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Vassar & the Peace Corps

The following excerpt comes from The Vassar Alumni Quarterly in Poughkeepsie, New York, and was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue.

When President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order in the spring of 1961, Vassar grads were among the first to sign up.

Penelope Roach 57 wrote to the White House to request an application form right away. By the time an Act of Congress formally instituted the Peace Corps six months later, Roach and 49 other volunteers had already arrived in Ghana to begin their teaching at secondary schools scattered across the newly independent nation (the first south of the Sahara). We had a 22-hour flight by prop plane, and thought we might not make itthe pilots had to take off some of the luggage, says Roach, a retired professor at the former Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. But when we arrived, all of us were determined to do a good job there and all the Ghanaian people were determined to help us.

Since 1961, more than 229 graduates from Vassar College have served in the Peace Corps. Last year, 12 graduates were carrying out Peace Corps missions around the world. As Pamela Martin 77, a lifelong Peace Corps affiliate says, for Vassar graduates, There is nothing like being immersed in a culture unlike your own and having all of your assumptions about life stripped away. When everything you thought was normal is brought into question, you look at the essence of things. Those people in National Geographic become your neighbors; you become a part of the fabric of their lives.

In the Peace Corps 50th anniversary year, we take a look at several Vassar alumnae/i and their life-changing involvement with the organization.

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