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'U' to kick-off national celebration of Peace Corps 50th anniversary

BY JENNA SIMARD
For the Daily
Published September 7, 2010

Correction appended: An earlier version said John F. Kennedy used the steps of the Michigan Union to lay out his vision for the National Peace Corps Association.

On Oct. 14 1960, former President John F. Kennedy used the steps of the Michigan Union to lay out his vision for the United States Peace Corps.

Now, 50 years later, the University will serve once again as a launching location, but this time for Peace Corps anniversary festivities throughout the country.

The National Peace Corps Association asked the University to host the symposium because of the University’s ties to the program, according to John Greisberger, the University’s International Center Director.

Though Oct. 14 is not the official day of the Peace Corps’ establishment, the date was chosen because of the role Kennedy’s speech played in starting the organization, Greisberger said.

“We are celebrating the response of our students to Kennedy’s challenge to serve others in developing countries,” Greisberger said.

The symposium will begin Oct. 13 and will feature several panels of speakers — those who participated in the organization and those working for it — who will discuss the importance of the Peace Corps and how it changed them for the better. There will also be a student-led symposium that night, where students will address important issues pertaining to international service and student activism.

The symposium will come to a close at 2 a.m. the following morning with a reenactment of Kennedy’s speech. Audio clips from Kennedy’s original speech will be played, which Greisberger said “challenged students to use their education to help others around the world.”

In addition to these two kick-off symposiums there will be other events throughout the year at the University and around the country celebrating the anniversary.

Kevin Quigley, president of the National Peace Corps Association, said Kennedy’s speech and the establishment of the Peace Corps laid the foundation for young Americans to volunteer around the globe.

“(Kennedy’s) challenge lit a torch that encouraged students to help others throughout the world,” Quigley said.

But student activism at the University also played a large role in establishing the Peace Corps, according to Quigley and Greisberger.

“The idea of international service really resonated with our students,” Greisberger said. “It helped Americans commit to world responsibility.”

University students led the movement that encouraged college students across the country to get involved outside of their campuses. According to the University’s Peace Corps anniversary website, 2,331 University alumni have participated in the Peace Corps since its inception — the fourth largest number of alumni volunteers for the program.

Though the Peace Corps has had success over the last 50 years, Greisberger said the goal of the symposium isn’t simply to reflect on the past, but rather to look toward getting more people involved in global community service in the future.

“(The goal is to) bring people together to talk about the future of international service as well as chart the course for international service in the next 50 years,” Greisberger said.

Among many other events in the weeks following the designated symposium, activist Tom Hayden will also give a speech Oct.14. Hayden — a former editor of The Michigan Daily — will be speaking about student activism, both now and in the 1960s, as well as how essential activism was to establishing the Peace Corps, which has helped over 10 million people all over the world.