Fulbright Award Presentation and Panel Discussion
Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday, May 28, 2013
I’m thrilled to be able to join you—some of Canada’s many brilliant Fulbright scholars, along with other students and academics—here at the Harvard Faculty Club, in Cambridge.
Some of the most rewarding and memorable days of my life were spent in this great city. I first arrived in Boston in 1959—straight from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario—to attend Harvard University as an undergraduate. I earned my BA in 1963.
In the four years between arriving and graduating, I studied, competed as an athlete and learned something about leadership. In a very real way, Boston became my town and Bostonians my colleagues, neighbours and friends. I’ve never lost that strong attachment to the city and its people.
And this has extended to the next generation of our family. Two of my daughters have earned a total of three Harvard degrees—bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate—and one of them has married a Bostonian and lives here as a research scientist in a not-for-profit company started by one of her Harvard professors.
When the news came to Canadians of the bombings at the close of the Boston Marathon, we felt it deeply, as if it occurred in one of our towns, to our neighbours.
As someone with a deep and enduring attachment to this city and its people, I want Bostonians to know that all Canadians support them and are thinking of them as the city recovers, regroups and remains a source of inspiration and fulfilment—especially for students—as it was for me many years ago.
The rewarding time I enjoyed at Harvard spurred me to continue my studies outside my home country—this time at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. I quickly learned that studying abroad benefits us in many ways, most of all because it shows us vividly how much people from different backgrounds can learn from one another when we make the conscious decision to learn together.
Studying abroad also stirred in me a lifelong passion for learning. I’ve spent the whole of my adult life—most of it as a university professor, dean and president—consumed by thoughts that revolve around how men and women, boys and girls gain, enlarge and use knowledge. I place so much emphasis on learning because it’s a core ingredient in making the kind of world we want for all people—one that is smart and caring, one of keen minds and kind hearts, one in which men and women know true freedom, reach their full potential and enjoy lives that are rewarding and meaningful.
The past two and a half years in my current position as a servant of the public has given me a special opportunity to share what I know about learning. More importantly, it has enabled me to travel widely across Canada and around the world to compare my understanding of learning with that of people from all walks of life.
The process of uncovering, sharing and refining all kinds of knowledge across disciplinary boundaries and international borders is something I call the diplomacy of knowledge. As a student of history, I understand that civilization’s greatest advances often came not wholly from within certain disciplines but at the intersections of different disciplines. While cross-disciplinary action can be conducted locally, regionally and nationally, it’s most potent when we cross international borders and cultivate interactions among teachers, students, researchers and others in different countries.
Thomas Jefferson’s brilliant metaphor of a burning candle is still, I think, the best way to illustrate the concept of the diplomacy of knowledge and its incredible power. The candle aflame symbolizes not only enlightenment, but also the transmission of learning from one person or group of people to another. When you light your candle from the flame of mine, my light is not diminished. Just the opposite. The light from both our candles shines brighter on all around us.
In physics, it’s called candlepower. And Fulbright Canada and generations of Canadian Fulbright scholars have been pivotal players in increasing the world’s candlepower. The 1,200-plus Fulbright Canada alumni embody the diplomacy of knowledge in their values and express it in their deeds. They are leaders in their fields, proponents of diversity, and champions of promoting social justice, increased prosperity and mutual understanding at home and abroad.
You—the current Fulbright Canada scholars—are the vanguard of our efforts to further the diplomacy of knowledge. You are true knowledge diplomats, and because of that, I’m honoured to be in your company. That’s also why I’m so pleased to be the recipient of the inaugural Fulbright Canada Award for Outstanding Public Service and delighted that Fulbright Canada has set up a special scholarship in tandem with the award.
I’m truly touched by your generous tribute. Yet in granting me the award, you do much more than honour me. You reinforce your commitment to the values that have guided Fulbright Canada and Canada’s Fulbright scholars for years—public service, academic and professional excellence, and partnership between Americans and Canadians to improve life for all people on the continent we share.
Speaking before a joint session of Canada’s parliament more than 50 years ago, Boston’s favourite son, President John Kennedy, captured perfectly our enduring ties. He said, “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies.”
Back then, we defined necessity as our shared need to safeguard ourselves, our friends and our way of life at the height of the Cold War. Today, our definition of necessity is different but no less daunting.
We must inspire in our fellow citizens a commitment to service that extends throughout their lives.
We must continually improve the tools and methods we use to teach our children and make learning a lifelong reality for all.
And we must harness innovations to tackle our most profound economic, social and environmental challenges.
Henry James, the American writer in whose former home we now gather, said, “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.”
You Fulbright scholars are living all you can. And not for yourselves alone.
You serve as global citizens whose studies and work all Canadians admire and support.
You cross borders to share knowledge and solve problems we share with our friends and neighbours on this continent.
You support the work of the Consulate General of Canada here in New England by acting as unofficial ambassadors.
You practise the diplomacy of knowledge and help create the smart and caring Canada and world of which we all dream.
It is precisely what you stand for that makes you stand out. And for all that, I thank you.