It's my great pleasure to welcome all of you to the State Department's EducationUSA Forum. I want to thank you for all that you're doing to give American students the invaluable experience of studying abroad, and to give international students the opportunity to study on our shores.
I have personally seen the power of educational exchanges firsthand. As some of you may remember, more than 20 years ago, my friend Senator John McCain and I began working to reestablish relations with Vietnam. But it was kind of hard to figure out exactly where to start. So we did begin by creating a Fulbright program in Saigon. And today, I'm proud to tell you it is the second-biggest Fulbright program in the world.
The graduates of the program have been some of Vietnam's most promising leaders, and these exchanges have laid the groundwork for the warm relationship that the United States and Vietnam enjoy today.
These international exchange programs can have a transformative impact, which is exactly why they are such a high priority for me as Secretary of State.
Since I assumed office in February, I've traveled to all corners of the globe -- to Africa, where 100 million kids are going to come into the education stream in just the next 12 years. I've traveled a few times to the Middle East, where in many countries 50 percent of the population is under the age of 21 and 40 percent is under the age of 18.
From all of the young people that I've met over these last few months and throughout my career, I can tell you this: No matter where they're from, the young people that I meet with share the same basic aspirations. They want an education. They want opportunity. They want a job, and they want to know that a better future is within their reach.
The benefits of this are obvious -- and so are the risks that we run if these young people don't find the education and the opportunity that they deserve. We've actually seen clear examples of this. We've seen it in Tunisia, in Tahrir Square, and around our rapidly changing world.
So education can, in fact, be a potent weapon against instability and extremism. Of course, it is also a strong force for global progress.
In today's increasingly interconnected world, the principal challenges that we face are global in nature. So we need more talented scientists and engineers, business leaders, teachers, social entrepreneurs, diplomats -- people in all sectors who can work across borders to find solutions.
The international students who learn in our classrooms enrich our campuses and our country. And when the 765,000 international students who studied in the United States last year return home, the bonds that they have built here and the friendships that they have forged will last a lifetime.
Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, when a young man from Ghana starts a thriving global business, or a young Colombian woman becomes her country's foreign minister, when a young Vietnamese man becomes a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, or a young woman from Afghanistan is elected president, they will think of the memories and the friendships that they formed with their American friends at Texas A&M or the University of Illinois or Yale.
None of this is a fantasy. I have met many prime ministers, foreign ministers, finance ministers, other leaders, all of whom came to school in the United States. And when they went back home after their studies, they left here with a strong connection to our country and our people.
Each of you is on the frontlines in making this tremendous exchange of people and ideas possible. So I applaud you for all the work that you are doing.
The State Department is very proud to partner with you. And once again, I welcome you, and I thank you for all that you're doing and for all that you will do. Thank you.