Yesterday I went to a reception at Rideau Hall to celebrate the end of Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s five year term. So much has been written about her warmth, her efforts to engage youth, to empower women and so much more. All I can add is that she will be missed by everyone she has touched. I have no doubt that she will distinguish herself in her new role as UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti. While her term as Governor General of Canada is drawing to a close, I am happy to say the friendship Julie and I have forged with her and her husband, Jean-Daniel, will last for quite some time.
After the Rideau Hall celebration, Julie and I went to a dinner in honor of the Canada-US Fulbright Scholars. The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the United States Government. It is designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Since 1946 when it was proposed by freshman Senator J. William Fulbright – himself a former Rhodes Scholar – more than 300,000 people from around the world have participated. They are chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential. U.S. students study in foreign countries. Foreign students study in the U.S. The U.S./Canada Fulbright Program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Minister Peter Van Loan represented the Canadian Government. I represented the United States. There were at least three highlights during the evening:
- The dinner was held in the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. Despite the fact that it is only a few blocks from my house, it was our first visit. But it won’t be our last. It is really impressive.
- I got a chance to talk with several of the American and Canadian Fulbright Scholars. These people are future leaders in education, business, and government in both of our countries.
- The keynote speaker was Ruth Simmons, the President of Brown University. Dr. Simmons is the first African-American President of an Ivy League University. She has a very long list of honors and achievements. But I was far more moved by her personal story which she talked about in her address. She was the last of 12 children from a rural Texas family. Her father was a share-cropper in a place where racism was rampant. She talked about how first reading books in the public library, then during a trip to Mexico and subsequently while traveling to France as a Fulbright Scholar that she realized the opportunities available to her in her life. The progress she – and our country – has made in one generation is breathtaking.