December 9th, 2010: Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton Speaks to FLTAs
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am so happy to see all of you. I have heard so much about what you are doing, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to welcome you here to the State Department. And I want to thank you personally for the work that you are doing to help build closer ties between our nations and our people as Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants.
And I want to thank Ann Stock and her staff in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for the excellent job they do administering this and all of the other Fulbright programs. I knew Senator Fulbright. He was from Arkansas. And in fact, many, many years ago, before – as I look at this audience – any of you were born, my husband worked for Senator Fulbright when he was a student at Georgetown University, not too far from here. He didn’t have any money, and he had to work several jobs to be able to continue his education. And he heard about a job working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was then chaired by Senator Fulbright, who was a senator from his home state of Arkansas.
So my husband called and visited and tried to introduce himself, because he really didn’t know anybody; he didn’t have anyone who could pick up the phone and intercede for him. And he finally met someone who was working for Senator Fulbright, and so Bill asked if there were any jobs and how much they paid. And so the man said, “Well, we have a part-time job, and it pays X amount.” And Bill said, “Well, could I have two part-time jobs – (laughter) – because otherwise I won’t be able to stay and finish Georgetown?” And the person he was talking to took pity on this young student and said yes.
And so Bill went to work when he was a sophomore at Georgetown working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and through that he got to know Senator Fulbright. And he really understood Senator Fulbright’s passion for education and his absolute commitment that we needed to be doing more across the world to help each other understand what was happening outside of our own culture and our country, to use education as a bridge. And indeed, these programs named for Senator Fulbright have become a centerpiece in American engagement around the world, and by doing so we have helped to provide unforgettable experiences to hundreds of thousands of students and scholars from so many countries.
Because Senator Fulbright knew – in fact, he once said – that, “Educational exchanges can turn nations into people.” And what did he mean by that? Well, if you think of the United States or you think of any other country in the world, and you don’t know anyone and you don’t understand the language or the culture or the history, it’s easy to lose sight of the common humanity that connects us. And Senator Fulbright knew that humanizing international relations was critical for achieving lasting peace and progress. Because when the leaders and citizens of different countries can find common ground with each other we are far more likely to negotiate our differences peacefully.
As the 2010 class of Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants, you are the latest in this tradition of young people who have taken up this mission. As I travel now around the world as Secretary of State, very often I will be in a meeting in a president’s or prime minister’s office, and someone will say, “I was a Fulbright Scholar” or, “I was a Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant.” Or I will have a meeting with local business leaders and someone will come up as I’m shaking hands and say, “I was a Fulbright Scholar or a Teaching Assistant.” So your role is not only important to help us better communicate with each other, but I hope it is also an opportunity for you personally as you think about your own future.
I’m convinced that with your help, students across the United States are now learning new languages, including Mandarin or Farsi or Arabic—even Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek, languages that I heard during my recent trip to Central Asia. Now, some of your students will continue to study these languages for years. But even though they may never become fluent, they will still benefit from your instruction in terms of vocabulary and grammar, but there will be a much deeper lasting effect: that sense of fellowship, of better understanding between people.
Part of what I do in my job now is to try to put myself in other people’s shoes, to say, “Well, why are people acting like that?” or, “Why are they thinking that?” or, “How can we better break down the barriers that exist?” And when you return home at the end of your Fulbright year, your proficiency in English will help people in your country gain greater access to not only the language, but the understanding that comes with it. The ability to speak English is a great opportunity, a great door-opener in today’s world. And I think that you are not only experiencing that, but you are giving that to others.
In the remainder of your time here in our country, I hope you will continue to broaden your own experience. I hope you will deepen your friendships and relationships with other students, with your professors, and with each other. I’ve heard a number of wonderful stories already. I’ve heard about some of you volunteering at senior citizens’ homes and telling stories from your family and your background, and even one of you who encountered someone from your own native country and could speak in that language, something that hadn’t been possible for many years for this particular person. I know that many of you serve as translators in local schools, so while you’re continuing your university studies you’re helping in community schools, where sometimes a young child shows up as a refugee or an immigrant, and no one understands his or her language, and you help to provide that bridge and that connection.
These bonds have the potential for such a lasting impact on your lives and the lives of everyone you meet. And I know that Senator Fulbright, when he first proposed this program 65 years ago, in his own words, said that he hoped it would bring, “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, a little more compassion in world affairs.”
So let me thank you. Let me thank you for the contributions you have already made to global cooperation and understanding. I hope that you will continue always to make this a part of whatever you decide to do in the future. Because, ironically, as Ann was saying, we can connect with each other through the internet, but we still literally need to not only communicate but understand, and you can help add that understanding.
And we hope too you will keep up your ties with the United States. We are very proud of our relationships with all of you. We want them to continue and endure. And I hope as I travel next year and the year after, that as I go around the world, one of you, or perhaps more of you, will come up and say, “I was one of those language teaching assistants, and now here’s what I’m doing in my own life, in my own career, in my own professional advancement.”
So thank you for your service. Thank you for your commitment to learning, and thanks fundamentally for your belief that we really can solve our problems, we really can listen and learn from one another, that no matter how different the situation we find our world in, we can build better understanding and create the conditions for more and more young people to have the chance to live up to their own God-given dreams and potential. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)