Abraham Lincoln said the best way to predict your future is to create it. I have found this creative spirit ingrained in the people I meet every day across our great shared continent. Canadians and Americans believe that we, as individuals and as a community, have the ability and the obligation to leave things better than we found them. As the people privileged to call these two countries home, we can and must create our own future.
My hometown of Dayton, Ohio, is also the hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright. The Wright brothers changed our world. They had an idea, one that took a lot of time, study, trials and errors to turn into reality. Their legacy is more than the airplane; their legacy is the “Kitty Hawk Moment.”
The Kitty Hawk Moment is that point in time when something that previously seemed impossible becomes real. Imagine standing there on the dunes at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, watching as man broke the bonds of earth and the age of human flight began. Now, more than ever, we need Kitty Hawk Moments.
Almost 70 years ago, U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright had a Kitty Hawk Moment. He believed that the world’s future should not depend solely on military might and economic influence. Long before Harvard professor Joseph Nye crafted his theory of soft power, Sen. Fulbright practiced it. He held that ideas could move the world, that persuasion was preferable to coercion, and that international educational exchange could pave a path to a better future.
Sen. Fulbright persuaded the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that established the Fulbright Program, the jewel in the crown of American in-ternational education and a vital tool of American diplomacy. Since 1947, more than 325,000 teachers, scholars and students have proudly called themselves Fulbrighters.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Fulbright program in Canada. The Foundation for Educational Exchange between Canada and the United States administers this binational, treaty-based, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization. The Foundation’s board of directors includes government officials, scholars, business executives and civic leaders from both sides of the border. The Canadian and U.S. governments provide core funding. Private-sector donations enable the foundation to enhance existing programs and create dynamic new ones.
Many Fulbright programs around the world walk a traditional path. They emphasize scholarly research and academic pursuits. Fulbright Canada has been more adventurous, reaching into new endeavours that focus on social and environmental issues. The theme of the Fulbright Canada Silver Jubilee is “Expanding the Boundaries of Human Knowledge.”
Originally designed with a bilateral focus, the Fulbright Program now responds to an emerging reality: we must find integrated solutions to issues that extend beyond borders. For example, American and Canadian scholars play a leading role in the Fulbright Arctic Initiative. This program brings together 17 experts from the eight Arctic nations to address challenges facing the Polar North: energy, water, health and infrastructure.
At the bilateral, regional and global levels, opportunities for Canadian students and scholars abound. There are established exchange programs for teachers, research scholars and graduate students. Students of science, technology, engineering and math can apply for special grants that meet their needs. Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, mid-career professionals, environmental specialists, civic activists and, yes, Arctic explorer-scientists have a contribution to make under the Fulbright banner.
Moreover, in recent years Fulbright Canada, through the generous support of the American Killam Trusts, has established a scholarship program for American and Canadian undergraduate students. The Killam Fellowships are for one year or one semester, positioning these remarkable young scholars to form productive networks and partnerships. We cannot yet imagine what these young students will achieve. But we welcome them as the best and brightest of a new generation.
Over the past 25 years, 1,347 outstanding Canadian and American scholars and students have received Fulbright grants, and 318 undergraduates have been Killam Fellows. The experience of living, studying and working in a foreign country transformed their lives. Their success pays homage to the legacy of Sen. Fulbright; their Kitty Hawk Moments, and those of their successors, will define our shared future and will serve as a testimony to the commendable work of the Fulbright Program in Canada.
Bruce A. Heyman is the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. In his capacity as ambassador, he serves as a member of the Fulbright Canada board of directors.