(As Prepared for Delivery)
Good morning and thanks for the warm welcome to Isabella Thoburn College. Thanks in particular to President Dr. Sunita Charles and Principal Dr. Vinita Prakash for the invitation. It is a pleasure to see so many bright young faces here, and an honor to have the opportunity to speak to you today. Getting out of New Delhi and engaging with students such as yourselves is one of the best parts of my job. I am constantly impressed and inspired by the talent and the energy that I see in India’s youth. The future of this great country is in good hands with you.
I am particularly pleased to be at this institution because of the deep and rich connections it shares with the United States. This school’s namesake, Ms. Isabella Thoburn, was a young American teacher who set sail for India in 1869, over 140 years ago. As someone who thinks a 15 hour flight between New York and New Delhi can be difficult, I have great admiration for those who made the long journey by boat, without the conveniences of modern aviation. Ms. Thoburn was a visionary woman, however, and was determined to travel to India so as to help expand educational opportunities – particularly for women and girls.
Ms. Thoburn’s vision lives on here, with all of you, and the great educational tradition this school represents. IT College is regarded as a premier institution of higher education here in North India. Your graduates include trailblazers such as Isha Basant Joshi, the first female IAS officer in India; Dr. Mohini Giri, the first Chairperson of the National Commission for Women; and Qurratulain Hyder, the celebrated Urdu novelist.
This rich history of providing educational opportunities for girls is something that I find tremendously important. I often speak about how the rise of India and the deepening relationship between our countries will have a lasting effect on global peace, prosperity, and security. At the heart of our relationship is the creative and economic potential of our people, and one of the keys to unlocking this potential is in education for women and girls. In the words of Prime Minister Modi, “Girls … contribute to India’s fame and glory. Let’s recognize it. Let’s take them along, shoulder to shoulder.” When women are educated and empowered, they bring the rest of society with them. IT College is a leader in this regard.
Isabella Thoburn is really symbolic of the strong people-to-people ties that define the U.S.-India relationship, and that have enriched both of our societies. My own family tree traces its roots back to India, to the plains of the Punjab. Earlier this summer, I traveled to Jalandhar, where my parents are from. Like Ms. Thoburn, my own grandmother was a teacher in a girls’ school. I visited the school where she taught, and spoke with people who knew her. Fifty years later, that school is still committed to providing disadvantaged girls a chance to succeed – a goal my grandmother worked towards her entire life.
My family instilled in me at an early age the importance of schooling, and education plays a crucial role in the relationship between our two countries. Indians account for the second-largest group of foreign students in the United States, with over 102,000 students studying in America in 2013-14. At the same time, a growing number of Americans are choosing to study abroad in India, with over 4,000 students annually making the same journey to India as Isabella Thoburn – albeit in much less time. These students come to India to learn about innovation and technology, history and culture. These are lessons they take back with them to the United States, thereby enriching our educational communities.
The Fulbright-Nehru exchange program is another route through which we are building connections, and the Fulbright program has strong ties to IT College. The first Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission in India was Olive Reddick, who taught economics here in Lucknow in the 1920s and 30s. Ms. Thoburn’s own grandniece, also named Isabella Thoburn, directed the Fulbright program in India from 1954-57. Since 1950, nearly 10,000 Fulbright scholars have traveled between our countries, with a vast array of research interests, ranging from cutting-edge solar technology to traditional Indian music. These educational exchange programs help our people learn from and about each other, building the long-lasting cultural bridges that transcend geographic divides.
Whether it be through the thousands who have participated in exchanges or the growing and active Indian-American community, it is our people who are at the heart of our strategic relationship. The Indian diaspora in the United States stands at over three million and growing, and includes leaders in the fields of science, education, the arts, and government. Just last week, Sundar Pichai, originally of Chennai, was named CEO of Google, one of the world’s technology giants. He is just one of countless examples of Indians who have contributed so much to American society. Every day, Americans and Indians work side by side, in both countries, on health development, human rights, science and technology, and space cooperation.
These personal connections have brought our countries closer together in ways governments alone cannot achieve. I speak to Americans and Indians everyday who make a difference to our countries, and I have met more here today. Before coming here to speak to you, I toured the American Corner. It has many good resources and I recommend it to you as a tool to discover more about the United States. The Embassy has also partnered with IT College and the University of Lucknow on its groundbreaking American Studies curriculum. This multi-disciplinary certificate and diploma course is the only American Studies curriculum developed by Indian scholars from across the country, in collaboration with American experts. In this way, IT College really is a leader in promoting a deeper understanding of American history, society, and culture, right here in Lucknow.
In closing, let me echo the words of Prime Minister Modi, who said it is too limiting to ask what the U.S. and India can do for each other – the real test is seeing what we can do for the world. The truth is we are stronger together, and this is particularly true when we promote educational opportunities that bridge geographic and gender divides. The women of Isabella Thoburn College are the future leaders of an India on the rise. I look forward to seeing where you will take us. Thank you very much.