Address by Sargent Shriver at Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, OH | September 15, 1964

For we cannot create a Great Society without Great Citizens. And we will not have a supply of great citizens if our state universities restrict themselves to the production of skilled professional men -- men who are skilled scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, merchants -- but nothing more!

Almost four months ago to this day on the campus of Ohio University 10,000 college students listened as a new vision was described -- the vision of a society "where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labors. On that day, at one of this state's great universities, President Johnson first enunciated the theme of the Great Society -- and set forth the steps that would go into the making of that society.

Today, on the campus of another great Ohio university, it is fitting that we consider the citizen of that society – the Great Citizen.

For we cannot create a Great Society without Great Citizens. And we will not have a supply of great citizens if our state universities restrict themselves to the production of skilled professional men -- men who are skilled scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, merchants -- but nothing more!

Yesterday in Washington, a significant ceremony took place. Freedom Medals, our nation's highest civilian award, were given to 30 Americans. One quality characterized nearly all of these me whatever their profession. "They were all servants of humanity.

John L. Lewis -- We may have differences of opinion about John L. Lewis' economics, or his union, or his long-range effects on the soft coal industry, but no one can deny that John L. Lewis gave his life to improve the working conditions, the lives, and the futures of men who had little to live for until someone named John L. Lewis attempted to lead them to a new and better life.

Philip Randolph -- Another great labor leader devoted himself first to the welfare of the Negro sleeping car porters, but now has taken under his wing a large part of the struggle for civil rights in our country.

Carl Vinson -- A most distinguished representative in Congress, who has served there longer than any man in the history of the United States, devoting his life to the security of the American people.

Walt Disney -- A maker of movies who did not confine himself to the production of commercially profitable murder, mayhem, mystery or sex attractions. Instead, with a deep compassion for the culture and folklore of our entire civilization, he created a world of joy and imagination and romance designed to increase the happiness of millions.

Walter Lippman, Father Theodore Hesburgh, Paul Dudley White -- these three men also have given their lives to the intellectual, spiritual, or physical welfare of mankind. By any criteria, they are Great Citizens -- the kind of citizens our state universities must produce. This is the challenge which faces our country today and it is the special responsibility of our state university. For these universities are not merely privately endowed citadels of learning, they must be "servants of society."

The raw material from which Great Citizens must be produced here with us today -- the students and recent graduates of Bowling Green University.

As always, we have in the United States our share of the prophets of doom, who say this generation of students is no good. That it is composed of spoiled brats and delinquents, devoid of patriotism, or the desire to work. These sentiments and attitudes are most frequently expressed about the young people in America who have had the least chance for an education or for a decent job….the poor.

When we were discussing President Johnson's war against poverty with members of the Congress, there were too many members of that august body who maintained that we should not bother with these "nere-do-wells". One Congressman expressed it to me; "They're not worth a damn." But the critics and prophets of doom are wrong. How wrong is illustrated by a letter we received just a few days ago from one of these "no good kids," who was finishing a job Corps pilot project in Philadelphia.

"This is the next to the last day even though I didn't think I would, I think I am going to miss this place. I have met a lot of different people here and found out how they lived. Perhaps some of them I'll never see again. Maybe I'm wrong but I think this program was to draw people together who probably would fight on the outside. If I go back to the way I used to live, I will be able to think before I do something; and, I found out something, that I need a hell of a lot of growing up. I don't know, but I think I've grown up a little since I've been here."

And then in a postscript, he said:--

'This is night of that same day. I just came back from my graduation, and I saw something I either never saw before, or never cared to look. I saw mother being proud of me; maybe it might seem stupid, but it made me feel good."

This American boy is now on his way with a chance of becoming a Great Citizen. We are going to take 100,000 youngsters like him and put them in camps and training centers where many of them will get the first good break they have ever had. They'll come through for us. If we come through for them. And that's just one of the ways and one of the places we're going to find and start to make Great Citizens for a Great Society.

There are other youngsters, the "overprivileged" youngsters who last week in New Hampshire rioted and devastated a New Hampshire summer resort -- took it apart piece by piece. We're not going to give up on them either. You know as well as I do what their trouble is. They've lived on a dole too -- just like the 17 year-old from the slums of Philadelphia. But their dole was a middle class dole in the form of sports cars and expensive clothes. And that "middle class dole" took away all the challenge – except destruction. It left them with nothing to do, with nothing to strive for, with no way to say, "I want to do something important and different."

Yet, we've discovered in the Peace Corps -- and now in the war against poverty -- that there are plenty of challenges left, plenty of places where a young man or woman after two years of service and work could say to himself, and to his friends, "it made me feel good."

We've found a, lot of "great citizens" in the Peace Corps -- who looked before they joined just like ordinary people. In fact, they were "average Americans", but fate and their own initiative combined to make them Great Citizens.

For example, a 19 year-old Volunteer assigned to Borneo, Fritz Klattenhoff, from a small town in the state of Washington. Fritz was one of 13 hostages captured last year by Communist rebels in Borneo. He was listed by the Communists as number 8 in the line-up to be executed by hanging. The New York Times of December 6, 1962 gave this report of Klattenhoff's experience:

"One sultry morning last December'a Peace Corps Volunteer walking down a dirt road near a jungle village in Southeast Asia was halted by the command: 'Stop! Stop or you die:'

"A shotgun was jammed into his stomach. The Volunteer, just six months out of high school, was taken hostage by armed sabotage experts and mutineers.

"Not daring to sleep for fear he would be shot at any moment, the Volunteer was imprisoned for three days, `I'd rather be shot looking at the gun than sound asleep,' he said later."

Just hours before the scheduled hangings, British Commandos recaptured the town of Limbang, in a wild battle, and freed the hostages. Nine Commandos were killed in the fight. Fritz, the Peace Corps Volunteer, was grazed by gunfire. But after his escape the newspapers reported that Fritz Klattenhoff, the 19 year-old Peace Corps Volunteer, had been the "coolest head" among all those captured by the Communists. He had encouraged hope in the other hostages. His knowledge of the local language enabled him to speak to the captors. It is possible that he might have talked the rebels out of their decision to kill their captives even if their timely release had not occurred. But the most impressive action took place after Fritz had been freed. He refused to leave Borneo, or his village in the remote rural area. He said, "What are those local people going to think if a little thing -- well, not a little thing -- but if a thing like this happens and the Peace Corps runs away?"

There is the Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia. He was one of four American captured by rebellious tin miners. Held a week incommünicado, the four were finally released. President Johnson sent a special plane to bring the Americans home for "rest and rehabilitation" - but the Peace Corps Volunteer stayed.

Rather than go home for Christmas with his family, he remained in Bolivia. There was a job still to be done. That is a Great Citizen.

Or take the Peace Corps people who have been working now for 2 1/2 years in Peru -- in Lima, the capital, in Arequipa, the second largest city -- or in Puno, or Cuczo, or Cimbote. There are 500 of them there now in that one country, as large as the Senior Class in some of our colleges here at home.

Gerald Bauman, a new Peace Corps staff representative in Latin America, is a naturalized citizen, an immigrant from Switzerland (the kind that Bill Miller wants to keep out of the U.S.). He has for the last 9 years worked at a low income housing project in Indianapolis teaching the people skills with which they can improve their own housing by self-help. His wife is the only Penobscot Indian in the U.S. with a Ph.D., and is a professor of sociology at the University of Indiana. Bauman and his wife have adopted 2 children, one is half Cherokee and half Scandinavian and the other is half Chipawa and half Negro. I think that's the kind of person who should represent the U.S. in Latin America -- by the way he speaks fluent Spanish.

In an intuitive way, we know that these are the kind of citizens the Great Society needs -- these are Great Citizens. And if we try to analyze what distinguishes them, it is, most of all their dedication to service -- their willingness to spend two years of their lives reaching out to other people.

There is something special and symbolic about the way that reaching out takes place, something that we can learn from and profit by in this country -- and particularly in the war against poverty.

When a Peace Corps Volunteer goes abroad, we strip him of all the paraphernalia, all the badges of special privilege which have earmarked Americans as foreigners and strangers. When we send him abroad, he is on his own. No PX privileges. No car. No special diplomatic status. No foreign aid to give or withhold to get what he wants.

And perhaps the true secret of the Volunteer is that he isn't there to get something for himself or to, sell something; he goes only to serve. He is not there to manipulate, to negotiate, to maneuver people, to force them to like American foreign policy, to sell them on some new program. And so, all he needs is his essential humanity, his idealism, his commitment. That is enough-- it is more than enough -- and that desire to help, that caring for others, that lack of ulterior motives somehow communicates itself across language gaps and national boundaries and cultural differences.

It spells oneness -- the oneness of humanity, and it translates into every language on the globe, without any interpreter.

That is what makes the Peace Corps Volunteer a Great Citizen that is what marks him as the builder of a society where "the meaning of man's life matches -- and perhaps even excels – the marvels of man's labors."

How can this be summarized? In one simple story. We're working for the day when no one will say, "There's a white man, or there's a black man, or there's a rich man. But only, there's an American."

This is a citizenship which is American in the noblest sense of that word. It is not Americans for America and the rest of the world be damned. It shares nothing in common with the suspicion and hatred of foreigners Representative Miller has been spewing--but this true Americanism has a future -- it has proven its capacity to survive and to withstand all. Earlier this year in Panama, there were anti-American riots -- but 56 Peace Corps Volunteers in Panama continued on their jobs. The New York Times reported there were, "instances during the three days of demonstrations in which Peace Corps Volunteers assigned to tiny villages were sought out by marauding anti-American groups from nearby cities. In each case the intruders were turned back by the villagers."

That's a kind of safety and security you can't buy or get with a gun.

We are building on this experience in the war on poverty. We are developing a domestic Peace Corps called VISTA – Volunteers In Service to America. These volunteers will not be seen as outsiders - an enemy, a symbol or whatever is hated, or despised or resented. Rather they will belong, for the bonds of humanity and love, of compassion and respect are always stronger than the forces of hatred and despair and violence.

We are going to need all the great citizens we can get --all the young men and women who can put aside the marks of privilege, of caste, of class and who can reach out as human to human, as citizen to citizen.

That is the Great Society's answer to racial riots born of despair and discrimination and the respectable white kids' riots in New Hampshire. But we are going to need a supply of Great Citizens far larger than the Peace Corps can provide. And it will be the job of the universities to produce them it can be done. The raw material has the potential. We have proven that in the Peace Corps.

But can you, at this University and at universities across the country produce more Great Citizens for service here at home? You don't have to go abroad to find the challenge today's youth needs. You don't have to even go to another part of this country. You can do it right here.

Some months ago, when the war on poverty had just been declared, one of your State's college presidents came down to Washington to head up the planning of the job Corps. He received a call from The Toledo Blade. They asked where they could visit in Appalachia to see the worst poverty because they wanted to look at some poverty first hand. The answer we gave them could bear repeating to you today. He said: "Look at Toledo."

And this is what every American and every university needs to be told: Look at your own community. Look at your own community. Look on your own doorstep. There is poverty, there is challenge, and there is a call to service if you will respond.

Nobody can make you heed that call. The response must come of your own free will. No university can be compelled to turn its students into Great Citizens.

The University can keep busy and respectable in the traditional ways doing the traditional things, It can do its job of filling production quotas for scientists, teachers, engineers, doctors and lawyers. But if the university is to do more than add to our national affluence, it is to help in the building of the Great Society, then it must be more than just a trade school for the intellectual elite and the economically privileged.

It must be a place where young men and women learn what it is to be a Great Citizen -- through service, and through understanding of their fellow man.

Our state universities are faced with choosing between the hard course and the easy one. Educators know -- and our young people know -- that to survive in this world, to secure a future for themselves, they have to go to college and get that magic diploma.

The question is -- what will they get with that diploma. They can stay within the confines of the university. They can turn their back on the world and spend four years in classes, in the library, at parties, football games, dances -- and maybe even an occasional riot -- or at least, a panty raid. Is the university prepared to give them more? Is it prepared to gamble on the maturity and the integrity of its students? Is it prepared to send him out to test what he reads in books against what he sees with this heart?

Or will it use those four college years simply to defer his entry onto the labor market, and hold his sex glands in check? I suggest that our state universities should send its students forth as part of their formal academic training to wrestle with the problems of his society, to contribute to their solution under the guidance and tutelage of mature minds.

The traditional forms of study will lead into secure and clearly defined career lines. But you can learn more sociology, more educational theory, more criminology, more political science, more philosophy, more ethics, and more psychology right in the slums of Toledo than you will spending weeks and months in libraries and lecture halls. This is the frontier of knowledge where our scholars have rarely ventured.

This university can put the slums of Toledo, the problems of poverty, of racial discrimination, of automation, of the aged --it can put all of these off limits. This is what sometimes has been done in the past -- and the search for truth that has resulted has been about as fruitful as the search a drunkard made for his watch one night under a lampost. When a policeman stopped him and asked him: "Is that where you lost it?", the drunk replied: "No, I lost it over there in that alley --but it's much easier to look for it here under this lampost."

You will have to leave the security of the lampost --you will have to go down into the alley where poverty dwells if you are to acquire the new knowledge a Great Citizen must have. You must go beyond the safe and comfortable confines of the university to the frontiers of knowledge. And frontiers are not usually well lit or heavily trafficked. Yet, you will find meaning there, and knowledge and challenge. But one further word -- if you go, you will find, as Peace Corps Volunteers have found -- it is best to go stripped of all the badges of class, or wealth, of middle class values -- and to proceed on foot.

This spirit is best summed up by the great artist and man, Pablo Casals, when he spoke about the Peace Corps in these words:

"This is new and it is also very old. We have in a sense come full circle. We have come from the tyranny of the enormous, awesome, discordant machine back to a realization that the beginning and end are man. That it is man who is important, not the machine. That it is man who accounts for growth, not just dollars or factories. And above all, that it is man who is the object of all our efforts."