Peace Corps Celebrates President John F. Kennedys University of Michigan Speech that Inspired the Creation of Peace Corps

October 13, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 13, 2009 This week, Peace Corps celebrates the 49th anniversary of President John F. Kennedys University of Michigan speech that inspired the agencys creation.

At 2:00 am on October 14, 1960, then-Senator John F. Kennedy spoke to a gathering of the students at the University of Michigan who were waiting for hours to hear the presidential candidate speak in Ann Arbor. On the steps of the University of Michigan Student Union, President Kennedy challenged the students to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries, an idea that inspired the creation of the Peace Corps.

Although many things have changed in our country, the philosophy that gave rise to and has sustained Peace Corps has not, said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams. Nearly forty-nine years ago, President Kennedy challenged University of Michigan Students to achieve a higher purpose and give a part of their lives to their nation and the world. As we approach our 50th Anniversary, I am proud that Peace Corps remains committed to promoting world peace and friendship through public service.

Establishing Peace Corps was an early priority for the Kennedy Administration. President Kennedy signed an executive order that established Peace Corps on March 1, 1961 and Congress formally authorized Peace Corps on September 22 of the same year. By the end of 1961, over 750 Peace Corps volunteers served in 13 countries. Today, nearly 7,500 Peace Corps volunteers serve in 74 countries.

A video with the audio of then-Senator Kennedys speech follows.

A .wav version of the audio is available upon request. Please contact the Peace Corps Press Office at 202-692-2230 or at [email protected].



Transcript of President Kennedys Speech:

"I want to express my thanks to you, as a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University.

I come here tonight delighted to have the opportunity to say one or two words about this campaign that is coming into the last three weeks.

I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 1933, mostly because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s. The opportunity must be seized, through the judgment of the President, and the vigor of the executive, and the cooperation of the Congress. Through these I think we can make the greatest possible difference.

How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? 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.

Therefore, I am delighted to come to Michigan, to this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can't possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength.

So I come here tonight to go to bed! But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort…

This university…this is the longest short speech I've ever made…therefore, I'll finish it! Let me say in conclusion, this University is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle. There is certainly a greater purpose, and I'm sure you recognize it. Therefore, I do not apologize for asking for your support in this campaign. I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade.

Thank you."

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