Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao stressed the importance of a strong educational relationship between the U.S. and China to a full audience in the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday.
The event, organized by the U.S. State Department and the Chinese Embassy, featured speeches from dignitaries including DeVos, Chao and Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong along with a panel discussion between young Americans and young Chinese. The forum was part of a series of talks organized by the State Department focusing on the cultural connections between the United States and China.
“In the U.S., we are proud of what many students achieve and the great work of many teachers to help them do so, but we recognize we are not first in the world in our students’ academic achievement, and there’s much we can learn from other nations, including China,” DeVos said in an address.
Leaders from both countries praised U.S.-China cooperation and called on young people to continue to build the relationship.
“Our young friends need to pass on and carry forward the innovative spirit shared in the Chinese and American cultures,” Yandong said, speaking through a translator.
Chao said the forum aimed to build “bridges of understanding” between the two nations.
“As America becomes more diverse, we are learning from one another, appreciating one another’s different cultural and social backgrounds, and we’re contributing to the rich diversity that is truly America’s strength,” she said.
The event, confirmed Tuesday, drew crowds of anti-DeVos protestors outside the building and airport-like security for its invite-only guests.
University President Thomas LeBlanc, in opening remarks for the event, said the discussion was a “tremendous opportunity for cross-cultural engagement.”
“I believe the universities in our communities can play a critical role helping to bring together and participating in the open exchange of diverse perspectives,” he said.
The speeches were followed by a panel discussion between 10 experts in U.S.-China relations, including professors, a Chinese exchange student and Chinese cultural icons like Yao Ming – a former NBA star and the president of the Chinese Basketball Association – and Lang Lang, a pianist.
Bruce Dickson, the chair of the political science department, co-moderated the conversation with Chinese newscaster Yang Lan and directed the panel’s first question, about culture shock, to Ming.
“I think the learning curve is a lifetime experience,” he said. “It’s not only learning in school but also we learn doing our career too. Culture is fitting everywhere in our life.”