Oct 14

The Peace Corps' Origin Story: A Lesson in Leadership and Service

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 10/14/2019 3:20PM | Quote of the Week | Peace Corps

The Peace Corps' Origin Story: A Lesson in Leadership and Service

The Peace Corps' Origin Story: A Lesson in Leadership and Service

On the 59th anniversary of a fateful speech by John F. Kennedy at the University of Michigan, our Quote of the Week recalls the origins of the Peace Corps. It also reminds us of the strong leadership and belief in service of thousands of Americans, politicians and civilians alike, which brought the Peace Corps to life.

This week's quote is from Sargent Shriver's 1964 speech at Temple Israel's 100th Anniversary. It was a speech Sargent Shriver gave in the early days of the War on Poverty, before the passing of legislation that created the Office of Economic Opportunity, and before the creation of its signature programs, including Head Start and Community Action. Sargent Shriver used this "origin story" of the Peace Corps to capture the imagination of his audience as he told them about his aspirations for his efforts to eliminate poverty. Sarge underlined for the audience, as the quote describes, that the Peace Corps went from being a concept that John Kennedy talked about on the campaign trail, to a popular campaign promise, to a reality that materialized very quickly, thanks to President Kennedy's leadership, the collaboration of the US Congress, and the demand generated by thousands of people who aspired to be Peace Corps Volunteers.

At the center of the bold experiment that became the Peace Corps was Sargent Shriver, whom President Kennedy appointed to be the organization's first Director on March 21, 1961. In a matter of a few short months, Sarge built the institution from the ground up, creating a structure, connecting with governments around the world who were looking for volunteers, enlisting those volunteers, and sending them out to their host communities. At the same time, he worked with members of Congress to create and pass the legislation that formalized the Peace Corps.

As we mark the 59th anniversary of then-Senator John Kennedy's speech to students at the University of Michigan, we continue to learn from those who brought it to life: from an aspiring President to the hundreds of members of Congress, thousands of volunteers and staff, and one Sargent Shriver, whose collective belief in collaboration, peacebuilding, global citizenship and service created an institution that continues "to promote world peace and friendship."

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