Kennedy Center Event Features Remarks by Second Gentleman, Secretary Blinken, Assistant Secretary Satterfield, Renée Fleming, and Dr. Ruth Simmons, plus Alumni Stories and Performances
The Fulbright Program, celebrating its 75th anniversary throughout 2021, held a spectacular event on November 30 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Keynote speakers Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, and Dr. Ruth Simmons, praised the program and its alumni in prerecorded greetings. Acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming and other Fulbright alumni spoke at the event and were featured in videos throughout the evening. Newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Lee Satterfield closed the evening.
The over 40 alumni featured throughout the evening expressed deep gratitude for their Fulbright opportunity. Through inspiring stories, they described key moments of their overseas experiences and the ongoing positive impact that they are making on communities in the U.S. and around the world. They represented fields such as the environment; education; public service; science, technology, and public health; and the arts.
Renée Fleming, who studied German and vocal performance as a Fulbright U.S. Student to Germany, opened the evening. She described her Fulbright award as transformational, adding that “above all, Fulbright changed me as a person. […]. So powerful was this experience for me, that I often say that every young person should study abroad somewhere, ideally with a Fulbright scholarship.”
Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff acknowledged the many Fulbright alumni who are Nobel laureates, Pulitzer, MacArthur, and other award recipients, and praised the hundreds of thousands of Fulbrighters whose names and work are not as well-known, but whose "efforts are creating important, positive changes at home and around the world. They show that working together – across borders and cultures – is the right way to solve problems and build a better future.”
According to Lee Satterfield, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which sponsors the Fulbright Program, the venue was a perfect fit for the occasion: “We are grateful to be celebrating its 75th anniversary together at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – a hub for wonder, creativity, transformation, and possibility – fittingly, all elements that Fulbrighters bring to the world.”
Several Senators and members of Congress also recorded remarks to honor the Fulbright Program, including Congressmen Tom Cole of Oklahoma and John Sarbanes of Maryland, both Fulbright alumni. They praised the program for its unique and consequential role in public diplomacy.
Two performances by Fulbright alumni were highlights of the event. Sam Nester, a trumpet player and electro-composer from Australia, performed “Bruni,” an original composition. Alito Alessi’s DanceAbility International company – a mix of dancers with and without disabilities – performed one of Alessi’s original choreographies, entitled “We Carry On.”
The event was hosted by Jonathan Rabb, also a Fulbright alum to Germany, and the founder and CEO of Watch The Yard, a digital platform for Black college culture. Rabb accredited his Fulbright experience in Germany for giving him the foundation for creating his award-winning platform, which was named an official streaming partner of the 2021 Presidential inauguration.
A theme that echoed throughout the evening was the impact of the personal friendships and professional collaborations across countries that the Fulbright Program has helped foster through its exchanges. Secretary Blinken summed up this extraordinary strength of Fulbright, stating, “The power of personal connection that this program makes possible is just as important as ever. The members of the Fulbright community are changemakers. They care deeply about the problems facing our world today, from stopping COVID-19 to countering threats to democracy.”
Many participants expressed appreciation for the diversity of the Fulbright Program, and the importance of providing international experiences to all, and especially underserved communities. Dr. Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University and former president of Smith College and Brown University, who studied French language and culture during her Fulbright to France, gave one of the most inspirational messages of the evening as she cited “the changes that her Fulbright year brought to me professionally and personally,” she explained that in France she experienced “a freedom from the racial divides that she had grown up with in American society.” She shared her belief that Fulbright and other exchange programs are a driver of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts stating, “I advocate for diversity in the awarding of international fellowships because I know what international study meant for me, both personally and professionally. International study is a much-needed element of a well-rounded education for anyone, but especially for the underserved. I've always seen international education as a close cousin of diversity and inclusion efforts. They are actually two sides of the same coin requiring the same commitment to reach across differences and identify common purpose.”
Secretary Blinken congratulated and praised the Fulbright Program and its many alumni: “It’s simply an extraordinary group of people, who reflect all facets of our global diversity. And many would never have crossed paths if it weren’t for Fulbright. As a diplomat, I love this program, because it helps create a space for people to learn from each other and connect across cultural divides, which makes global cooperation possible.”
The audience included members of the Diplomatic Corps; members of Congress and other U.S. government leadership; former assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries of ECA; higher education leaders including university presidents; and partners and stakeholders from the United States and many Fulbright partner countries. Virtual spectators tuned in via livestream, and a recording of the event is available at https://fulbright75.org/celebration/.
To view curated photos from the event, see https://katiedance.passgallery.com/-fulbright75thanniversarycelebration/gallery
Since its founding 75 years ago, the Fulbright Program has given over 400,000 talented and accomplished students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals of all backgrounds and fields the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to complex global challenges. Fulbright alumni include 40 heads of state or government, 61 Nobel Prize Laureates, 75 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 89 Pulitzer Prize Recipients, and 16 U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients. Learn more about Fulbright opportunities and visit Fulbright75.org to connect with activities, events, and alumni stories. To close out the anniversary year, several more partner regions will host Fulbright Days through December. Those interested in participating can find in-person, hybrid, and virtual events on the Program’s anniversary event calendar.