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Remarks at Signing Ceremony With Panamanian First Vice President and Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Panama City, Panama
December 10, 2008

Date: 12/10/2008 Location: Panama City, Panama Description: Secretary Rice and Panamanian Vice President and Foreign Minister Lewis sign an education memorandum of understanding, Panama City, Panama, December 10, 2008. State Dept. photo. State Dept PhotoSECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, and I would like to recognize all of the Panamanian officials and the students and the former Fulbright scholars who are joining us today. And I'm really particularly happy to be here with First Vice President and Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis, who has been not only a great colleague, but a terrific friend. And indeed, in my office, we decided that we wanted to be able to finish this agreement, and Sam, we've done it. So I'm very grateful to you for that. (Applause.)

I'm delighted to be here today to celebrate the commitment of both our governments to increasing mutual understanding and providing greater opportunity for our citizens through educational opportunities. Exchange programs, like the Fulbright program, serve as one of the most effective ways for peoples to get to know each other. These scholars carry fond memories of their experiences in the United States for the rest of their lives. In fact, over the years, I've met several world leaders who have proudly told me that they were once Fulbright scholars. So I know that these programs work.

Education is the cornerstone, the bedrock of any democratic society. And the United States is pleased to support the desire of the Government of Panama to send more Panamanians to study in the United States. We applaud the Panamanian Government's commitment to higher education and to education more broadly, and its dedication to bringing access to educational opportunities for all people.

We know that learning bridges gaps between cultures, and education allows us to enhance the opportunities for dialogue and to transcend borders. Put simply, education opens doors to one another, and especially to humanity. And I am pleased that we are building yet another bridge between the United States and Panama. The Fulbright program has been operating in Panama for more than three decades, and it has supported more than 800 Panamanians and 1,000 U.S. students, scholars and researchers to study in each other's country.

In signing this agreement, we more than double the number of Panamanian Fulbright students coming to the United States. By our commitment to provide pre-academic English instruction to those Fulbright participants who need it, we are also hoping to expand the reach to those who might not otherwise consider study in the United States. The Fulbright program is our worldwide, flagship educational program, and we're especially pleased that the SENACYT, the Panamanian Scholarship Board, is committing its resources as our partner in this prestigious program.

Today's agreement is one of several new educational exchange programs supported by the United States Government that provides Panamanians, particularly those who are economically less privileged, with opportunities to study in the United States. Our other programs include providing high school and undergraduate students a chance to learn English through courses in Panama and (inaudible) in the United States. Skills that will later enable them to be more competitive for scholarships at the graduate level.

The lack of English language skills has been identified as a major impediment to sending more Panamanian students to the United States. The U.S. Government recognizes and supports the importance of English language learning, and the need to reach nontraditional sectors of society to give them opportunities to improve their language skills. This initiative is one that strongly supports that goal. And if I may just add, I hope too that more Americans will learn to speak Spanish so that they can come to Panama and to the region. We are a people that are far too monolingual, and so when we talk about people learning to speak English, I almost always add that Americans must learn to speak Spanish as well, even though I speak Russian. (Laughter.)

Some of you may know that I'm an educator. I have taught at Stanford University for now over two decades, and I'll return to Stanford University after my government service. As an educator, I have seen the transforming power of education. Indeed, I've seen it in my own life. My parents were teachers. My grandfather was the first to go to college. And they knew that an education was more than just a way to get a job. They knew that it was more than just a good start on life, although it's clearly those things too. But they knew that education opens up horizons to people. It allows them to think not about what they are, but what they might be. And education in another country does that many, many times over because it opens and broadens and makes possible experiences that one could never have in one's own country.

And so as an educator and one who herself studied abroad at one point in my life, I am delighted that we are expanding the number of Fulbright students. But as Secretary of State, I am also very proud because I know that the educated people who will come from this program and go out into the broader society will bring a greater understanding of other cultures, will bring a greater love for other cultures, and in doing so, will be true ambassadors of goodwill and peace. Thank you very much.


Released on December 10, 2008

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