November 16, 2022
President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister of Education, Susil Premajayantha, distinguished guests, members of The U.S. – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission Board of Directors, esteemed Fulbright alumni, partners, and friends, good evening.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of our bi-national Fulbright Commission. On November 17, 1952, our two governments signed an agreement to begin a short-term Fulbright exchange program. Twelve years later, in 1964, U.S. Ambassador Frances Willis and Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Dr. N. M. Perera co-signed an agreement to renew and make the exchange program permanent. Thanks to the foresight of our predecessors, our partnership and commitment to promoting mutual understanding between the United States and Sri Lanka remains strong. Through the Fulbright Program, thousands have had the precious opportunity to study and live in our two countries, to share knowledge, to develop professional relationships and to develop lifelong friendships. It is through these connections they make a positive difference. Did you know there have been 40 Fulbright alumnae who have served as heads of state and 62 awarded the Nobel Prize? There are so many individual Fulbright success stories that I could share to demonstrate the importance of this program but let me talk about two.
Let me tell you about Dr. Pradeepa Bandaranayake, who has joined us this evening. Professor, it is good to see you again. Dr. Pradeepa is a Professor in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and the Director of the Agricultural Biotechnology Center, Faculty of Agriculture, at the University of Peradeniya in Kandy. She is also what we call a “dual Fulbrighter.” When she won the Fulbright Fellowship for graduate studies in 2005, she joined the University of California, Davis for not one, but two degrees at the same time. This is a woman after my own heart. She earned a master’s degree in Horticulture and Agronomy and a PhD in Plant Biology the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology during her Fulbright. I met Professor Pradeepa at the AgBiotech Center where I learned how the lab is supporting food security in Sri Lanka. The state-of-the-art Biosafety Lab enables Sri Lankan farmers and people to have confidence in the food that is grown right here. I don’t have to tell you how critical that is given today’s global food shortages. Under Professor Pradeepa’s direction, through this and several other projects at the AgBiotech Center, Sri Lanka’s ability to make evidence-based, data-driven policy decisions and product development are strengthened. That’s not enough, however, for this wonder woman! She’s making a difference in the next generation of scientists and researchers as she is currently supervising six PhD students and seven master’s degree students, adding to the long list of students who have studied under her guidance and who now contribute to Sri Lanka’s academic and scientific advancements. In times like this, when the world needs good news stories, Dr. Pradeepa showed me that the future is full of possibilities and in many cases, the future is now. It is scholars like Dr. Pradeepa who prove the value of the Fulbright experience across generations – and she is paying it forward by nurturing the next generation of Sri Lankan scientists.
Speaking of the future – I want to talk about the next generation of alumni. Ciara Post is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant assigned to KDU’s Southern Campus Ciara, it’s great to see you again. While her arrival to Sri Lanka was delayed due to the pandemic, she settled-in quickly to teaching English to undergraduate students. English, as we know, is one key to academic success, increases employability, and enhances Sri Lanka’s ability to meet the demands of the regional and international marketplace. Moreover, English unites communities across the island, the IndoPacific, and the world. Beyond this wonderful benefit, Ciara’s own American experience brings depth to her instruction and social life outside the classroom. Just as Sri Lankan Fulbrighters arrive to the United States and create awareness of the island’s rich cultural heritage, customs and history, students like Ciara bring their personal histories, their views of diversity, inclusion, and modern life in America. Shortly after her arrival in early 2022 Ciara witnessed democracy in action through the midst of the economic and political crisis. Her firsthand experiences, living side-by-side with her Sri Lankan students and friends, provided opportunities for frank conversations about democracy, good governance, peaceful protest, and solutions for integration and economic inclusion in both the United States and Sri Lanka. That is the beauty of the friendships that Fulbright creates. Friends can speak openly about challenges and successes and thanks to the Fulbright Exchange program, with the support of our bi-national Commission and partners, our Fulbrighters can do so with academic freedom and integrity both here in Sri Lanka and in the United States of America.
I am profoundly grateful for the Fulbright Exchange program and its impact. The last 70 years of successful two-way cultural and academic exchange is no doubt due to the tremendous efforts of the U.S. – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, its board of directors and support from the Government of Sri Lanka. We look forward to our continued success and partnership. Thank you.