Fulbright Birthday Celebration

Fulbright Birthday Celebration in the Arkansas Union International Connections Lounge. Three speakers included Matt Parnell, Alia Parveen and Luis Fernando Restrepo.

President, Senator, Statesman, Visionary

Students enjoying refreshements at the celebration

Students enjoying refreshements at the celebration

by Darinda Sharp

J. William Fulbright served as the University of Arkansas' president from September 1939 until June 1941. In his first public address in that role, he focused on the importance of an informed, engaged public to the health of a democracy and the maintenance of good government and the role of higher education in producing civic-minded individuals.

According to Fulbright, a broad education enables students to become intelligent voters who are able to recognize false propaganda and negative motives, untangle the significant from the meaningless and identify the real and important issues in political life. President Fulbright made this observation more than 75 years ago, and Fulbright College strives daily to form its students into citizens who reflect this vision.

Celebrating milestones in Fulbright's life and career is one of the ways the college helps to nurture his ideas and legacy. At this year's Fulbright Birthday Celebration, three people with multiple connections to Fulbright shared their reflections on and contributions to this living legacy.

Dean Todd Shields welcomed the audience to the fourth annual Fulbright Birthday Celebration held Thursday, April 9, in the Arkansas Union International Connections Lounge. He introduced three speakers who are not only members of Fulbright College, but also are part of the Fulbright Program that was started by J. William Fulbright and is run the United States Department of State. Matt Parnell, a doctoral student in the Department of History and Fulbright Scholar from the United States to Egypt, Alia Parveen, a doctoral student in the Cell and Molecular Biology Program and Fulbright Scholar from Pakistan to the U.S., and Luis Fernando Restrepo, assistant vice chancellor of diversity and community, professor of World Languages Literatures and Cultures and Fulbright Scholar from the U.S. to Columbia, each shared their observations with the audience.


Matt Parnell

Alia Parveen

Luis Fernando Restrepo

Hogwild Band playing Happy Birthday

Fulbright Scholars at the University of Arkansas wishing Senator Fulbright a Happy Birthday in their languages.

Parnell used his Fulbright to study youth political activism in Egypt in 2010 and 2011. While it improved his scholarship, the opportunity to meet and learn from those in the community was an even greater contribution to his education. He uses those lessons to continue Fulbright’s legacy by “fostering peace and understanding through education in the college named after him” and sharing his own experience with those taking his courses on the history of the Middle East.

“I design my classes to give voice to the voiceless, to recognize – as social historians say – people without history in order to make my students think, to challenge their preconceived notions, to point out inaccuracies and generalizations, to force them to separate political interest from human interest,” Parnell said.

Parveen was chosen by a group of Fulbright Scholars currently studying at the university to give remarks at this year's event. She came to Fayetteville from Pakistan on a four-year Fulbright Scholarship.

"Today, I am really honored to represent the foreign Fulbrighters here at the University of Arkansas on the 110th anniversary of Senator Fulbright’s birth, the father of the Fulbright Scholarship Program," Parveen said. "Coming from a country where there are so many stereotypes about the western world and vice versa, what my community leaders and I believe in is that the notion of tension and violence in today’s world is not a result of clash of civilizations but clash of ignorance. What I mean by this is that we are ignorant of the west and the west is ignorant of us."

Fulbright’s idea of bringing people together from different cultures and backgrounds was designed to combat such ignorance so national leaders and citizens from various countries could talk with one another as individuals rather than relying on stereotypes and presumptions.

“Being a Fulbright and Studying at his home institution, I am now an ambassador of Pakistan here in the United States, and one of the United States and Senator Fulbright in my home country,” Parveen said.

Restrepo teaches Spanish, comparative literature and Latin American and Latino studies, and he is a member for the Fulbright Senior Scholar Peer Review Committee for the Andes and Central America Fulbright Program.  His Fulbright award took him to Columbia in 2001. In his remarks, he referenced “The Two Americas,” an essay by Fulbright in his book The Arrogance of Power, which explores the nature of America. Is the country egotistical and self-righteous or is it humble and self-critical?

“The world that we live in is still very uncertain,” Restrepo said. “We must learn to live under terrorist threats at home and abroad. In such a time, which of the two Americas will prevail?”

According to Restrepo, following Fulbright’s vision of a kind, humble, moderate America is the nation’s best chance for bright future. Fulbright College and those who participate in these events celebrate and promote this vision of what the United States, its citizens and its friends worldwide ought to be.

“I am honored to be part of this occasion,” Restrepo said. “I enjoy learning about the living legacy of Senator Fulbright.”

As in previous years, the celebration included birthday cake, lemonade and a round of Happy Birthday led by the Hogwild Band, which was conducted by director of bands Jamal Duncan. Hoyt Purvis, professor of journalism and former press secretary and special assistant to Fulbright, Kay Goss, chair of the Fulbright College Campaign Committee, and many current Fulbright Scholars and alumni of the program were among the event’s special guests.

Fulbright College began the birthday tradition in 2012 with the return of the Fulbright sculpture to its pillar on the west side of Old Main. Remarks by former Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board chairman Tom Healy, Fulbright Scholar and university chancellor G. David Gearhart, and other current and previous Fulbright Scholars as well as dramatic reading of Fulbright’s essay A Concert of Free Nations by theatre students Missy Maramara and Curt Longfellow have been featured as part of the annual event.

Darinda Sharp

About the author

Darinda Sharp serves as director of communications for the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.