Kansas State University Commencement Address

Manhattan, KS | June 3, 1962

I believe history will record America's people and America's spirit as her greatest contributions to the accelerating development of these new nations.

A few years ago a gentleman moved from Boston to a small town in Western Kansas. He was a lawyer with political ambitions. Having fulfilled the residence requirements for public office in Kansas, he announced for the job of County Judge. Just before his first speech his campaign manager leaned over and whispered to him, "Frank, if you're going to make a hit with these people, you've got to come out for open range. These people are ranchers and they believe in open range. Be sure you do."

Frank did -- although he never before had heard of open range. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he said, "before getting into the heart of my speech, I want you to know that I am a firm believer in the policy of open range. All of my life I have practiced open range. My grandfather was the staunchest advocate of open range in Massachusetts. My forefathers came over on the Mayflower seeking open range. If you want a County Judge who will work for and support the policy of open range, elect me. "

He paused and then said: 'Now, the major issue of this campaign is highway safety. I drove in here last night at midnight and I want to tell you that if people don't get those darn cows off the road, somebody's going to get killed….”

I learned a lesson from that story: Talk about something I know something about. I intend today to talk about the Peace Corps.

One year ago, "They" said it couldn't be done.

"They” said nobody could do it.

The doubting Thomases said the Peace Corps would never work.

But today it is working. And it is working well. This is not a lonely opinion solely mine. They tell me the Peace Corps is working so well that we are the only new Federal Agency which enjoys the combined, simultaneous support of Hubert H. Humphrey and Barry Goldwater. Within the past two weeks five distinguished men from five different countries have expressed their support.

Edmund Hilary, the New Zealand Mountain Climber who scaled Mt. Everest, said the Peace Corps "is the greatest thing any country has done in my lifetime... and the only really effective way to reach people."

Pablo Canals, the Spanish cellist, has invited Volunteers in training in Puerto Rico to one of his concerts. "I hope the music stimulates them," he wrote to me, "as much as we will be stimulated by their presence.”

Arnold Toynbee, the British historian, said that in the Peace Corps volunteer non-westerners are getting an example of Western man at his best.

Trgyve Lie, Former Secretary-General of the United. Nations, went from the Peace Corps deeply impressed by the selection process -- "The human part" of the Peace Corps, he called it.

And the German Ambassador in Washington told me only this week that the Peace Corps has stimulated his people to want to establish a Peace Corps.

Why is the Peace Corps working?

An important reason is simply that the young men and women of this land, as Thomas Wolfe once wrote, "are not a lost race --- they are a race that never yet has been discovered. And the whole secret, power, and knowledge of their own discovery is locked within them --- they know it, feel it, have the whole thing in them --- and they cannot utter it."

The Peace Corps has made it possible for those Americans to speak ---and to act. We have uncovered a tremendous reservoir of energy, talent, commitment, integrity, courage, and self-discipline in the lives of thousands of Americans --- young and old.

The years following the Korean War were gray years for American youth. Pundits commented that the new American seemed to be "a guy with an empty mind, a hollow heart, and a full belly." Cries of "Soft" were in the air. "Did not one-third of the Americans in North Korean prison camps collaborate with the enemy? Did not another third die?" The sign of the new generation became a question mark.

All of that has changed. Whether the Peace Corps is cause or effect I cannot say. But now the sign of the new generation is an exclamation point! "We have decided," one Volunteer wrote, "to match our actions with our convictions."

There is no such thing as an average Peace Corps Volunteer – except in age, which is 25 for the men and 28 for the women.

There are, however, some characteristics that are similar. They are serious, decided, and determined.

They are under no illusions. They know life on any frontier -- whether Kansas one hundred years ago or Colombia today -- demands the "constancy to purpose" which Disraeli said is the secret of success.

Willingly and eagerly they have tackled the big task of studying the rudiments of a foreign language, of learning a new culture and a new people, of preparing themselves to teach, to work in the hospitals or laboratories, or in the fields.

They are a new breed of Americans overseas.

They are not trying to impose their wills on the people with whom they are working. They are working for the foreigner -- not vice versa.

They are speaking his language.

They live under his laws.

They are not trying to change his religion.

They are not trying to make a profit from conducting business in his country.

They are there to do a job -- to share their know-how and skill -- and to train teachers, engineers, mechanics, carpenters, home economists, soil specialists, tractor and farm equipment operators, agricultural extension workers, and laboratory technicians.

They are there to work with and learn from those with whom they teach. Like Johnny Appleseed, they are multiplying their influence and leaving a part of their lives wherever they serve. There are 1400 Volunteers enlisted in the service of 15 countries.

By the end of the year, there will be almost 5000 Volunteers serving in 38 countries. Last year at this time there were no Volunteers serving anywhere in the world. The Peace Corps was still an idea, a brainstorm, a product to be tested.

Well, we’ve been tested and tried. Every country that had Volunteers serve with them, has asked for more. That's part of the reason we're going to be 5000 strong and in 38 countries. Compare this performance with the original recommendation to the President that the Peace Corps would be success if it could place 500 people overseas in its first fiscal year. America has responded ten times better than the experts said it would.

The success of the Peace Corps, however, does not depend on the total number of Volunteers. We will fail or succeed to the extent each Volunteer fails or succeeds in his or her individual assignment.

The results so far are encouraging.

Our Volunteers in Lysllpur, Pakistan, have "adopted" a leper colony. There are 44 lepers--men, women, and children--living in one old temple in a barren strip of unproductive land. The lepers-- one Volunteer wrote us--seem to be a forgotten people. "We will work together to try to help them."

Two Volunteers in the Philippines, in addition to their regular teaching assignments, are operating a 40-child nursery school. They also give adult education lessons in English, teach folk dancing, and help lead Girl Scout activities.

Ed Tisch, who is working in Chile, is helping lay the groundwork in a land reform project. The ownership of a large share of rural property is being turned over to tenant farmers who have been working on it. Five hundred acres will be divided among 35 families. Ed is visiting all the homes and is organizing meetings to explain to the farmers the obligations and duties they will assume as landowners.

A married couple in Nigeria-- both are Peace Corps Volunteers-- is conducting extensive research in Nigerian living patterns and customs. They work through the sociology department of the university to explore aspects of society which play important roles in the future development of Nigeria.

In Colombia, Volunteer William Woudenberg developed a new method of construction using local bamboo. His inventiveness has opened a whole new industry for the region where he is working. In Ghana--where our 51 Volunteers have already touched the lives of 43% of the total number of secondary school students-- one Peace Corps Volunteer, Mike Shea, coached his school team to several significant victories in a regional meet. He received a standing ovation.

Another Volunteer in Ghana has stimulated his school to concentrate on agricultural sciences. He has started local farm projects and his students recently harvested the first crop of maize. Next comes pineapple, poultry raising and beekeeping.

You have all heard about the celebrated post card. When it was found in Nigeria, the skeptics all said: “We told you so. The Peace Corps is finished."

They were wrong. At that time we had 28 Volunteers in Nigeria. We now have 107. The Nigerian Government has asked us for hundreds of additional teachers. Last week the Associated Press reported from Lagos that "The U.S. Peace Corps has come out with high honors after its first school year in Nigeria,"

The AP reported that only one American Volunteer had tarnished the Corps' record. He was George Clarke who was teaching at the isolated rural school in Arochuku. "I let my boys down pretty bad," George admitted to the AP reporter. "All term they were after me but I just couldn’t show them how to dance the twist."

One of the most heartwarming stories comes from Tom Scanlon, another Volunteer in Chile. He works in a village 40 miles from an Indian community which prides itself on being communist. The village is up a long, winding road which Tom traveled four times to see the chief.

Each time, the Chief avoided seeing him. On the final try he relented.

"You're not going to talk us out of being communists," the chief said.

"I'm not trying to do that," Tom said, 'only to talk to you about how I can help.” The Chief looked at him and said: "In a few weeks the snow will come. Then you'll have to park your jeep 20 miles from here and come through five feet of snow on foot. The communists are willing to do that. We'll see how sincere you are."

When Father Hesburgh of Notre Dame visited Tom and asked him what he was doing, Tom said: "I’m waiting for the snow."

That's the kind of spirit that built this country. That's the kind of courage that is making the Peace Corps.

Leaders of the revolution of rising expectations have asked us to supply trained men and women. They want skills represented in Kansas State's Class of '62 --- engineering, agronomy, animal husbandry, community development, public health, home economics, surveying, geology, sanitation, law, social work, forestry, public administration, agricultural extension, business management, carpentry, mechanic arts, and teaching.

But they want more than those skills. They want the spirit and courage of Volunteers like Tom Scanlon.

What is the Peace Corps supplying that has been missing from our foreign policy? I think it is a "personal touch." Pamphlets, radio broadcasts, films --- as good as they are, are largely impersonal. To communicate our concern and interest, to express in an awakening land the values of a free and pluralistic society -- people must work with people, people must teach people. Human beings and human values are what democracy is all about. If we fail to carry that spirit abroad, we will fail, indeed.

The Peace Corps is not attempting to transplant a culture to the millions of people in the world's underdeveloped nations who are only now beginning to ask what can be theirs in terms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Their way of life must be just that --their own. But Peace Corps Volunteers are carrying with them --- beyond their skills -- a spirit, a concept, an attitude that says to these people: "We know what you are up against. We have climbed this way, too. We can understand your dreams because they are still our dreams. We know your aspirations and your determinations and we want to share what we know and what we have if it will help you to grow and prosper."

I believe history will record America's people and America's spirit as her greatest contributions to the accelerating development of these new nations.

As de Tocqueville said: "They (the Americans) have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man, they judge that the diffusion of knowledge must necessarily be advantageous, and the consequences of ignorance fatal; they all consider society as a body in a state of improvement, humanity as a changing scene, in which nothing is, or ought to be, permanent; and they admit that what appears to them today to be good, may be superseded by something better tomorrow." This is the spirit of our own revolution. We started it 200 years ago and it is sweeping the southern half of the globe today. By example and preachment America has told the world's peoples: “You can change your environment. You can be the master of your own destiny. You can build and be free.” What we told them and showed them they are now demanding. We ignited their revolution. We must help them carry it forward.

Every single member of this graduating class should participate in that opportunity. Each one of you should volunteer for the Peace Corps.

No person leaving college or university today should pass this way without participating in the rewarding experience of Peace Corps service. It is too unique -- too meaningful -- too important to be ignored.

Three volunteers from Kansas State are already in the Peace Corps.

Daniel Dick is doing agricultural extension work in El Salvador.

Richard Von Loenen is a geologist in Tanganyika.

Gerald K. Faust, who was born of missionary parents in Nigeria, is surveying roads in Tanganyika. He graduated from Kansas State with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering in 1960 and was among the first persons to volunteer for the Peace Corps.

I tried to think of what they might want to say to this graduating class were they in my place today. I thought of the visit Emerson paid to Thoreau in the Concord jail. "My dear Thoreau," Emerson said, "why are you here?” To which Thoreau replied: “My dear Emerson, why are you not here?"

That's the question you graduates must answer today.