Good evening, everyone.
As you heard, I am Tara Sonenshine and I’m Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. And I am delighted to join you at this special time – the 40th anniversary of the Fulbright program in Russia.
The program is very important to all of us – Russians and Americans. As I’ll explain in a few moments, it’s also important to the work of public diplomacy.
So what better way to pay tribute to 40 years of Fulbright than to acknowledge the contributions of the people who have made it – and continue to make it – so vibrant and effective? I am talking about all of you - Russians and Americans, scholars and students, men and women.
You are the keys to fulfilling Senator William J. Fulbright’s founding vision: to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs. And with the connections you have forged in your local communities, business circles, academia, or the nonprofit sector, you are forging closer ties between the people of our two countries. And we appreciate that.
As I look around, I am also pleased to note that the Fulbright Community College Administrators Seminar is taking place this week in Russia, and that we have five U.S. representatives with us this evening from community colleges. These are colleges in Florida, New Jersey, Minnesota, Texas, and California.
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take just a few moments to explain public diplomacy and how the Fulbright program and community colleges, for that matter, play such a key role.
Public diplomacy is about sharing our American story and listening to the stories of people around the world. I don’t mean that in a literal way. Not so much by the words we say but in the actions we take. By that, I mean the programs and exchanges we sponsor, and the online and offline outreach we do, so that citizens around the world can together build better futures.
By helping us all achieve our God-given potential, and by doing things like sending American students abroad or bringing international students to the United States to study or share information about their culture, we hope we develop a deeper understanding of one another’s values and principles. We call these activities public diplomacy – because it’s about people understanding and connecting with people.
We find that educational opportunities like the Fulbright Program are some of the best and most effective ways we can build trust and mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries.
Community colleges are very relevant to our public diplomacy, too, because they expand access to education and help young people – from all corners of society – develop the skills they need for success in their careers and in the information economy that we all live in today.
Whether you are current participants or alumni, I encourage you to share your ideas with one another and reach out to others who have participated in the Fulbright program and other exchange programs.
I urge you to maintain contact with Americans and Russians you have met, and to stay in touch with the American Embassy to learn about new opportunities for cooperation between Russia and the United States.
We have some incredible tools to help you stay connected virtually as well. Our alumni website – alumni.state.gov – links together thousands and thousands of alumni around the world who have participated in State Department exchange programs.
They will help you connect with fellow alumni from around the globe, participate in live Web chats, and access valuable resources such as grant announcements or research databases with free academic journals, newspapers, and periodicals.
Time and time again, we have seen how connections like these can open doors, enrich communities, and open our eyes to new and different human experiences. We have seen how they can reverse cultural, ethnic, and religious stereotypes and create bonds for a lifetime.
There’s no substitute for hearing from people, like you, who have been through the program. And I see from the agenda that there is an impressive lineup of speakers who will be doing just that.
So let me conclude by congratulating you and thanking you for all that you do to promote better relations between the people of Russia and the United States.