On October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy addressed students from the steps of the University of Michigan Union, challenging them to give two years of their lives to help people in countries of the developing world.
“How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” the soon-to-be president said. “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.”
That call to action, 50 years ago today, inspired one of the most successful service projects in American history, the Peace Corps. Since its inception a year later, nearly 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, serving in 139 countries and making a difference every day, promoting shared understanding, peace and prosperity.
The pillars of the Peace Corps — using American expertise to help nations around the world, promoting a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans — are noble goals that have impacted countless individuals, communities, and nations over the last half century, including our own.
Next year, both USAID and the Peace Corps will celebrate their 50th anniversaries thanks to President Kennedy’s vision to engage with the world and show American leadership though peace, friendship and compassion—the greatest assets anyone has to offer.
On behalf of all of us at USAID on this historic day, I would like to congratulate this great organization, which continues to inspire some of our country’s best and most dedicated volunteers to help people around the globe build better lives for themselves.