Tuesday, March 1, 2011

50th Anniversary

Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960 challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship. Roughly a year later the Peace Corps was born. Today marks the official 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps program as well as Peace Corps week in Maine. On March 1st, 1961 President John F. Kennedy signed the order to establish Peace Corps which was subsequently put into a Norman Rockwell painting of inspired young adults gazing to the "future". Sadly, this year the Peace Corps lost one of the most influential people in the long history of the program - Sargent Shriver. He will be forever remembered for his dedication to the people who volunteered and the amazing work that has been done by Peace Corps Volunteers.

Below is the transcript from his address to the University of Michigan:

"I want to express my thanks to you, as a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University.

I come here tonight delighted to have the opportunity to say one or two words about this campaign that is coming into the last three weeks.

I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 1933, mostly because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s. The opportunity must be seized, through the judgment of the President, and the vigor of the executive, and the cooperation of the Congress. Through these I think we can make the greatest possible difference.

How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.

Therefore, I am delighted to come to Michigan, to this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can't possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength.

So I come here tonight to go to bed! But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort...

This university...this is the longest short speech I've ever made...therefore, I'll finish it! Let me say in conclusion, this University is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle. There is certainly a greater purpose, and I'm sure you recognize it. Therefore, I do not apologize for asking for your support in this campaign. I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade.

Thank you."

John F. Kennedy
October 14th, 1960

The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers left for their life changing/challenging experience in August of 1961. Until about 1967, applicants had to pass a placement test that tested "general aptitude" (knowledge of various skills needed for Peace Corps assignments) and language aptitude which lord knows would have been difficult for me to pass - thank you Peace Corps for stopping that! After an address from Kennedy on August 28, 1961, the first group of volunteers left for Ghana and Tanzania. The program was formally authorized by Congress on September 22, 1961, and within two years over 7,300 volunteers were serving in 44 countries. This number increased to 15,000 in June 1966, the largest number in the organization's history.

Since 1961, over 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and have served in 139 countries. Currently, there are volunteers in 77 countries around the world and I must say my experience in Uganda has been wonderful. I think Peace Corps, though having many ideologies of a government organization, does amazing things for people who work for them and the people they serve. I think this has to do with the high caliber of people who choose to put their lives on hold for two years and become a PCV. I have never been around such an amazing group of people as I have for the past 7 months with my Peace Corps Class.

Picture from the Philadelphia Airport before coming to Staging - I do believe Miss. Britt Larson took this one!

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