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Deputy Director Keegan Remarks at the National Taipei University Commencement Ceremony- Taiwan's Treasure: an Educated Population

President Hou, graduates, parents, ladies and gentlemen.  It is a pleasure to be here today to mark this momentous occasion: the graduation from National Taipei University of an outstanding and impressive group of young people. I am pleased to provide all the students and parents their final test:

Question: If you want to go downtown for a good time and see a movie, where is the best place to go?

If you answer, Warner Village or the Meilihua in Dazhi, you pass and you can graduate.

If you answer Hsi-men-ding, then you're a parent like me, remembering a Taipei of thirty years ago.

In September of 1977 I flew into Songshan International Airport to study in Taiwan. I was a graduate student from the University of California coming to study classical Chinese at the Stanford Center.

I flew in over rice paddies that came up to the end of the runway. The taxi driver who drove me to a friend's house was an army veteran who came to Taiwan with the KMT in 1949. The traffic we drove through had more bicycles than motor scooters or cars. If you took a walk in Mucha you would quickly find yourselves among small farms where farmers used water buffalo.

If you said "7, 11", that was a arithmetic problem and the answer was eighteen. "Fast Food" meant a bowl of noodles, and milk was an exotic drink.

When I rode the Ling-nan bus from Gongguan to downtown to shop at the bookstores on Bo'ai road, I was usually the tallest person on the bus. I sometimes had to bend over because the roof of the bus was too low for me. By the time I returned ten years later, many of the eighteen year-old boys were taller than I was, and the bus companies had bought buses with higher roofs so that they could fit. Now, like so many others, I often take Taipei's world-class metro instead of the bus.

Pollution from coal heating and power plants was a major problem for Taipei residents, and environmental protection was a politically sensitive subject.

The only air-conditioned library in Taipei was at the American Embassy Information Center, and lots of high school and college students went there to meet, to study, and to learn about America.  Every student wanted to study in the United States. Even though I was a student, and I did not know anyone who worked at the U.S. Embassy, I knew through my friends that getting a U.S. visa could be difficult because many of those students who went to the United States did not return. They found too many opportunities in the United States and too few here in Taiwan. Today almost 99 percent of everyone who applies for a U.S. visitor's visa receives one. Why? Everyone who travels to the U.S., everyone who studies in the U.S. is coming home to an island of opportunity.

A great deal has changed in Taiwan since those days, and a great deal of the change is because of Taiwan's emphasis on education.

I often have the opportunity to talk to American visitors to Taiwan, and I often tell them that Taiwan has no natural resources, but . . . and the "but" is the most important part, it has an even more valuable resource - an energetic, talented and well educated population.  If you look around the world today, it might be interesting to divide the world into places with major natural resources, and those without, then scan the list and see which places are more developed - those with or those without natural wealth. It is striking to me that many of the most successful economies are those without extensive natural resources. I would argue that is because they have had to focus on the resources in their people.

In the thirty years since I first arrived, Taiwan has experienced one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, and has become the world's 14th largest trading area.  As one of the most densely populated areas on earth and with no natural resources, Taiwan's economic success was never a foregone conclusion.  Taiwan has faced almost every conceivable condition that has led other countries to explain away their economic failures.

How did Taiwan achieve this remarkable success?  By investing in its most valuable resource: its people.  Education is one of the keys to economic success and Taiwan has cultivated one of the most highly educated populations on earth.  When I was here as a student in the 70's, there were only a handful of universities.  Today, Taiwan has 158 institutions of higher education.  The percentage of high school graduates who go on to higher education has ballooned from 40% when I was here in 1978 to almost 70% today.  Every year more than 20,000 Taiwanese gain Masters or PhD degrees.  This puts Taiwan on the list with Finland, Japan, Sweden, Singapore and the United States as the countries with the most researchers per capita. 

One might think that the value of having an educated and trained population would have fallen over time simply because there are so many more educated people in the world.  But the fact is that as the supply of educated people has increased, technology has been shifting rapidly and significantly in favor of the better-trained, more educated people.  So, despite the sizable increase in supply of educated people in the world, there has also been tremendous growth in the advantages of getting additional education and training.

I have always known Taiwan to be rich in human resources, but looking at you, the 2530 students who graduate today from National Taipei University, I am struck by just how remarkable you are and how far Taiwan has come:  26 of you have become PhDs today.  That is twice the number of people who were pursuing graduate work on the whole island of Taiwan fifty years ago.  508 of you have been awarded Masters degrees today, and 1,996 of you graduate with bachelor degrees.  You have studied in 4 different colleges and 18 different departments.  Education is an equal-opportunity achievement in Taiwan: 60% of you are women.  Life-long education is also a priority: one of the graduates here today- Mr. Wang Cho-jun- is also Taipei City's Police Chief.  National Taipei University, and especially President Hou, is an institution known for its excellence.  AIT has particularly valued our cooperation together on the Fulbright Program- President Hou is a former Fulbrighter himself and this university has hosted a number of American Fulbright Scholars over the years.

Today, you join the ranks of the highly educated population that is Taiwan's most valuable treasure.  A Chinese proverb says, "It takes ten years for a tree to grow up and one hundred years for a person." [十年樹木 百年樹人 ]. 

The challenge you face today is clear. In another twenty years, today's graduates will be sitting in the audience as parents of another generation of graduates. Perhaps some foreigner will be describing how Taiwan has changed since he was a student in Taiwan in 2005. What will he say? I would suggest that he too will describe what today's graduates have done with their education and how they have demanded an even better education for their children. Education will tell the story of Taiwan's success over the next twenty years, just as it has since I arrived in 1977.

Thank you.