind: in size, in geographic location, in the demographics of the student body, in religions, in ethnicity, in socio-economic status and in areas of study – more than 2,000.
And I can’t talk about American education without mentioning the role and importance of sports in our schools, including at the secondary and even primary levels, reflecting the philosophy of “strong body, strong mind.” I don’t know anywhere else on the planet where a university sporting event draws the level of interest, support and enthusiasm as it does in the US. We strive to provide opportunity to all segments of our society through need-based and merit-based scholarships.
We deal with complexity; we make and learn how to convey independent thoughts and decisions.
Because we are not bound by tradition, we value the fundamental goal of “liberal arts” education, regardless of subject matter, to teach students the invaluable skill of HOW to think, not WHAT to think; to learn to use effectively that organ which most distinguishes humans from the other animals: our brains.
That’s what education in the United States means and these are among the reasons that the world is knocking at our door to be a part of it. St. Paul’s American curriculum promotes these qualities that will lead to your success.
While I’m extolling the virtues of an American education, let me share with you something special about which we’re very excited.
Just as St. Paul’s is the realization of an American educational approach at the elementary and secondary level, we will soon see the first private, non-profit American-style university in Vietnam after the Fulbright University of Vietnam breaks ground on its Ho Chi Minh City campus later this year, perhaps in August.
The U.S. Congress, through the State Department, will provide some funding to demonstrate official American commitment to this project, but the bulk of funding will be raised privately through an independent board of directors.
Building on the 20 years of achievement by the Fulbright Economic Teaching Program as one of its foundations, this full university will, under the laws of Vietnam, be a transparently run, academic meritocracy providing a high-quality, modern education and also serve as a platform for thoughtful policy recommendations for Vietnam and the region.
We hope to see undergraduate classes start as early as 2016. So, not only will St. Paul’s prepare you for academic excellence in the United States, should you so choose, I am proud to say that the Fulbright University Vietnam will soon offer that quality American education here in Vietnam.
St. Paul’s attractive campus, dedicated faculty, hard-working students and supportive parents from both Vietnam and other countries serves as an impressive model of American education in Vietnam, and also as a means to support Vietnam’s continuing integration into the global community.
I am honored to be a part of this inauguration and to unveil the plaque marking the occasion.