Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Aubin at the Fulbright Orientation Reception

Good evening, everyone, and a big thank you to Fulbright Canada for hosting us this evening.

Tonight is a celebration of discovering new friends, colleagues, and opportunities … but if you don’t mind, I’d like to take just a couple of moments for more serious reflection. We have all seen the tragic trail of destruction and devastation Hurricane Irma has left through the Caribbean. Now, as it roars toward South Florida, our thoughts are also with the tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, including many Canadians for whom Florida is a second home.

Hundreds of miles to the west of Florida, along the Gulf Coast of the United States, Hurricane Harvey – one of the worst natural disasters in American history – has crushed the landscape but not the spirit of the people of Texas and Louisiana. We are sending our thoughts and support to the people along the Gulf, and just as important – we are grateful to the many Canadians and their government who have offered their time, manpower, and resources to get millions of Americans back on their feet.

Canadians – gracious and generous as ever – have already opened their hearts. Prime Minister Trudeau has promised that “Canada will always stand ready to assist.” And Canada already has. The federal and provincial governments are responding with immense kindness. Ontario alone has already sent $100,000 worth of baby formula, cribs, linens, towels, and hygiene kits to the Gulf region. And our Canadian friends vow that they are standing by to help with whatever follows Hurricane Irma.

Time and again, we’re reminded how Americans and Canadians work together in both good times and bad. Whether it’s wildfires in the West or – now – a deluge along the Gulf, the United States and Canada stand by each other as the best of neighbors. We will always be grateful to our Canadian friends for extending your hand to lift our fellow Americans up from the floods. We will always be grateful to you for your friendship.

Of course, as I said, tonight is yet another rewarding chapter in the enduring story of this U.S.-Canadian friendship. You are all here this evening because you believe in the power of that friendship. Our two countries work better when we work together.

In its more than quarter-century, the Fulbright program in Canada has both bound our friendship and opened our boundaries. The reach of the program includes challenges that face our two nations, the Arctic region, and the world. Our Fulbrighters research environmental protection, energy production, and conservation. They deal with matters of diversity – racial, cultural, and gender. They seek ways to improve the lives of our minority citizens, especially First Nations and Native Americans. They dig deep into questions of public policy that will shape our North American economic and political agendas for years to come. Fulbrighters become part of projects that are bigger than themselves.

Could I ask all the Fulbright and Killam grantees in the room to stand and be recognized?

Fulbright has become a watchword for mutual understanding and academic excellence. We consider it the most prestigious academic award in the world.

As you might expect in the context of the broad and deep U.S.-Canada relationship, there’s no such thing as a typical Fulbrighter. Canadian and American Fulbrighters are teachers, research scholars, graduate students, and even undergraduates, thanks to the Killam program.

And this year, our diplomatic mission is hoping each of you will consider adding yet another specialty to your résumé – namely, American speaker. It will probably come as no surprise to you that many of your areas of research reflect issues that we believe are fundamental to the U.S.-Canada relationship. You have expertise and an American perspective that we would love to share with Canadians. Your participation in a panel discussion, roundtable, or presentation can offer Canadians a better understanding of American viewpoints and a vibrant, constructive exchange of ideas.

Once you settle in at your campuses and research institutions, we encourage you to reach out to the Embassy or U.S. Consulate closest to you and let them know whether you’d be willing to speak about your area of expertise to groups, workshops, or conferences. Of course, our clever colleagues may already have you highlighted in their Rolodex, so don’t be surprised if they call you first. They can’t promise that they’ll make you a celebrity, but they’d love to be your agent!

Yes, whether you expected it or not, each of you is about to become a spokesperson and ambassador for America in your own right. Above and beyond representing your field of research, you will be advocates for academic freedom. You will be examples of the benefits of academic exchange.

As far back as 1915 – more than a century ago – the American Association of University Professors formulated a statement of principles on academic freedom. By 1940, some 240 national educational associations had endorsed the so-called Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. In short, those principles state that “the common good depends on the free search for truth and its free exposition.” For those of us who aren’t academics, that simply means that scholars have an obligation to promote the free exchange of ideas grounded in truth. I have no doubt that you will pursue that task with a passion.

Now, as for serving as advocates for academic exchange, we can also use your help here. The Fulbright idea has always advocated that international exchange is one of the most meaningful ways of uncovering knowledge and achieving human potential. In fact, the very person for whom this program is named – Senator J. William Fulbright – described it this way: “From the standpoint of future world peace and order, educational exchange is probably the most important and potentially rewarding of our foreign policy initiatives … It can turn nations into people, contributing … to the humanizing of international relations.” Exchanges like Fulbright foster insight, understanding, and empathy.

The Fulbright exchange may be the most noteworthy program between the United States and Canada, but it is not the only one. Currently, thousands of Canadian and American students cross the 49th parallel each year to study in each other’s countries. But neither is the top source country for the other when it comes to exchange students. In fact, neither is even close to the top.

The potential for more exchanges and deeper cross-border partnerships is so much greater than the reality.

As a Fulbright scholar, you have the power to help build those exchanges – the exchanges that reinforce academic freedom, understanding, and insight. How?

  • You can work with your home university to establish partnerships with your new host institution. That may mean creating links that nurture research, or it may mean encouraging the establishment of formal student exchange programs.
  • You can mentor Canadian students on your new campus and encourage them to study in the United States. American universities and colleges offer diverse student bodies, outstanding research and teaching faculties, and campus activities and venues that are second to none. We’re also a pretty interesting culture to study!
  • And, by all means, you can recommend the Fulbright program to students and professors whom you think would benefit. The top candidates are often referred to the program by the very scholars who know it best.

Finally, I want to promise you that the opportunities you’re about to embrace will change your life. Yes, you will build contact networks and enrich research databases. But more important – you will find personal fulfillment as you make human connections and discover profound truths.

I will tell you what I told last year’s class of Fulbright scholars – because this is always true: The next year will be one of the most transformative, enriching experiences of your life. And I’ll tell you now: At the end of your Fulbright experience in Canada, you might be a completely different person with an entirely different perspective on your studies and your life. Let’s hope your families and friends even recognize you when you return home!

So here’s to the success that led you to this point in your career and life! And here’s to your future success in helping move Fulbright, academia, and U.S.-Canadian relations even farther forward.

Thank you so much for joining us here tonight, and I wish you all the best!