Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard – Remarks at the Student Visa Day Celebration in Abuja

Good Afternoon.  It’s very exciting to welcome you back to the U.S. Embassy this afternoon.  I would like to start off by congratulating all Nigerian students who were accepted to schools in the United States this year.  But a special congratulations is in order to those of you celebrating here at the Embassy today.  You should be very proud of your accomplishments and the hard work it took to get where you are today.  The United States is a world leader in education.  By choosing to complete a degree program at a U.S. educational institution, you are opening the door to a future full of opportunities and success.

We are proud to prioritize Nigeria’s scholars in our consular process, as we recognize the value their success holds for the country’s future.  With over 13,700 students fulfilling their American education dreams, the United States welcomes more Nigerian students enrolled than ever before.  Americans view university study as an investment in a professional future, and I’m pleased that our Education USA team has helped Nigerian students apply for and receive more than $28 million dollars in scholarships and other educational funding to pursue their future. We know from our over 8,000 education and exchange program alumni in Nigeria, the tremendous community impact that results when these ambitious students return to apply their knowledge and skills.

Here at the U.S. Embassy, we are proud of the diversity in American educational institutions.  There are more than 8,000 Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified educational institutions in the United States.  Students can choose from virtually any subject matter, ranging from the humanities and liberal arts to the most advanced science, technology, and engineering fields, or STEM.  The students celebrating with us here today reflect this diversity; they are studying international health, law, mining, fine arts, and engineering.  Many students tell us that it is exactly this diversity in programs that inspired them to pursue their studies in the United States.

The U.S. educational system is unique in its flexibility. Students can often create their own majors and specializations or opt for a more structured educational experience.  They can change subjects and take courses outside their area of study.  Students can participate in internships and take part in practical training programs.  These programs give students the experiences they need to prepare them to excel in their chosen fields.  They also provide valuable professional networking opportunities that will help advance students’ future career development and pave the way to a lifetime of professional fulfillment.

The United States leads the world in STEM studies.  American educational institutions are at the vanguard of research and technology.  From artificial intelligence to cancer research to green technology, you will have access to hands-on training and experiences that are not available anywhere else in the world.  After completing your degrees, you can bring this vast experience and expertise back home and help improve the lives of all Nigerians.

The United States also offers a diverse student body.  With more than one million students from 220 countries and territories, the United States hosts more international students than any other country in the world.  And Nigeria sends more students to the United States than any other country in Africa.  Students at our universities exchange ideas not only with American students, but with students from across the globe.  The educational enrichment that these types of discussions provide is priceless.  As students, you will hear ideas and personal stories from your classmates and professors that will challenge your views and expand your understanding of the world; your ideas and stories will do the same for those around you.  By studying together in the same schools, Nigerians, Americans, and students from all other nationalities will not only understand each other better, but also see how many common challenges we all face.  Students can work together to creatively solve problems and build long-term professional collaborations, increasing our countries’ .economic ties.

The experiences and points of view that international students contribute to the classroom directly advance the ideas and thinking of all those participating.  You are young scholars today, but you will be leading the world tomorrow.  The types of leaders that you become will be shaped by your education and experiences, by the relationships you make, and by the ideas and passions you develop today.  Once again, congratulations to all visa recipients – those here today and those at home.  Your journey begins now.  We are excited that you have chosen the United States as part of your story, and we can’t wait to see what you do in the future.

Thank you.