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Fulbright 65th Anniversary Dinner

Issue date: 
Saturday, 14 September 2013
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

E nga reo, e nga mana, e nga iwi o nga hau e wha tēnā koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.  Nau mai, haere mai ra ki Te Whare Kawana o Te Whanganui-a-Tara.  Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, greetings to you all, and welcome to Government House Wellington.
I specifically acknowledge: Hon Hekia Parata, Minister of Education; Your Excellency David Huebner, Ambassador of the United States and Honorary Chairperson of Fulbright New Zealand; and Dr Helen Anderson and Mele Wendt, Chair of the Board and Chief Executive of Fulbright New Zealand respectively - tēnā koutou katoa.

It’s a great pleasure for Janine and me to welcome you all to Government House this evening to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Fulbright New Zealand.  Tonight, we are celebrating a successful enterprise and successful people.

The list of Fulbright alumni from this country is long and illustrious.  It includes a Prime Minister, members of Parliament, judges, diplomats, Nobel Prize winning scientists as well as dancers, historians, composers, teachers and many more.  Some are household names, clearly some are not.  Yet they are all renowned in their fields of expertise.  All of them can be said to be among our best and brightest.

We are blessed to be able to live in this beautiful country, and in this part of the world.  There is a price to pay in living geographically isolated.  No doubts that our apartness has paid dividends in terms of our independent spirit, our inquisitiveness and an innovative can-do-number-8-wire mentality.  Isolation also constrains capability, capacity and character.

The shift in global awareness, and our sense of place and opportunity was discernible in the aftermath of the Second World War.  That World War, and especially the war in the Pacific, caused us to re-evaluate our priorities and introduced us to Americans. 

While we still thought of ourselves as British, the “friendly invasion” by so many American soldiers, marines and sailors opened our eyes to a new paradigm that had significant social, economic and cultural impacts.  As New Zealand historian Jock Phillips noted: “What gave the encounter its special quality was that the two societies were sufficiently similar to communicate easily, but sufficiently different to find each other intriguing.” 

Senator J William Fulbright’s mission to use educational exchange to increase mutual understanding came at the right time for a country that was becoming more confident in its own identity and seeking to carve out its own niche on the world stage.  It is no surprise then that New Zealand became one of the first Fulbright partners, and the fifth country to join the programme in 1948.

Senator Fulbright’s enlightened mission was based on a strongly held belief that educational exchange was vital for establishing a better society.  He once said that scholarships were a “modest programme with an immodest aim – the achievement in international affairs of a regime more civilised, rational and humane than the empty system of power of the past.” 

It is from this lofty aspiration that being awarded a Fulbright scholarship is a singular honour.  I was struck by how many Fulbright scholars said their experience was a highlight of their professional and personal lives.  Being a Fulbrighter opened doorways to other fields of achievement or their sent research in new and exciting directions.  I imagine that Fulbright would have also anticipated that his programme would provide scholars the opportunity to have an adventure, have some fun and to make lifelong friends. 

Reading some of the recollections of earlier scholars attests to that .  In a world where the war had curtailed international travel, and long before daily long-haul flights, the trip to the United States was more like an epic journey.  Fulbright New Zealand graduate student Michael Martin-Smith’s 1951 trip, for example, involved sailing by ship to Panama, catching a plane to Miami then taking a Greyhound bus to Washington DC.  Travel for today’s Fulbrighters is much quicker and easier, although I’m sure the risk of losing luggage remains the same!

Since those daring early days more than 1,600 New Zealanders have been given the opportunity to study at some of the world’s best educational institutions and in return we have hosted more than 1,350 Americans.  It is evident that scholars both ways develop a deep and abiding affection for their host country.  American Fulbright alumni and their inclination to be unofficial ambassadors for New Zealand is evident in their cheerleading as demand in the US for places in New Zealand far exceeds supply.

Senator Fulbright’s vision of using intellectual exchange for the betterment of society continues to do what he had hoped it would – foster leadership, learning and empathy between cultures.  I congratulate Fulbright New Zealand for 65 years of service and commend all Fulbright recipients for their achievements and contributions.

I’d like to give the last word though to Senator J William Fulbright himself.  In January 1979 he sent a letter to Fulbright New Zealand, thanking them for their Christmas greetings.  It’s not a long letter, only two typewritten paragraphs and of a sort that we’ve all written at some stage.  A perfectly pleasant thank you letter, in fact.  What makes this one special – added at the bottom in Fulbright’s own hand are the words “This is the best programme we have going.”

Congratulations on your 65 years of encouraging and facilitating education, excellence and reason.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa

Last updated: 
Saturday, 14 September 2013

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