The people of Burma were delighted with the choice of venue made by U.S. President Barack Obama to deliver this week’s historic speech to their country. Mr. Obama chose the convocation hall of the University of Yangon as his podium for the speech. The university he singled out has a remarkable political environment that is intertwined with the country’s destiny.
The historic nationwide student-led strikes against British colonialism in 1920, 1936 and 1938 were initiated on the campus of the then University of Rangoon. Anti-colonial leaders like Aung San, U Nu, Kyaw Nyein, Ba Swe and U Thant were all alumni of Rangoon University. The practice of mass demonstration initiated by the university students continued after the country’s independence. Student-led protests occurred in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1962, 1974, 1988 and 1996.
President Obama said: “I came here because of my respect for this university. It was here at this school where opposition to colonial rule first took hold. It was here that Aung San edited a magazine before leading an independence movement. It was here that U Thant learned the ways of the world before guiding it at the United Nations. Here, scholarship thrived during the last century and students demanded their basic human rights. Now, your Parliament has at last passed a resolution to revitalize this university and it must reclaim its greatness, because the future of this country will be determined by the education of its youth.”
By choosing the University of Yangon, Obama helped the campus to be liberated. This university had been taken into custody for decades under a series of dictatorial regimes. The university has regained its liberation after Obama’s visit and it indicates that a free and modern education for Burma’s new generation has to come sooner rather than later.
“The education of its youth will determine the future of this country,” President Obama predicted.
Obama also pledged to help Burma’s education by extending student-exchange programs in the near future.
“Just as education is the key to America’s future, it is going to be the key to your future as well. And so we look forward to working with you, as we have with many of your neighbors, to extend that opportunity and to deepen exchanges among our students. We want students from this country to travel to the United States and learn from us, and we want U.S. students to come here and learn from you,” he said.