Remarks by Peace Corps Director Mark L. Schneider for Memorial Tribute to Senator Paul Coverdell
September 19, 2000Washington, D.C. September 19, 2000 Good morning. Thank you all for joining more than 7,200 Peace Corps Volunteers serving around the world, Peace Corps staff past and present and the more than l61,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to pay tribute to one of the Peace Corps’ most important leaders in its 40-year history, Senator Paul Coverdell. I am very pleased that so many friends of Senator Coverdell and the Peace Corps could be here today.
We are deeply honored that Senator Coverdell's wife, Nancy, has come from Atlanta to the Peace Corps Building to join us for this special occasion. We welcome you warmly to the Peace Corps, Mrs. Coverdell, and we thank you very much for being here. Let me also pay a special welcome as well to Senator Coverdell's congressional colleagues, to our former Peace Corps Directors, Elaine Chao and Mark Gearan, to Ambassador Geoana of the Embassy of Romania, and to the many good friends who worked at the Peace Corps under Senator Coverdell’s leadership. We have come together to celebrate the outstanding leadership that Senator Coverdell brought to the Peace Corps during his distinguished tenure as Director from 1989 to 1991. His legacy includes opening the first programs in Romania, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and other nations in Central and Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Cold War. He saw so clearly that having Peace Corps Volunteers teaching, working, and contributing to human understanding in those countries was a powerful statement of our own commitment to helping those countries pursue democratic development. He sent the very first Volunteers to the newly independent African nation of Namibia and returned Volunteers to Uganda. In the Americas, he re-opened Peace Corps programs in a number of countries, including Uruguay, Bolivia, Haiti and Nicaragua, marking fundamental changes in those nations. And he established the first programs ever in Zimbabwe and Mongolia, cognizant of the new historical chapters being written with his initiatives. Here at home, Senator Coverdell created the World Wise Schools program to help America's young people benefit from the Peace Corps and the service of our Volunteers. He significantly expanded the Fellows/USA Program to make it possible for returned Volunteers to continue their education and use their Peace Corps experience to benefit communities across our country. In those two programs, he established the strongest and clearest expression of the third goal of the Peace Corps enunciated by President John F. Kennedy, for Volunteers to bring home their new knowledge and awareness of other cultures and other peoples to enrich our own experience as a nation. He also took great pride in his initiative, which every Director since has sought to emulate, to increase diversity in our Volunteer corps, so that nations overseas could see and learn about the rich ethnic, cultural, and racial composition of our great country. But at the end of the day, what mattered most to Senator Coverdell was the individual Volunteer—the men and women who continue to sacrifice their time, energies, and skills to help build a better world for all of us. His deep and abiding commitment to Peace Corps Volunteers and to the history, values, and traditions of this extraordinary organization stands as a model for all of us to follow, and it is one that we will never forget. I also want to express my own deep appreciation for the thoughtful counsel and personal support he gave to me. He was gracious with his time, frank with his advice, and absolutely committed to what was best for the Peace Corps. Senator Coverdell had broad vision of the Peace Corps' mission, and we can see the value and benefits of that vision in the World Wise Schools program here at home. Let me quote what he once said. "During my travels, I have found that the one factor above all others, which seems to determine the prospects for a nation's surviva that the one factor above all others, which seems to determine the prospects for a nation's survival and economic well-being is education. That's why I have taken so seriously the job of bringing back the knowledge gained overseas and putting it to work in America." The Senator’s signature program in this regard is the World Wise Schools program, which he introduced in the fall of 1989. This enormously successful program links Peace Corps Volunteers and returned Volunteers with American classrooms. It gives our American students a chance to learn about the world’s diverse peoples, cultures, and geography through the eyes of Volunteers who are living and working in so many different communities across the globe. I know the Senator was thrilled with the growth of the program. Today, more than 4,600 Volunteers are sharing their experience with more than 7,000 classrooms in every state in the Union. In the audience today is the first Director of the World Wise Schools program, Shirley Puchalski. Shirley will you please stand and take a much-deserved bow. I am pleased to tell you that Peace Corps is naming this exciting program, the Coverdell World Wise School program. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has taken the lead in the Congress to amend the Peace Corps Act to provide for the permanent designation of the Coverdell World Wise Schools program. In addition, I am extremely proud to announce today that, in honor of Senator Coverdell's leadership and commitment to this program, we have decided to present each year the Paul Coverdell Award for Excellence in Education to three educators from across the United States who, through dedication to, and participation in, the World Wise School program, best represent the values of international education and cross-cultural understanding. I think this is a fitting tribute to Senator Coverdell. I would like to take this moment to say again to you, Mrs. Coverdell, how honored we are that you are here today. We remain profoundly saddened by the loss of Senator Coverdell. But we also feel privileged to have known him and worked with him. Every time we look at that marvelous photo of the Senator walking in the hills of Guatemala, we will remember how much of himself he gave to the Peace Corps and to our Volunteers. If I may, I’d like to present a copy of the photo to you with the inscription: "Presented to Mrs. Nancy Coverdell, with deep respect and appreciation from the Peace Corps. September 19, 2000." In his speeches as Director, Senator Coverdell often referenced this quote from Vaclav Havel, the great Czech human rights activist and Nobel laureate: "The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility." To the extent we at the Peace Corps meet well our responsibility to further the Peace Corps' mission, we pay ultimate tribute to Senator Coverdell's contributions to peace in this human world. I thank you all very much for coming today and invite you to join us for a reception. Thank you.