(as prepared for delivery)
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, in front of such an august group, all I can say is . . . all protocols observed!
I am pleased and honored to welcome so many of our celebrated exchange alumni this evening to commemorate the 75th anniversary of U.S. exchange programs worldwide. I also want to welcome and acknowledge the American Fulbright scholars currently in Nigeria for the annual Fulbright conference. Following their experience in Nigeria, they will be joining the millions of exchange alumni worldwide, in this case returning to the United States to share stories and lessons learned.
The commemoration of the 75th anniversary of exchanges presents a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the impact that your U.S. exchange experience has made in your personal and professional lives. But more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to reflect on the impact that the exchange programs have made in improving a wider understanding of American culture and values. Your programs brought you not only to Washington, D.C. or New York, Disney World or Las Vegas; they also brought you to rural America, smaller state capitals, farming towns, and Native American schools. Our exchange programs are designed to fill in the gaps of what American culture and society is all about. We are not only a reflection of our skyscrapers, our monuments, or Hollywood movies. We are also a diverse country grappling with serious issues over the dinner table and in the public square. As all of you have seen firsthand, America is a continuing discussion of ideas.
You—our program participants—add to that discussion, making our exchanges mutually beneficial. Your visits to big cities and rural counties across America, and especially home visits, have had tremendous impact on the American’s understanding of Nigeria and its struggles.
As President Dwight Eisenhower said when he was advocating people-to-people programs in 1956:
If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and to leap governments—if necessary to evade governments—to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other.
Through the variety of our exchange programs, our alumni database now contains more than 5,000 registered Nigerian exchange participants. This is but a small fraction of the total, so please make sure that you and alumni you know register! Some of our distinguished alumni include Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State; Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State; Professor Attahiru Jega, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Dr. Maitama Sule, an elder statesman and astute politician; and former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, who was this country’s first elected vice president.
I’m delighted that our reception this evening gives me the opportunity to salute the more than 500 Nigerians we have sent to the United States on various exchanges since the beginning of Ambassador Entwistle’s tenure here. These exchanges include (and I ask all alumni to raise their hands as I call out their programs) the Fulbright Program . . . the Humphrey Program . . . the Eisenhower Program . . . the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program . . . the International Visitor Leadership Program . . . the Tech Women Program . . . and the Teaching Excellence Award Program.
I was especially pleased this past year to see the increase in exchange alumni mentoring networks that have done such a wonderful job of reaching out to the next generation of Nigerian leaders. These alumni mentoring organizations also helped advocate on several key bilateral issues, including the importance of peaceful elections, the environment, and the rights of the disabled, among many other noble and worthy causes. And for that, we thank you. We look forward to continuing to work with exchange alumni on mentoring, which to us at the embassy represents perhaps the most effective strategy for each of you to pass on the lessons you learned about American society to the next generation.
Our exchange alumni represent some of the best of Nigeria’s strength and excellence, and we hope that together we will continue to inspire and provide hope to Nigerian youth.
Please enjoy your time during the remainder of the reception. And please do share your stories by participating in the video documentary of this 75th anniversary event that we are recording this evening.