Building Tomorrow: Hillary Clinton and the Fulbright Legacy

Remarks at the inauguration of the J. William Fulbright-Hillary Rodham Clinton Fulbright Fellows
Washington, DC
July 29, 2013

Stan Lomas would have been 100 this summer. Born in 1913, Stan wasn’t a Fulbright Scholar. He was a famous New York ad man of the old school. I met him once when he was in his late 80’s.

Stan created the famous ad for AT&T: “Reach out and touch someone.”


When Stan was just a baby, only a one year-old—99 years ago today, July 29th 1914 – the first transcontinental telephone call was made. Alexander Graham Bell was in New York and Thomas Watson was in San Francisco, repeating the famous call they made 27 years before when Bell first invented the telephone. On that occasion, Bell immortally said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.“

Well, by 1914, Mr. Watson could no longer just walk to the next room. Never before had one voice connected with another 3,000 miles away. The best technology could do was reach New York to Denver before the sound weakened and became too faint to make out the words.​


It’s interesting to note that Stan Lomas’ full slogan for that AT&T ad was: “To communicate is the beginning of understanding. Reach out and touch someone.”

Come here. I want to see you. I want to communicate with you. I want to understand you. I want to reach out and touch you even when you are far away.

Those words, that idea, it seems to me, are the values—the urgency—that are the essence of the Fulbright program. To connect, to communicate, to understand.

And no one exemplifies that spirit or that sense of service and optimism better than the 28 young Fulbright fellows in public policy who are with us today.

Now if we were scripting this for TV, someone’s phone would go off right about now with a very long distance call. But in the absence of that distraction, let me thank my great friend Jane Harman and the staff of the Wilson Center for so generously hosting us this evening.


And then there’s that other brilliant, wise, tough, dynamite blonde I’m madly in love with: Harriet Fulbright—the guiding family light of this program, its historical legacy, its most elegant advocate.


And there’s Ann Stock, our departing Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs. Ann has been my friend for 20 years, my mentor and the true head honcha of the Fulbright program at the State Department. She is remarkable. She is a transformational leader. It is almost impossible for me to imagine this journey without her.


And there is that brilliant brunette, our departing Undersecretary of Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine, who knows that diplomacy happens in stories we tell about who we are, who our friends (and adversaries) are. And as we all know, Tara knows how to tell the stories that are good news, that make us all feel more connected, that make us believe tolerance and peace are possible.

Please give a round of applause of these remarkable public servants. And please excuse me for obsessing a bit too much about their hair. But remember: it’s a bald guy talking to you.

Still, there is just one world leader we are here to thank and honor tonight, our ever-so-recently-former Secretary of State, who has come to tell us what no one would tell the frenzied media today: exactly what President Obama and she talked about at their private lunch today.


Seriously, we are gathered here to announce and celebrate the re-naming of the Fulbright Program’s fellowship for future leaders in public policy.

This is a program that was formed under Secretary Clinton’s leadership and, effective today, the public policy fellows who participate in it will be known as the J. William Fulbright-Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellows. Or for people like me who need simple things to say, the Fulbright-Clinton Fellows.

Twenty-eight Clinton Fellows and their name sake. Please give these remarkable individuals a hand.

In her book, Living History,” Hillary Clinton wrote, “In this world and the world of tomorrow, we must go forward together or not at all.”

"In this world and the world of tomorrow.”

When I first read that ten years ago, I was struck by the fact that Secretary Clinton didn’t mean a fantasy or a daydream. She meant the world we actually will make with our hands and hearts, the world we will be responsible for. All of us. Together.

That’s what a fellowship is—a joining together. That’s what the Fulbright-Clinton Fellows will do. And each one will get a pair of fierce dark Hillary sunglasses to wear and a bottle of Hillary’s famous put-Tabasco-on-everything-sauce so they can go out there to save the world looking cool even when the situation is very, very hot.

Bringing people together, creating fellowships—often with people ignored and unknown, left behind, left out—this is what Hillary Clinton has spent her life doing.

Talk about reaching out and touching someone! Look out, AT&T!

Through all her travel, her passion advocacy for human rights, for education, girls and women, for peace, for prosperity, I think the Fulbright program has always thought of Hillary Clinton as an honorary Fulbrighter. Perhaps it’s a good thing she never went on that Fulbright to India when she graduated from Wellesley. What if she’d never gone to Yale Law School. What if she’d never met that charmer from Arkansas?

And, of course, Hillary became a good friend of that other great Arkansas politician, Senator Fulbright. She and President Clinton celebrated the Fulbright’s 50th anniversary at the White House. And Hillary was even born the same auspicious year the Fulbright program was born. (Though the State Department speech vetters won’t allow me to say exactly what year that was. Google it.)


Hillary, I hope you find the Fulbright program looking as good and showing itself to be as optimistic and engaged as you are.

As the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program, Fulbright is one of the key elements of what Secretary Clinton has famously championed as “Smart Power.” Under her guidance, we’ve rethought Fulbright goals to strategize development, diplomacy, and defense with new and targeted scholarship programs, including the one we’re inaugurating today.

Hillary saw in Fulbright, and in the students and scholars who drive it, precisely what Senator Fulbright saw: an opportunity—for a cultural exchange between the countries of the world that might broaden our understanding of one another while sharing our knowledge, our lives.

Or as Senator Fulbright put it so eloquently: “The rapprochement of peoples is only possibly when differences of culture and outlook are respected and appreciated rather than feared and condemned, when the common bond of human dignity is recognized as the essential bond for a peaceful world.”

Human dignity is the essential bond.


Those words animate the mission of the Fulbright program. I know they have animated Hillary’s commitment to public service throughout her career.

When I was first appointed to the Fulbright board, I happened to see Hillary at the World Trade Center site during the 10th anniversary ceremony for the September 11th tragedy. She came over and congratulated me on the Fulbright board appointment, which I would never have gotten without her, and she told me that Fulbright is one of the essential tools of peacemaking that could help prevent other events like September 11th.

And then she grabbed my arm and said to me—I will never forget this—“Tom, there have been 300,000 Fulbright scholars since this program started. I want to have better access to their talents. When we combat global warming, I want to be able to gather Fulbright scientists. When we fight human trafficking, I want people in the room who know how to stop it. When we are figuring out how to make the food supply safe, I need to be able to call Fulbright experts. I need you to do this. It’s important.”

What do you say at a moment like that? I said, “Yes Hillary. Of course.” And then the first thing I did was hurry to my Fulbright orientation to learn what I was getting into.

I jumped into Fulbright by faith, by faith in the example of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s public service. She has written, “Faith is like stepping off a cliff and expecting one of two outcomes- you will either land on solid ground or you will be taught to fly.”


These Fulbright-Clinton Fellows—these talented young Americans—have taken the plunge of faith. They will both land on solid ground in several developing nations from Burma to Malawi. And they will also fly as experts, as advocates, as friends and colleagues and professionals building ties and making these nations more safe, more prosperous, more accountable and effective for their own people.

They will hit the ground running to build the future, that world of tomorrow Secretary Clinton has written about so eloquently, proven her commitment to through her work, her travels, her passion for young people.

On behalf of my wonderful colleagues on the Fulbright board, on behalf of Fulbright scholars and alumni and foreign members of the foreign service and Fulbright partners in countries across the globe, please help me welcome my good friend, my mentor, the extraordinary diplomat and Fulbright family member, Hillary Rodham Clinton.


Related: Welcome Fulbright Washington D.C. diplomacy education