University of Notre Dame Commencement Address

South Bend, IN | June 4, 1961

There is a world-wide struggle going on. A revolution. All men are trying to achieve human dignity and a common identity. You and I are part of that struggle, for no matter whether a man be Jew, Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu, Communist or Christian, he has been born of woman like every other man alive, he is living on this small spinning planet like every other man alive; he, needs food, shelter and spiritual comfort like every other man alive; and he will die the death like every other man alive. And if there is a destiny after death, the community of our experience here on this earth indicates that life hereafter will be common to all.

Today is Graduation Day at Notre Dame -- your graduation day -- the day you have longed for and worked hard to reach -- the day your parents have saved and planned for. It is a day for congratulations and rejoicing. On this day every hope and dream and ambition seems attainable. The young can optimistically anticipate futures filled with happiness and success; parents and teachers can thank God for permitting them to share in the present triumphs and to indulge in happy foretastes of future achievements.

But today is an important day, not only in your lives, but in the history of higher education in our country. For on this day I am privileged to announce the first agreement of its kind ever reached between an agency of the U.S. Government, a consortium of American universities, and a foreign country.

The foreign country is Chile.

The agency of the U.S. Government is the Peace Corps.

The consortium of American universities is the Indiana Conference on Higher Education, with your own university, Notre Dame, taking the lead and serving as the principal agent in this new arrangement.

What’s new about this agreement? Many things.

First: - there are 34 colleges and universities all cooperating in it. That’s never happened before.

Second: - among these colleges are Catholic, Quaker, Methodist, Presbyterian and other religious institutions, all working together, to achieve a national goal. And these private, educational groups have been joined by the public universities and colleges like Purdue, Indiana University and Indiana College. This broad cooperation on a joint enterprise has never happened before.

Third: - this consortium of private, educational institutions has agreed to work with and through a private Chilean organization called the Institutio de Educacion Rural -- and for the first time the Chilean Government has put its blessing on such an undertaking. Fourth:- the U.S. Government, represented by the Peace Corps, has entered an agreement with all these universities and colleges more flexible, simpler, easier to administer and satisfying to the academic community than ever before.

And finally, of course, this is the first Peace Corps agreement ever negotiated with any university or group of universities.

So far as I am concerned, this is not just "news" in the transient sense of here today, gone tomorrow. Much more than that, it is the fulfillment of a most important objective.

In his message to Congress on the Peace Corps, President Kennedy said that many of the most important Peace Corps projects would be carried out in partnership with American colleges and universities. Those of us in the Peace Corps have felt from the very beginning of this program that the academic institutions of our nation have the accumulation of overseas experience, the reservoir of trained leadership and the inherent core of intellectual and spiritual dynamism necessary to make a far-reaching contribution to international service. For example, in our new budget of $40,000,000, we have in fact proposed that $26,000,000 -- much more than one half the total -- be expended through universities and private, voluntary agencies.

But it hasn't been easy to work out this new marriage between government and education. At one point Father Hesburgh, Peter Fraenkal of Indiana University, and a Peace Corps staff member went all the way to Chile and worked there for two weeks straightening out details. Also, within the Federal Government there are many laws and regulations to observe in any attempt, no matter how well-intentioned, to open up new, more effective ways of doing business between private institutions and the public.

But success has come, and with it a great new chance for our universities, our government and for our university professors and students. Under this new agreement, young men and women from the heartland of America will be recruited, trained and sent abroad to work in that part of Chile where the need and the opportunity are greatest. They will go there not for a summer vacation of fun or excitement, not to look-see like tourists, not to look down upon the, ignorant and poor from a position of lofty, Yankee superiority. Instead they will be sent to work and work hard alongside other human beings in need of what we and we alone can give them -- hope, skill, and a knowledge of the dignity of man under the Fatherhood of God. Peace Corps Volunteers will work in horticulture, animal vaccination, carpentry, family education and recreation, home economics, health education, first aid, and child care. They will work with Chilean experts and with Chilean students.

One of their most important tasks will be to develop more interest in radio educational programs designed to lift the standard of learning in the villages of Chile. In our country, Peace Corps Volunteers will receive intensive training -- in languages, in physical fitness, in the history, culture and customs of Chile. And in Chile they will get additional training from the Instituto de Educacion Rural, the private Chilean organization distinguished for its excellent program in fundamental education and community development in rural areas.

But you may say: - Why should we go to all this trouble for Chile? There are many problems here at home. The poor and the needy are here too.

The answer is easy and true even though you may not believe it. It's very simple. First of all, there's nobody in this country as poverty stricken and hopeless, no one as cut off from education opportunity and medical assistance as the millions in southernmost Chile, in India, in Pakistan, in northeastern Brazil and in many other countries. There is no comparison between the need abroad and the need here at home.

Second, and more important, is the fact that we as Christians must fulfill our obligations to our fellow men, or God may well permit others to crush us. Either we do these jobs or the Communists will. And if we don't meet the test, the days of the Catacomos will return sooner than anyone in this audience suspects. For as our Lord Himself said:-

“...Would that you were cold or hot; and so because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. You say I am rich and have become wealthy and have no need of anything. But you do not know that you are wretched and pitiable and poor and blind and naked"... (Apocalypse, 3rd Chapter) (15 - 17 Verses)

The shocking fact is that this is exactly what the Communists say about us.

The Communists say that Americans have gone soft. Only recently Khrushchev branded American young people as "dissident good-for-nothings." On my recent trip around the world, I encountered serious doubts about the ability of Americans to make the sacrifices essential for the Peace Corps or any other program of voluntary service abroad. The one big question seems to be is America qualified to lead the free world?

I believe we are and I'll tell you why.

The Peace Corps has been in existence only three months, but I have talked to many would-be volunteers who have the faith and conviction. to make the, sacrifices necessary to serve under Peace Corps conditions and according to Peace Corps standards in various parts of the world. They have been called the silent generation, these men and women who are volunteering to serve in the Peace Corps, as surveyors in Tanganyika, farm extension workers in Colombia, teachers in rural schools in the Philippines, and now as community development workers in Chile. They are coming quietly to enlist for two-year terms of hard work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I believe they will meet the great tests they will face abroad with calm humor and, steady perseverance.

For inside the silence, contained by a tough shell of skepticism, is a core of idealism. The stirring words of Wilson and the radiant optimism of Roosevelt have been tempered by world wars and depressions and by the long winter of the cold war. But I am convinced that faith in democracy, the belief in a civilization based on the God-given dignity of the individual human being, the readiness to sacrifice to enable such a civilization to live and grow --- this is there, this has been waiting to be tapped, this is what the Peace Corps is tapping. Nikita Khrushchev is not alone in doubting the fiber of modern Americans. This is a question asked all around the world.

In India, Ashadevi, a spirited woman associate of Ghandi, was so stirred by the idea of the Peace Corps that she interrupted her pilgrimage in Assam, traveled three days and three nights on a train, to put one great question to me. "Yours was the first revolution," she said. "Do you think young Americans possess the spiritual values they must have to bring the' spirit of that revolution to our country?'' "There is a great valuelessness spreading in the world, and in India, too,” she said. “Your Volunteers must not add to this. They must bring more than science and technology. They must be carriers of your best American values and ideals. Even the Russians have their values beyond science and technology. Your Peace Corps must touch the idealism of America and bring that to us."

This is our aim, I assured her.

But how will we accomplish it?

First of all, by a very careful selection of the men and women who are accepted as Volunteers. The academic tests which each applicant takes, the personal interviews he will have, the medical and psychological examinations, and the screening that will go on during training are all designed to pick out volunteers who will represent the best of American life, thought, dedication and skill. We want men and women who are fit, physically, mentally and spiritually, who are ready to work with their heads, their hands and their hearts; who are able to discuss the Declaration of Independence and the problems of modern democracy with a student in Ghana or a farmer in Colombia; and who are trained to do a job that is needed and desired in the host country. I believe we will find these men and women among the 10,000 who have already volunteered.

Second, we will provide intensive training in the language, history, current affairs and customs of the country to which they are going; in the health care required; and in the work to be done. Intensive refresher courses in American history and government will help prepare Volunteers for some of the questions they will be asked. Training periods will also be conducted in some of the countries where the Volunteers will serve.

For men and women selected and trained in these ways, there is an abundance of jobs in the developing nations. The Peace Corps needs both college graduates and skilled workmen, who have not been to college; we need both liberal arts graduates and graduates with specialized degrees; we need both men from business and men from labor unions; we need women as well as men. The list of requests already includes doctors, nurses, public health workers, lawyers, farmers, labor negotiators, management experts, engineers, plumbers, electricians, athletic coaches, and teachers of all kinds, including teachers of English, for primary and secondary schools and in universities.

The eight countries I recently visited asked for more than 3,500 Americans immediately. Prime Minister Nehru of India, President Nkrumah of Ghana, Prime Minister U Nu of Burma, President Garcias of the Philippines all hailed the Peace Corps. Some of them, I do not have to remind you, have not been favorable to all American policies.

In the Punjab, the chief of a village said: “If someone from the Peace Corps would come here, we would welcome him. Whatever poor facilities we have, we would share with him.” In another country the governor of a province said: “We have the mind and heart to do things. Our people are ready to move. We need your skills to help us start.”

The real question, then, is not one of demand, but supply. Can we really find, recruit and train Americans who will meet this challenge?

I think we can. Almost 4000 Americans have already taken the first Peace Corps tests. Applications are coming in at the rate of more than one hundred a day. These Volunteers are saying to the world: “You can count on us.”

There is a world-wide struggle going on. A revolution. All men are trying to achieve human dignity and a common identity. You and I are part of that struggle, for no matter whether a man be Jew, Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu, Communist or Christian, he has been born of woman like every other man alive, he is living on this small spinning planet like every other man alive; he, needs food, shelter and spiritual comfort like every other man alive; and he will die the death like every other man alive. And if there is a destiny after death, the community of our experience here on this earth indicates that life hereafter will be common to all.

It is easy to see and even magnify the differences among men: color, education, genetical inheritance, religion. But the new generation is beginning to realize that whereas political nationalism and economic aggressiveness may divide men, the most important of all experiences unite them --- birth, marriage, death, and destiny.

Many people in our land and overseas may not yet even understand why they are so stirred within their deepest reaches, but, as President Kennedy said in his message to Congress on the Peace Corps: ''Throughout the world people are struggling for economic and social progress which reflects their deepest desires. Our own freedom, and the future of freedom around the world, depends, in a very real sense, on the ability to build growing and independent nations where men can live in dignity, liberated from the bonds of hunger, ignorance and poverty.”

The purpose of the Peace Corps is to permit Americans to participate directly, personally and effectively, in this struggle for human dignity. A world community is struggling to be born. America must be present at that birth, helping to make it successful.

Our volunteers must go with a true spirit of humility, seeking to learn as well as to teach. If they go in this spirit, America will gain most. And our greatest gain will be measured in the lives of the Volunteers. They will, as President Kennedy has said, “be enriched by the experience of living and working in foreign lands...they will return better able to assume the responsibilities of American citizenship and with greater understanding of our global responsibilities."

Notre Dame is famous for its Victory March. It is famous for its philosophy of playing the game to win. As General Douglas MacArthur said, and as Notre Dame practices -- "There is no substitute for victory.

I hope and believe that in its program with the Peace Corps Notre Dame will live up to its reputation for success