Second Ceremony Speaker Transcript

Michigan Union
Thursday, October 14, 2010
11:00 a.m.

Musical Performance: Fontomfrom Drums

Paul Courant, University Librarian and Dean of University Libraries

We are honored by this amazing fontomfrom drum ensemble comprised of our own School of Music, Theater and Dance percussion majors, along with our King-Chavez-Parks Visiting Professors:

The two talking drums, the atumpan traditionally perform for Ghanaian royal and state occasions. Mr. Owusu is repeating what I say on the atumpan in the Twi language.

Ghana was a service destination of the first class of Peace Corps volunteers. So it is only fitting that these noble instruments, known as the talking drums of Ghana, should welcome such an auspicious gathering as this, on the 50th anniversary of then-Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy's middle-of-the-night address on these steps.

We are honored this morning to have among our guests:

We are also pleased to have members of our Board of Regents joining us:

Today marks 50 years since John F. Kennedy stood on this very spot and delivered a challenge to the students of the University of Michigan to commit to performing international service, to promote peace.

His challenge would inspire a groundswell of passion and commitment from the students who waited up to see him. That reaction from our own Michigan students and faculty was a key factor in the creation of the Peace Corps.

We have a distinguished group of speakers joining us for today's celebration and we look forward to hearing from them throughout our program this morning. They include:

Mary Sue Coleman, President, University of Michigan

Good morning and welcome to this historic day at the University of Michigan!

I want to extend a special greeting to the many Michigan alumni who have returned to campus to celebrate the creation of the Peace Corps and their commitment to serving others. I can still see and sense your enthusiasm for the experience that helped to shape your lives.

I want to acknowledge four special alumni for their contributions:

Thank you all for your diligence and grassroots efforts.

I saw the creation of the Peace Corps from a slightly different perspective.

As a high school senior in 1961, I was among the finalists in the nationwide Westinghouse Science Talent Search competition. This meant traveling to Washington, D.C., for the final week of competition – and a visit to the Oval Office.

I can't tell you how exciting this was to a 17-year-old, to meet and speak with President Kennedy. The memory is so strong for me because it was just days after the president had signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps.

I thanked President Kennedy for making the Peace Corps a reality, and for believing that our generation would help change the world. I could not have imagined that one day I would have the privilege to literally stand at the birthplace of the Peace Corps and thank the students and faculty whose enthusiasm made JFK's vision such a powerful reality.

Public service is a hallmark of the University of Michigan.

It is a value we encourage, both in and out of the classroom.

It is a legacy we celebrate, with historic markers such as those here at the Union and across the street behind you, at the corner of State and South U.

Most important, public service is what we do – here in our community, throughout our country, and around the globe. It makes for a more prosperous, civil world, and is fundamental to our commitment to the public good.

Thank you again for believing in the Peace Corps.

Julia Donovan Darlow, Chair, Board of Regents, University of Michigan

Good Morning! On behalf of the board of Regents of the University, I am honored to welcome all of you—my fellow regents, elected officials, students, faculty, alumni and, in particular, the many University of Michigan Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have come here today for this historic celebration.

Today we celebrate the bold vision of President John F. Kennedy and of the Michigan students and faculty who helped make his challenge a reality.

Their vision is as powerful and important today as it was 50 years ago – perhaps even more so. We live in a world that is ever more connected by technology, by transportation, by communications and by the global economy – and we know that we must all continue to strive for greater understanding of each other.

Global engagement among our students is essential – and it is increasing. More than 2,000 U-M students are studying abroad for credit annually. Another 1,500 students and recent graduates participate in other co-curricular educational programs.

Our students are making extraordinary efforts in community service as well. More than 250 organizations on campus are devoted to service and social action. The vast majority of our graduates have taken part in community service by the time they leave us.

One such U-M representative is pre-med student Steven Weinberg, who spoke at the 2 a.m. ceremony and is here this morning. He founded an organization called Will Work For Food, in which volunteers work in their own communities and ask people to sponsor their efforts with a donation – with the money raised going to fight child malnutrition abroad. The non-profit already has raised thousands of dollars and has recently expanded to chapters across the country. And that's just one example – there are dozens more.

David Schoem, our director of the Michigan Community Scholars Program, a residential program that encourages community service, sees among current students "a real commitment to, and sense of responsibility for, the rest of society. They're thinking beyond themselves."

Fifty years ago, JFK stood on these steps and he asked for help – and our students responded.

We see that same dedication in today's students, inspired and ready to meet again that challenge made five decades ago. We are very proud of all these students, past and present. We are very grateful to our former students for the service they have given, and we thank them sincerely. We are very excited about the commitment to service shown by our present students, and we encourage them enthusiastically.

Thank you!

Marnee DeVine, First Cousin to President John F. Kennedy

President Coleman, thank you so much for inviting me to be with you today.

I'm here with my husband, John, and several of my children and grandchildren, including my granddaughter Liz.

Liz is an 11th grader at Chicago Latin School, and had the opportunity to spend two weeks this past summer working in international service at a medical clinic in Rwanda.

She can't wait to go back to Africa and be part of the continuing legacy of international service that my cousin, President John F. Kennedy, called for on these very steps.

We are extremely proud of her.

My husband and I were here 50 years ago, in the early morning hours, when Jack, then a Senator, arrived at the Union to find more than 5,000 students waiting for him.

It was very exciting and Jack and his campaign staff were dumbfounded. They'd never expected to find such a large crowd.

It had been a long day for the senator, with several campaign stops and a presidential debate. But coming upon so many visibly excited students buoyed his spirits. And so I wasn't surprised at all when he fed off that energy. It was at that time that he challenged those students to commit to international service in the name of peace.

We were all invigorated when we left the next day to embark on a whistle-stop tour across the state.

Over the years, I was heartened to watch the University of Michigan community rally behind my cousin's idea and provide the support and enthusiasm needed to make it a reality. I am thrilled that international service remains such a strong commitment on the part of Michigan's faculty, staff and students, 50 years later.

Our family is honored to be here today to celebrate the profound impact the events that occurred on these steps have had on the world.

I thank you.

The Honorable Harris Wofford, Former U.S. Senator


The Honorable Jack Hood Vaughn, Former U.S. Ambassador to Panama and Colombia

Ann Arbor is my home. The University of Michigan is my alma mater. It was here that uncounted relatives and I were educated, including three of my sisters, my wife and my daughter. It was here that I taught romance languages and coached boxing. It was here, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, that my Brothers from the Phi Gam House and I marched down to the Marine Corps recruiting station to enlist in World War II. Ann Arbor is my home. I love Ann Arbor.

The Peace Corps is also my home. I couldn't resign from the Foreign Service fast enough to join Kennedy's call, so eloquently expressed on these steps. Working with Sargent Shriver, I was responsible for introducing the Peace Corps to Latin America, which remains an exciting and vibrant Peace Corps success story to this day. Succeeding Shriver as Director was the toughest and most rewarding job I ever had. I was completely at home in the Peace Corps. It has been a huge part of my life for almost 50 years. I love the Peace Corps and its Volunteers.

Student activists, particularly at Michigan and other mid-western universities, jumped on the Kennedy campaign bandwagon early and forcefully. I suspect it was those early campus volunteers who opened JFK's eyes to the power and possibility of post-election volunteerism.

Peace Corps Volunteers epitomize service, dedicating at least two years to their lives to living among, and helping, the poorest of the poor in all four corners of the world. They do messy, backbreaking work under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. They overcome loneliness, hardship and unimaginable obstacles. They are the authors of uncounted success stories. When they return to the United States they reorient themselves and their careers to make important contributions in all walks of American life, from national political office to public health, to social work, to environment preservation, to teaching in the inner city, to name a few. Their commitment to service is boundless. They are the best of Americans.

This is the previously overlooked talent Kennedy tapped into when he spoke on the steps here 50 years ago.

The last time I was with President Kennedy, we were standing on a balcony overlooking the massive main square in Bogota, Colombia. It was early pandemonium. The roaring and applauding of over a million people was deafening.

Can you understand what is happening here, Senor Presidente, just what has caused this unique demonstration in front of us?" asked host President Alberto Lleras Camargo. "My people believe that you are on their side."

That was, and still is, the beauty of the Peace Corps and why we are here today to recall JFK's message of service and love that October night.

Aaron S. Williams, Director, Peace Corps

It is an honor to be here with you today. I would like to thank President Coleman and the entire University of Michigan community for welcoming the Peace Corps family and hosting these wonderful events in honor of Kennedy's challenge issued 50 years ago.

It was a daring challenge: "How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana?" The movement that began here in Ann Arbor went on to change the way America sees the world – and the way the world sees this country.

In fact, I'm just back from Ghana, where I met with dozens of the nearly 5,000 Americans who have served in that country since 1961, when the young men and women of "Ghana I"—the very first Peace Corps Volunteers—departed for Accra.

The dream that was born here in Michigan lives on in a school for the deaf where one Volunteer I met is working to promote conservation, teach sustainable environmental practices, develop income generating projects and instruct students in computer technology – I met with another Volunteer working at a women's resource center working to empower young women and educate youth in issues related to health and the environment.

I also had the pleasure of celebrating the 80th birthday of a Volunteer in Ghana – Dorothy – who remembers Kennedy's words and is honored to be fulfilling a life's dream.

These volunteers and their work are a small part of the legacy of Kennedy's remarkable idea -- sparked on these very steps.

Today, we begin to celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary… and 50 years of promoting world peace and friendship…It is my distinct honor to represent the over 8,000 Americans serving in 77 countries.

As Sargent Shriver once said, the Peace Corps "personifies our best qualities and deploys to the world the vision of what the United States stands for."

Generosity. Compassion. Ingenuity. Flexibility. Resourcefulness. Self-reliance.

When it comes to commitment, Peace Corps Volunteers don't just go the distance. They stay.

They learn the language. Today, Peace Corps trains Volunteers in 250 languages – and in many cases our Volunteers acquire multiple languages to work successfully across local communities.

They live like their neighbors. They effect change on the ground.

Volunteers represent all 50 states, and a wide range of experience… from recent college graduates to seasoned professionals in their 30s, 40s, and 50s – through their 80s.

To me, our Volunteers personify hope, in a way that speaks to the core of our character: The idea that, whether or not one individual can move a mountain, we each have an obligation to try… and we don't have a moment to waste.

It should make us all proud that in villages and communities all over the world, people tell stories about the Peace Corps Volunteers who came, and stayed, and in the process, gave shape and meaning to the word "America."

Peace Corps Volunteers share an enduring passion for service – and an acute awareness of the challenges and opportunities in our interdependent world. Volunteers return to the United States as global citizens, with leadership skills, language skills, technical skills, problem-solving skills, and cross-cultural insights that position them well for careers across fields and industries.

These are exactly the skills our country needs to lead in these new times. That's why we're determined to keeping finding and fielding the very best Volunteers—thousands of Michigan graduates have committed 2 years of their lives to local communities overseas – and thousands more will follow in their path. Americans are committed to public service and community development.

Although we've come a long way since 1960, our journey is not complete. As long as there is suffering and strife in the world, we know that our work is not done.

Kennedy's idea is timeless – as vibrant today as it was half a century ago. The passion and the hope, the empathy and the enthusiasm – what motivated Volunteers in the 1960s still moves Volunteers today.

And my great hope is that this vision will remain forever young… embodied in the idealism of University of Michigan students… and college students across our great country… and in the spirit of older Americans too… who say, "I have the rest of my life to relax. Right now is a good time to make a difference."

I envision a Peace Corps that grows and adapts to the challenges and opportunities of our time. I envision a Peace Corps that carries the torch of President Kennedy's dream, and responds to President Obama's call to service.

I envision a Peace Corps that is still going strong, another fifty years from now and continues to capture the imagination of Americans committed to public service. Thank you.

Paul N. Courant

Thank you Director Williams and thank you to all of our distinguished speakers and guests. You've reminded us of the important roles we each have to play in affecting change so we might make the world a better place.

Your remarks are invigorating and challenge all of us to find our role in making this world better one neighbor at a time.

As we bid you farewell, we invite each of you to make your own mark on the great tradition of service embraced by President John F. Kennedy, the University of Michigan, and the Peace Corps.

Go out and do good in the world. Be there to serve.