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Reflections for the American Chamber of Commerce of China

Philip W. Eaton, President, Seattle Pacific University

Beijing, China, November 16, 2006

Let me offer my words of gratitude to the American Chamber for this invitation to share our story with you. Our delegation comes to China in the spirit of building bridges, and we are aware that the purpose of the American Chamber of Commerce of China is to build bridges as well. We commend you for your work in this great city with this fine organization. And we thank you for hosting us so warmly.

I would also like to recognize and thank Ambassador Randt for the job he is doing in this profoundly important country. We are grateful as well for the amazing work his team has done to make our visit both productive and enjoyable.

Let me also add how grateful we are for our leaders of this delegation, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and Assistant Secretary of State Dina Powell. These two women have been models for us about how to lead with optimism and passion and competence. They are effective ambassadors for our country in such very positive ways, and we thank them for the honor of traveling with them on this mission. These women are truly quite exceptional.

Let me tell you why we are in China. We want to share the story of our great system of higher education in America. We all believe passionately in that story. And we want to say as clearly and emphatically as we can that our universities are open to the students of China. We would like for more of our students to study in China as well. We want to build further connections for research and cooperation and collaboration in all kinds of ways.

In all of this we are relentless idealists: we come here with the firm conviction that education matters profoundly for the future peace, security, and prosperity of our world.

There is so much to say about all of this, but somehow I have come to believe that the bottom line is with the students. As we were waiting for the ceremonies to begin yesterday at Beijing Normal University, we had a chance to talk with a few of the students in the front rows. They were eager to engage. They were wonderfully curious. Their English was excellent. They were courteous and respectful.

The future of China is in the hands of these young people. And I thought what a powerful notion it is that these students might come to America to study. Their lives would never be the same, of course, but then China and the world would never be the same either.

I think about a story out of my own institution, an image about how this works. This coming February we will recognize as our alumnus of the year a 93 year-old woman who lives in Shanghai. She graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 1943. Her story is complex and at times difficult, but it is stunningly inspiring for the efforts of our delegation.

This woman was abandoned as a baby on the streets of Shanghai. She was picked up and adopted by a single woman, a missionary, who believed deeply in the power of education. With the support of her adopted mother, this bright young Chinese woman came to my university to study.

When she graduated, she was offered a position as the chair of the department of Chinese studies at the University of Washington. She turned that offer down because she felt deeply called to return to her own country.

And for some 60 years this bright, vivacious woman taught English in various Chinese universities. Can you imagine the thousands of lives she has touched and helped to shape in all those years? Can you imagine the broadened horizons of her students because she studied in America? Can you imagine how much more peaceful this world is because of the commitments and ideals this incredible woman communicated through her teaching.

Somehow this is why we are in China. When our students come here to study, something profoundly important happens. When Chinese students come to America to study, something very important takes place in their lives.

But it is not just about their lives. What happens to them gets communicated out in a million ways to make the world a better place. That’s what this is all about.

We are all incorrigible idealists in this delegation. We witness the power of education in our work every day. If we can really build strong bridges between our countries, through education, the world will indeed be a more peaceful, healthy, and prosperous world.

Again, thank you for receiving us so warmly. We are just delighted to be here.