IC faculty, staff, and alumni who worked as
volunteers in developing nations agree that their lives have
been forever changed by the experience --- for the better.
Many of us look back on our college days as a romantic
period where discussing ideas until the wee hours of the morning
was part of the experience of being away from home, among friends
who were also testing their intellectual wings. In a way, the Peace
Corps owes its existence to such late-night brainstorming.
On October 14, 1960, John F. Kennedy was campaigning
for the U.S. presidency. He and his entourage stopped at the University
of Michigan, arriving in Ann Arbor at 2:00 a.m., expecting to head
to bed for some well-deserved rest. Instead, they found 10,000
students waiting for Kennedy to appear. In an impromptu speech
on the steps of the Michigan Union he posed some late-night philosophical
questions to the crowd, wondering how many of them would be willing
to work for worldwide peace by going to live among people of various
cultures, helping developing nations by providing service.
In President Kennedy's inaugural speech on January
20, 1961, he shared the results of the subsequent discussions,
telling the world that he envisioned young Americans joining a "grand
and global alliance" to "fight tyranny, poverty, disease, and war
itself." The challenge to Americans issued in his speech became
law just seven weeks later, when the president signed an executive
order establishing the Peace Corps.
To date more than 168,000 volunteers have heeded
Kennedy's call. Among them are a not insignificant number of Ithaca
College alumni (as well as faculty and staff). They have served
all over the world, and each decade of graduates has seen itself
well-represented. One thing they'd all surely confide over a late-night
snack in a dorm lounge: service in the Peace Corps changed their
lives in ways they'll never forget or regret.