Remarks of Mark L. Schneider Swearing-in Ceremony as Peace Corps Director
January 7, 2000Shriver Hall, Peace Corps Headquarters Washington, D.C. January 7, 2000
Who says you can't go home again? Being here at the Peace Corps is going home again. I want to thank President Clinton for that unique privilege, for his support of the Peace Corps' ethic of service, and for the confidence he has shown in appointing me to be the 15th Director of the Peace Corps. As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from El Salvador, there is no higher honor than the one I have received today.
I'd like to recognize some of the people who are here. First and foremost, for more than three decades, I have had the special support of another returned Peace Corps Volunteer, my wife, Susan. She has made her own career in public service and as a successful businesswoman. She has adjusted her time, engaged her creativity and employed her truly matchless organizational skills on my behalf. She did it when we were Volunteers in El Salvador and she has done it ever since.
For more than five decades, my mother, Ruth Schneider, who is 81, has taught me what is fair, what is just, and how to treat others with empathy, concern and kindness.
But what gives me the most pride is to have both of our children, Aaron and Miriam, here to share this moment with me.
My son has been following us, but in reverse. After college he chose to spend a year working with returned refugees in El Salvador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Then he went to the University of California-Berkeley. But he went there for graduate school, earning a master's, and, after a Fulbright in Brazil, is well into his Ph.D. dissertation.
Our daughter, Miriam, is back after enjoying a junior semester interlude from Duke University in Spain. At Duke, she not only has achieved Dean's list, but has also continued ballet, and started a profitable on-line food delivery service as well. I am also pleased that others in my family, especially my brother, Bruce, and sister-in-law Judy, were able to travel here, as well as my cousins Alan and Kit Kobran and Marilyn Segal and countless friends and colleagues.
Let me recognize the Secretary of the Navy and my basketball teammate, Richard Danzig; AID Administrator Brady Anderson, my former fellow Assistant Administrators and the Latin American and Caribbean Bureau contingent, Undersecretary of State Tom Pickering, Assistant Secretaries Pete Romero and Randy Beers; Jim Steinberg and Arturo Valenzuela of the National Security Council; Bob Nash head of the White House Office of Personnel, Sir George Alleyne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization, and Ambassador Dane Smith of the National Peace Corps Association.
I have a special greeting and "abrazo" for our fellow El Salvador Group VI returned Peace Corps Volunteers and our former Country Directors Betty Hutchinson, Doug Walker, and Lee Hougen. I would ask them to stand or wave. The bonds from that experience have stayed strong over the decades. One of our colleagues, Ellen Shippy, sent her regrets because she is our Ambassador in Malawi. Others have e-mailed, called and written. Let me thank some other special friends who have supported me through the years.
Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, whose distinguished public career has many chapters yet to be written, my appreciation for your kind words and friendship.
Brian Atwood, my friend and colleague since the early l970s and as Administrator of USAID, my boss for the past seven. It was a privilege to work with someone who represents the very best of public servants. Thank you for your comments.
United States Court of Appeals Judge David Tatel. I cannot thank you enough, David, for taking the time away from court to swear me in.
Although they could not be here, a special word goes to the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She has my admiration and highest regard.
Senator Ted Kennedy, as always, has my appreciation for his continued support and my deepest respect for his work on behalf always, has my appreciation for his continued support and my deepest respect for his work on behalf of the poor and voiceless.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and United States Senator Christopher Dodd is a special friend who has carried the Peace Corps banner high over these many decades.
And Sandy Berger, the President's National Security Adviser, my appreciation for his continued counsel and friendship.
Sargent Shriver, our first and always Director, was planning to be here today but he has remained with Mrs. Shriver, who is still recovering in California from pneumonia. He tells me she is doing well. Sarge set the bar high as the first Director of the Peace Corps. I can only aspire to doing my very best to keep faith with the ideals that he has championed throughout his life.
Those ideals have served as a beacon for the distinguished men and women who followed Sarge—among others, Jack Vaughn and Loret Miller Ruppe, Senator Paul Coverdell and Carol Bellamy and my immediate predecessor, Mark Gearan. I am especially appreciative of the presence here today of former directors Joe Blatchford, Carolyn Payton and Elaine Chao. I am proud and humbled to be listed now with these former Peace Corps Directors.
When my wife Susan and I traveled to El Salvador as Peace Corps Volunteers in l966, anxiety competed with excitement and optimism concerning our immediate future. For us and for the vast majority of our fellow Volunteers, it was the first step toward defining our own future. I have a decoration on my wall that I received from the late President Napoleon Duarte, when he was mayor, for our service in the municipal community action program. Instead, I should have given El Salvador a decoration.
The two years in El Salvador were my real graduate education. They remain the most illuminating, rewarding and exhausting period of my life. I saw the constant struggle to survive in the developing world—children without enough to eat, mothers without access to health care, fathers unable to find work to earn the income to care for their families. We saw men arise every day before dawn to stand on a corner hoping to be chosen for a day's work and hoping to receive a day's pay, however meager, when they were lucky enough to be chosen. Women arose even earlier to prepare tortillas, to care for the children, at times to suffer silently.
We also witnessed the beauty and the honor and the love of families as they struggled together for a better life. We saw the enormous pride and satisfaction when communities came together to build a bridge over a ravine, to save the home of a neighbor after a storm, or to start a cooperative.
The Peace Corps oath of allegiance for many of us has meant a lifetime pledge of public service, of community concern, and of international awareness. Finding myself now with the opportunity to lead the Peace Corps constitutes a moment of rare fortune.
I hope that my past experience in and out of government will enhance my ability to lead the Peace Corps on the 21st century journey proposed by President Clinton and endorsed by the Congress to reach 10,000 Volunteers.
In everything I have done, I have tried to convey that the purpose of development is to improve the lives of human beings. That also will be my guide in the future.
The Peace Corps purpose is set forth simply and compellingly "to promote world peace and friendship." Its goals remain as vital today as they were 39 years ago: to promote development, particularly in meeting the basic needs of the poorest, and to promote cross-cultural understanding in the countries they serve and here in the United States.
If anything, the passage of time has ratified their validity.
I already have seen here at the Peace Corps an amazingly committed, dedicated and talented staff. There is a firm sense of direction for which I thank Deputy Dictor Chuck Baquet, the staff here and in the field and the Volunteers. I have been thinking aboutctor Chuck Baquet, the staff here and in the field and the Volunteers. I have been thinking about a few areas that I would like to explore with Volunteers and the staff whether we might be able to do even more to advance the Peace Corps goals.
First, I am convinced that today's Peace Corps Volunteers are comparative experts in harnessing information technology to the task of poverty reduction. I would like to see what more we can do to use computers to help micro-entrepreneurs explore new markets, new products and new ways to reduce their costs of production. I would like to see how they can be used to monitor immunization coverage, help the rural poor acquire legal title to their land, and enable urban teachers to bring the Internet into the classroom.
And I want to see whether we can use "You've got mail" to bring the immediacy of the current Peace Corps experience back to even more classrooms and more communities in the United States, building on the remarkable success of the World Wise Schools program.
Second, we now have large Peace Corps programs in hurricane and earthquake-prone countries, such as the Caribbean and Central America, where natural disasters will almost certainly hit during a Volunteer's service. Although the Crisis Corps already is at work on developing training tools, I believe even more Volunteers can become teaching resources for community-based disaster prevention and response.
A third area that enhances both poverty reduction and the democratic transitions underway in virtually every region of the world, is strengthening local governments to respond to community needs, in their partnerships with micro and small business and in their dialogue with civil society.
And I also would like to see whether we can expand Volunteer roles in teaching the importance of bio-diversity and environmental protection, and helping the poor become full participants in that process.
Finally, even when I was with AID, I kept an eye on Peace Corps Volunteers. I have seen them working with people in countries emerging from conflict in Central America and contributing to reconciliation and recovery. I would hope that the Peace Corps, perhaps through its Crisis Corps, could do the same in other post-conflict situations in other parts of the world.
Beyond their technical skills, ultimately, it is the creativity, imagination, initiative and positive attitude of the Volunteers that makes them stand apart. Volunteers convey a sense of optimism to those around them that what is attempted can be achieved.
And now as in the past, the Peace Corps also permits other countries, cultures and peoples to learn about the values of this country through the Volunteers who become their neighbors, their fellow workers, their friends.
A friend shared a letter from her son who is now serving as a Volunteer in Africa. He wrote: "People in this world suffer on a daily basis. They suffer so much and so often that they fail to call it suffering, they call it lifeÉI have always felt welcome wherever I goÉPeople with so little materially have so much and give so much personallyÉso much to make others so happyÉAnd as to the future, I guess one of the few things I know about my life remains that serving others brings fulfillment and happiness that no paycheck could match."
As that letter tell us, what Volunteers bring home may be the most long-lasting legacy of the Peace Corps. It revolves around what happens to Volunteers themselves and what they communicate for the rest of their lives to their family, their friends, and their colleagues about the people, the countries and the cultures where they spent their Peace Corps service.
This year, another 4,000 Volunteers will travel abroad to continue the tradition of the Peace Corps.
I pledge to you that I will do all in my power to see that those Volunteers are the best trained, the most secure, and the most prepared to work in cities, towns and rural village the best trained, the most secure, and the most prepared to work in cities, towns and rural villages where they can have the greatest impact on reducing poverty, lessening inequity and promoting development. In that way, they learn the most, share the most and represent the people of this nation in the most effective way possible.
During the early days of the Peace Corps, President Kennedy addressed a group of Volunteers and said: "Well, they may ask what you have done in the sixties for your country, and you will be able to say, ÔI served in the Peace Corps.'" In the sixties, in the seventies, in the eighties and in the nineties, 155,000 Americans have served their country in that way. And I promise to the best of my ability to offer the new century's Volunteers the same chance to learn, the chance to contribute and the chance to say, "I served in the Peace Corps."
Thank you very much.