Remarks at Tan Tao Commencement Ceremony
October 16, 2015
Amb. Michael Michalak
Former United States Ambassador to Vietnam
Senior Vice President of the US-ASEAN Business Council
Founding Board Member, Tan Tao University
It gives me great pleasure to be once again here at Tan Tao University to talk to the best students in the world! It makes me proud to be able to talk to you — the first ever graduating class of Tan Tao University on this your day of days!
I have often spoken of how Tan Tao reminds me very much of my on undergraduate University, Oakland University in Rochester Michigan. I have talked about how Oakland and Tan Tao are both experimental schools with young faculty, superior students and a collegial, nurturing academic atmosphere. When I went to Oakland, like Tan Tao, there were few buildings and everyone knew everyone else if only by seeing them in the halls every day.
Well I will not repeat that story because you who are graduating today have heard me talk about it already at least twice! But I will say that this graduation day also reminds me of Oakland University Graduation. I recall when I graduated and wore a gown similar to the one I am wearing today. I was not in the first graduating class, I was in the fifth class. The President of the University good before us as Gene Levy stood before us earlier today. In my day, the President reminded us of the four years which we had just completed. He reminded us that, though we all had wonderful memories of our days at University, all was not smooth sailing, he reminded us that we, as students had done our share of complaining and even demonstrating against the establishment to change conditions at the school or to protest some decision or other — you know, it is funny that, today, I remember the protest but not the decisions we were protesting! But on that graduation day many years ago, the President of the University said to us that for four years you have given us, the establishment, your complaints and your desires for change — today YOU become the. establishment. From now on it is in your power to make the changes you want to see. You remember I have said to you in the past you are the future of Vietnam, you are the new leaders of Vietnam, well ladies and gentlemen, the future is here, the future is now, the future is yours.
Sounds a little scary doesn’t it?
Well there is one more similarity between TTU and OU about which I would like to talk. Even though I was not in the first graduating class at OU, i was still in that group of new graduates and the school still had that experimental atmosphere, that feeling of doing new things, like they say in Star Trek , the feeling of “Going where no person has gone before!” and so when people referred to us graduates they called us the Pioneers. As you know Pioneers are people who explore, who set new trails, who investigate new things. Pioneers have to be able to deal with their fears and not let being scared paralyze them. Pioneers are able to act even if they are scared and to move ahead because that’s what pioneers do they move ahead.
In some sense we are all pioneers, like me most of you are probably the first in your family to go to university and, thankfully, you are also the first in your family to graduate from University! Most of you like me, had a scholarship in University, if not for the entire time at least for some of time. Most of you had some idea of want you want to do but many of you, like I was, are not sure what you are going to do with your learning now that this stage of your education is finished. All these things are rolling around in your head and in your heart as you sit in your chairs and hope that I will be finished soon so you can get that certificate that proves you graduated and you can get on with the rest of your life. I think those of us who are sitting on this stage all went through the same feelings when we graduated — no matter how many time we graduated!
You are going through what most graduates go through at this time. But you are pioneers! You went through this when you were chosen to come to Tan Tao. You went through this when you were told that you were special and that this University would help you realize your potential. I think that has worked for some but maybe not for all. Some pioneers go further than others but you are all still pioneers! You all have that spirit of curiosity, that drive to succeed that drive to keep moving forward. The founder of this Uiversity, Madame Yen, is another Pioneer. She helped hundreds of Vietnamese to buy their first homes with some of the financial reforms she supported here in Vietnam, she was the first to actually use her own resources to set up an American style University in Vietnam and she continues to move ahead. Even now she is Studying for a Ph.D. in an American University in Texas. She is a Pioneer.
Sometimes I would get tired of being a pioneer. Sometimes I would feel like I wanted to rest, to stop moving forward — and sometimes I would. But you know, I could never stop for very long, I could never give up and say I’m finished. Even today, after being retired for a few years I have started a new career introducing American business to ASEAN Countries. I am creating new bridges between America and Asia, making new friends and learning things. I am still that Pioneer that graduated from Oakland University many decades ago and you are going to still be the pioneers that graduated from TanTao University many decades from now.
When I was Ambassador to Vietnam I would often go into the countryside to open a school that American NGO’s had built. One time I went into the Central Highlands to open a school near Kontum. It was a beautiful school with a dormitory and a kitchen and a cafeteria so kids could stay at the school for several days because it was very far away for many students to walk. Over the front front door of the school the parents and villagers had hung a banner with a great slogan on it. I cannot remember the exact words but they summed up the hopes and desires of all those who worked to establish Tan Tao and the hopes of all the who work and study at Tan Tao. It said something like the following:
“Today we give you a school in which to learn, tomorrow you will give us a nation in which to live”
Thank you very much and congratulations to the class of 2015!