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Stephen Schwarzman’s remarks from the Schwarzman Scholars inaugural convocation

September 10, 2016

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September 10, 2016

Standing here today is nothing short of astonishing.

I am certain in my belief that Schwarzman Scholars– the  extraordinary students here today, and those that will come after them – will play a critical role in fostering friendship, fellowship, and collaboration in our increasingly interconnected and constantly shrinking world.

These Schwarzman Scholars will have the opportunity to meet tomorrow’s challenges because Tsinghua and its leadership have been bold and innovative in rising to meet President Xi’s challenge: to elevate higher education in China.

As Professor Graham Allison of Harvard University has observed of China, “never has a nation moved so far, so fast up the international rankings of all dimensions of power.”

However, he reminds us that too often in history, such advances have been met with fear and conflict. It is the paradox of our time: the innovations and progress that bring the world closer together often create conditions of fear and misunderstanding that can pull us apart.  President Xi has wisely recognized this danger, remarking that “should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.”

We must avoid those traps that lead to tension – or worse.

Through the dedication of Vice Premier Liu and State Counselor Yang and Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry, the US-China Consultation on People-to-People furthers that work.

Yet there is more to be done.

That is why, three and half years ago, we stood in the Great Hall of the People and announced the creation of Schwarzman Scholars. At the time, we had no building. We had no curriculum, no faculty and no Scholars.

I am honored to have worked with a world class team who brought that vision to life.  This work has led to more than $400 million in contributions, the recruitment of a top faculty and students, and the construction of a world-class building.

***

There are many people who have helped create and implement the program.  Only some of them can be recognized.

I would like to thank President Xi for his leadership in promoting education and exchange. In his letter commending our program, he wrote that “education makes people better able to understand and transform the world.” This is at the very core of Schwarzman Scholars.

I am also grateful to President Obama, who, in writing about the Schwarzman Scholars program, called for educational exchange between the US and China to “foster peace and friendship in the years ahead.”

I would like to acknowledge Madame Liu Yandong. I have known Madame Liu for 10 years. I have seen her dedication to education and exchange around the world. On one of these occasions, Secretary Kerry asked her if she knew me, because he joked that I serve as the unofficial US ambassador to China. Madame Liu responded that of course she knew me, because I also serve as the unofficial Chinese ambassador to the US! I cannot thank her enough for her vision and support in creating this program.

And I look forward to working with Chen Baosheng, the Minister of Education, who I met this week.

My great friend, Tsinghua’s President Qiu Yong is irreplaceable, Tsinghua is lucky to have such a visionary and creative leader. He has adeptly merged the expertise and tradition of Tsinghua with the best of international academia to create this unprecedented program. He has helped Tsinghua achieve, in a short time, very significant increases in its international Academic University rankings.

And to the many impressive Tsinghua deans, faculty and staff, thank you for welcoming Schwarzman College so warmly into the Tsinghua University family.

I am particularly appreciative of Party Secretary Chen, who is steadfast in her good judgment and generous in her wise counsel. She has been unwavering in supporting the creation of the Schwarzman Scholars, carrying out the vision of President Xi.

I would like to extend my thanks to Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, who have both been great friends of this program.

I am also grateful to U.S. Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, who is here today.

My warm thanks go to David Li, Dean of Schwarzman Scholars. He and I have worked together extremely closely since 2012. He is a wise colleague, and an unmatched spokesman for the program.

David Pan, Executive Dean, has also been irreplaceable in his management of the program’s day-to-day development.

I am also grateful to Yang Bin, Vice President of Tsinghua, who has successfully overseen the program’s implementation.

Presidents Gu Binglin started the initial conversations with me to support Tsinghua on its 100th anniversary.

President Chen Jining, who succeeded him, convinced me to develop something unique, which became the initial concept and structure of Schwarzman Scholars.

I thank Dean Qian Yingyi, who offered in 2007 to have me join his advisory board, which introduced me to Tsinghua.

Our International Advisory Board, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson, Director of Global Leadership at Tsinghua John Thornton, and Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia provided valuable advice on China and other matters.

Our Academic Advisory Council, chaired by Harvard’s Bill Kirby, and Harvard Business School Professor Warren McFarlan, who sits on the Schwarzman Scholars Board of Trustees helped mobilize a global network of experts, which ensured that our curriculum, admissions, and student life are world-class.

We are privileged today to have Peter Salovey, Yale University President; John Hood, Chairman of the Rhodes Trust and former Head of Oxford University and Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge participating in our program. These heads of three of the top ten universities in the world, is a testament to the position that the Schwarzman Scholars and Tsinghua occupy in the global academic community.

We are pleased to be announcing a new partnership with the Rhodes Trust to collaborate on leadership training.

This program has made history as the largest philanthropic effort made in China with funds coming largely from outside the country. We have raised so far over $410 million from 100 donors, principally from the world’s leading corporations and from generous individuals. Currently, 80% of those funds have come from outside of China, because leaders everywhere know that the future can’t be secured without China. We have set a target of raising at least another $50 million to fully endow the program in perpetuity.

None of this would be possible without our dedicated Schwarzman Scholars staff. I would like to thank my Foundation CEO Amy Stursberg. Her endless energy is the driving force behind our efforts in New York.

Sir Nigel Thrift, our Executive Director, is a uniquely knowledgeable academic presence. He has helped bridge the differences between Chinese & Western Academic and Administrative best practices.

Global Director of Admissions, Rob Garris and his team, traveled to over 400 colleges to spread the word about the new program at Tsinghua.

And lastly, I would like to thank my family. Here today is my daughter Zibby; my son Teddy and his wife Ellen; my step daughter Megan and my wonderful wife, Christine. To Christine, I owe both great thanks and a deep apology.

Schwarzman Scholars is the most time-consuming and high stress project that I’ve worked on since starting Blackstone 30 years ago. But this has taken away time from our private time. Thank you, Christine, for letting me do this.

***

It’s awe-inspiring to stand in this magnificent space and take it all in. Thanks to the work of Robert A.M. Stern and his team, the architecture of Schwarzman College blends East and West.

We’ve assembled the brightest minds from around the world to challenge our Scholars with a 21st century curriculum. They will be taught by the highest caliber faculty from Tsinghua and abroad, experts who are shaping the future of their fields.

Tsinghua’s forward-thinking commitment to educating for the 21st century has already been recognized, with Tsinghua rising rapidly in the global rankings.

And I expect Tsinghua’s ranking to climb further as the premier universities from around the world are eager to see their students compete for a spot in this program.

Before even graduating its first class, Schwarzman Scholars is one of the most prestigious fellowships in the world.

And this is not simply good news for this program or for Tsinghua University—these strides make all of Chinese higher education stronger.

Beyond the classroom, Schwarzman College will draw the world’s leaders and innovators to come and bring academic lessons to life. Scholars already have interacted with former President George W. Bush, with whom they had a one hour video conference two weeks ago,  to Harvard President, Larry Summers and others who have wielded global influence. Scholars will meet with China’s leading figures in government, science, business and culture. They will explore China through trips beyond Beijing, engaging with its diverse culture and people.

The beauty of this experience in Schwarzman College—in an age of global connectedness—is that this person-to-person learning can continue long after the Scholars have graduated and throughout their professional lives.

I’m told that there is a Chinese proverb that encapsulates the transformative power of education: “If you want one year of prosperity, then grow grain.  If you want 10 years of prosperity, then grow trees.  But if you want 100 years of prosperity, then you grow people.”

Our inaugural class – sitting here — our “pioneers” — were selected through a rigorous admissions process, modeled off of the Rhodes scholarship. This process included interviews with accomplished global leaders – former government officials, business people, journalists, and academics.

Our global recruitment process – involving 400 universities — ensures that we are attracting the most promising students from the world. We had 3,000 people competing to come study at Tsinghua and thousands more that considered it. The acceptance rate for this program was more competitive than the most selective universities in the world, a distinction that benefits Tsinghua and Chinese higher education as a whole. This year I expect a substantial increase in the number of applicants.

We have Scholars fluent in Mandarin, Russian, Turkish, German, French, Portuguese, and many other languages. They are interested in building connections not only between the US and China but also in expanding those networks to include integral regions like Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Every scholar will return to his or her home country with a better understanding of China and the world.

One of our Scholars is the founder of the largest under 30 innovation event in Latin America. Another is leading a national study of accountability in Uganda. We have champion debaters, a Mayor of a Chinese city, and one of the youngest candidates for European Parliament.

Our Scholars are cutting-edge innovators: they’ve designed photovoltaic monitoring software, a solar oven that can bake 300 loaves of bread in two hours, and a system that has digitized medical records for over 5,000 patients. One of our Scholars Skyped into his interview from Iraq, where he was leading a military explosive diffusion team.

They are united by their “infectious optimism.” They are bold and forward thinking, undaunted by global challenges.

I should add that earlier this year, they sent me a very special birthday greeting: a video of Schwarzman Scholars from around the world, wishing me a “happy birthday.” It’s reassuring to know that they’ve already discovered the secret to diplomacy: flattery.

***

As I stand here, I can’t help but think: if this is what we’ve accomplished in three years, think of what is possible in 50.

By then, we will have graduated 10,000 remarkable scholars from around the world who understand and value China, its people and its future. 10,000 leaders across the globe working toward a more prosperous and stable world.

Our pioneers have impressed us with what they’ve accomplished by their twenties—can you imagine the impact that they’ll have made in politics, business, and society in the decades to come?

And thanks to the remarkable generosity of our donors, today we can think not just in terms of decades—we can dream in terms of centuries.

Schwarzman Scholars will foster the understanding that will help us respond to the defining challenges of our time – those we know about already, such as climate change, trade disputes, and rising tensions internationally. And those we haven’t even begun to predict.

Ultimately, this program was created to respond to – and shape — the geopolitical landscape of at least the 21st century. As President Xi wrote upon the creation of Schwarzman Scholars, “To triumph over the myriad challenges facing human development requires that peoples of all nations pull together toward a common goal.”

I believe—I know—that these Schwarzman Scholars are the ones who will make that triumph possible and that common goal reachable.

Thank you.