DePaul University Commencent Address

Chicago, IL | June 7, 1961

You are America's capital -- her most valuable resource -- in the revolution that rocks the foundations of the world even at this moment. We cannot fail in this great contest between free men and tyranny. Communists are not supermen. They are average human beings who often perform below average. If we fail, it will be because we did not give the best that is in us.

In speaking to you men and women of De Paul, I want to set forth not the doctrine of what Theodore Roosevelt called ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the demanding life, the life of sacrifice and service, of work and toil in the interest of your country.

Around this globe people are wondering if Americans can live that doctrine as well as preach it. There is one big question: Is America qualified to lead the free world?

Why are they asking it? Why is there doubt? Because of the evidence that Americans have gone soft and are no longer capable of sustained personal sacrifice for their country. The president of one of our largest universities says we are beset by "spiritual flabbiness." I recently heard it said that we are producing a strange new kind of human being -- "a guy with a full belly, an empty mind, and a hollow heart."

John Steinbeck writing to Adlai Stevenson, pointed with alarm to four impressions of the American people he has gained in the last few years: first, a creeping, all pervading immorality; second, a hunger, a thirst, a yearning for something unknown; third, the violence, cruelty, and hypocrisy symptomatic of a people which has too much; and -- fourth -- the surly, ill-temper that afflicts human beings when they are frightened.

Where do we go to gather additional evidence? We might pick up the New York Times and glance at the accounts of price-fixing in the business community and feather-bedding in the labor movement. We might go to the Department of Army records of American prisoners-of-war in Korea and discover that one third of those prisoners collaborated with the enemy and 38% of them died -- as contrasted to the 229 Turkish soldiers imprisoned of whom none died and none collaborated with the enemy.

We might call as a witness Forrest Evashevski, athletic director at Iowa State, who would tell us that when he recommended a top graduate for a job with a major American company, the first question the young man asked was: "What are the pension benefits?" Americans are not alone, however, in doubting the intellectual and spiritual fiber of modern America. I encountered these doubts all around the world on my recent trip. "Yours was the first revolution," I was told in India by Ashadevi, a vigorous, woman associate with Mahatma Ghandi. "Do you think you Americans possess the spiritual values they must have to bring the spirit of that revolution to our country? Your Peace Corps must touch the idealism of America and bring that to us. Can you do it?”

She put that question to me and I pass it on to you -- to those of you who may be saying, as college graduates often do: “I can't think of anything to do." Let me tell you that a world is waiting for you, and there is plenty to do. I came back from this trip with requests for more than 4000 Americans to work in just the eight nations I visited. I am convinced that 50,000 jobs need filling -- and they need filling now -- in the 103 underdeveloped areas of the world. One after another the leaders of Africa and Asia not only welcomed the idea of the Peace Corps, but they requested Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in their countries.

From a different culture; they will be performing important work for another country; they will be serving their own country and the cause of freedom; above all, they will be proving that Americans are ready to join hands with other people in a serious pursuit of peace. The demand is there -- for every kind of talent, skill, and profession. Now the question is: What of the supply? Are enough qualified Americans available and willing to spend two years in a tough assignment abroad?

Mr. Khrushchev says "No." Only the other day he branded American young people as "dissipated good-for-nothings." I think he will eat those words when he learns that response to the Peace Corps is already proving that Americans of diverse training and abilities are stepping forward in large numbers to say, "You can count on us."

Almost four thousand Americans of all ages took the first battery of Peace Corps examinations last week -- despite the fact that the tests were given during final examination periods on many college and university campuses and despite the fact that our tests are purely voluntary (What kind of response would a professor at De Paul get if he announced, "We're going to have an exam Saturday; you're invited to take it if you want to.").

Another barometer of the response the Peace Corps has evoked are the descriptive statistics of Volunteer questionnaire forms we have received. Of the first 4800 eligible questionnaires that we have examined, these interesting figures turn up; -

Seven hundred twelve (712) applicants have professional skills in operating a tractor. 172 can run a bulldozer. There were 616 people with professional skills as carpenters; 205 as surveyors; 295 as electricians; 193 as masons, and 196 in metal working. Three hundred seventy applicants had professional experience with biology lab equipment and 473 with chemical lab equipment. Two hundred and seventy were professional nurses.

Of the 4800 applicants, 1,817 were college graduates and 1,203 persons had one or more years of graduate work. One thousand of them can speak Spanish and another thousand can speak French. Sixty six speak Portuguese, 24 speak Arabic, 22 speak a Chinese language, and 12 speak Hindu or Urdu.

Out of the first 4800* qualified applicants, here are a few statistics:

Peace Corps Applicant Ages

Total of all ages; 3,061 males, 1,356 females, single – 174 married couples.

*Peace Corps now has 10,000 applicants.

Peace Corps Skills

Language Skills:

Give a short talk - read a newspaper - write a letter - understand a discussion: Number who can do at least two;

Spanish- 1,028; French, 1,048; Italian, 203; Portuguese, 66; Hindu or Urdu, 12; Mandarin, Cantonese or other Chinese, 22; Arabic, 24. 48 claimed skills in language of Far Eastern countries.

Activities:

Football - 880; Swimming - 2,520; Mountain Climbing - 495; Working with youth groups - 2,100; Volunteer in Hospital or Clinic - 407.

Educational Level:

1,203 had one or more years of graduate or professional skill; 1,817 had completed college; 1,248 had completed one to three years of college; 389 had completed high school; balance were less than 12th grade or indicated a different arrangement, such as foreign educational school systems, tutors, etc.

70 or more hours of English and Foreign Languages - 207; 70 or more hours of Engineering, Mathematics, Chemistry - 192; People who have taken education courses - 1,047.

But these first 4800 are going to be only a drop in the bucket of demands that have been and will be made for Peace Corps Volunteers. We are still getting more than 150 applicants a day. But even so, there is going to have to be a total response by the American community if America through the Peace Corps is going to be successful in mankind's relentless struggle against poverty, disease, ignorance, and tyranny.

A major response must come from American business. Paying taxes is no longer in itself sufficient; the Peace Corps needs the kind of trained and aggressive people who make a success in business. I spent twelve years in the business world in Chicago and I saw men and women with the fire and drive we need in the Peace Corps. I say to them: “We need you. Come and join. Your ideas, your innovations, your dynamism will find a fertile field in the newly emerging nations.” I hope American businesses and industries will provide two-year leaves of absences, without pay, but with reemployment benefits for their employees -- whether top-level administrators or secretaries -- who can meet a critical need abroad.

American labor must respond, too. Already we have received urgent requests for plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and teachers for technical trade schools. Can we meet these requests? Only if the American labor movement can provide the skilled manpower from its ranks to serve abroad. I am hopeful that labor -- like business -- will grant its people who enter the Peace Corps the reemployment rights that have been accorded up to now only to veterans of war.

Others must also respond. The academic community must give us teachers and administrators to fill critical shortages around the world. Farm groups must step forward with youth trained in agriculture, animal husbandry, animal disease control, irrigation, seed and plant multiplication and distribution, and machinery repair. Women must respond, too. Many countries have already specifically requested women to serve as nurses' aides, teachers, and child care workers.

But in the final analysis, the most urgent response must come from you men and women here today. You are America's capital -- her most valuable resource -- in the revolution that rocks the foundations of the world even at this moment. We cannot fail in this great contest between free men and tyranny. Communists are not supermen. They are average human beings who often perform below average. If we fail, it will be because we did not give the best that is in us. Since that day Abraham set out from his city founded "on blood and fear and injustice," searching for a city "whose builder and founder is Gods" men have longed for a new order. Plato wrote about it in his Republic. Ghandi saw it in the “Kingdom of Ruma.” Sir Thomas More yearned for it in Utopia. The Hebrew prophets peered into the future for the day when nations would beat their swords into plough-shares.

Today the longing is epidemic for a new order in which justice and peace prevail and all men share a better life. The Peace Corps is a small part of the effort needed to achieve that order. I go back to the words of Ashadevi, who traveled three days and nights in India in order to put one question to us: "your Peace Corps must touch the idealism of America and bring that to us. Can you do it?"

Only you can answer her question.