Tonight, we celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Fulbright Treaty with Australia – one of the earliest formal agreements between our two countries. It predates even the ANZUS Treaty, which speaks to the nature of the relationship between our two countries. Even as we emerged from the devastation of World War II, our impulse was to think about what we could do together to make the world a better place.
For more than six decades, we have carried on a proud tradition – originally made possible by the sale of surplus materiel – almost literally turning our swords into ploughshares.
Thanks to Senator Fulbright’s foresight, those swords have been fashioned into breakthroughs in medicine, enduring works of art, and advances in science and technology.
Benjamin Franklin wrote that “if a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” Nowhere is that more evident than in the Fulbright program.
Our investment in the minds of our “best and brightest” has brought us email and Bose sound systems. It’s given us great literature and music, movies and television. It’s helped shape the careers of Presidents and Prime Ministers, members of Congress, and a UN Secretary General. And even two members of Australia’s Parliament!
It’s resulted in 80 Pulitzer Prize winners, 53 Nobel Prize winners, and 28 winners of the MacArthur Fellowship (otherwise known as “the Genius Grant”).
I’d say that’s a pretty impressive ROI [return on investment]!
Over time, we have increased not only the number of scholarships. We have also broadened the scope of the program. This year, I’m pleased to note that the Australian government established a one million-dollar endowment to fund the Fulbright Indigenous Scholarship in perpetuity.
Since its inception, the Fulbright program has sent more than 300,000 participants from more than 155 countries to learn, teach, share, and grow.
This is important because every country strives to reach beyond meeting the basic needs of its people. We devote significant effort toward shaping our cultures so that our achievements will shine farther and brighter – like a lighthouse in the night.
As a result, we have walked on the moon, mapped the human genome, peered inside the atom, and broken the sound barrier. We are exploring the reaches of space beyond our solar system, and are unlocking the mysteries of the three pounds of grey matter between our own ears.
Today, the business of government and commerce can be carried out instantly across thousands of miles because of the Internet.
Many of these advances are due to the work of Fulbright scholars. Whether they are household names or known only to a select few, Fulbright scholars are extraordinary people. Every day, they quietly change our lives for the better. As cultural ambassadors, they build ties of friendship and trust between nations.
They work to fulfill Senator Fulbright’s dream that this program would “bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and … increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”
Programs like Fulbright allow us to leave our children a better world. But we must teach them in turn that they too have a duty to their countries and their planet.
In ancient Athens, young people took an oath before they could assume the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship. In it, they swore to leave their city not only not less, but greater, more beautiful, and more prosperous than they found it.
We must hold the spirit of these words in our hearts. They are still the core of civic morality, and will prepare us to meet whatever challenges the future may bring.
God bless each of you for your support for this great program.
Please join me in a toast: “To the next 65 years!”