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Happy 50th Birthday Peace Corps


A Kennedy campaign banner from 1960

In many ways, the Peace Corps was born right here at the University of Michigan 50 years ago.  Then Senator and presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy flew into Michigan in the early morning of October 14th, 1960, and when he arrived at the Michigan Union to spend the night he was faced with over 5000 students who had been waiting for him for hours.  They asked him to speak, and at 2am he asked them “How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete.”

Al Guskin, UM alum and student who wrote petition asking Kennedy to flesh out his proposal for an international service corps, among other key roles in the forming of the Peace Corps

And with that, students ran.  They put together a petition and a proposal of students who were ready to give years of their life to international service.  And some 6 months later, working off the ideas of those Michigan students and faculty, the Peace Corps was sending its first volunteers to Ghana and a handful of other countries.

"Thank you Kennedy" banner hung from the Michigan Union as we commemorated Kennedy's 2am speech

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Kennedy’s speech here at Michigan, we relived that 2am speech, drizzle and all, and were graced with the presence of many of those essential in the forming of the Peace Corps, and those who are continuing it’s mission.

Aaron Williams, current director of the Peace Corps speaking at 2am

Aaron Williams, current director of the Peace Corps speaking at 2am

UM African drumming group at October 14th celebration

JFK's cousin, Marnee DeVine who was also at the 1960 speech

Sen. Harris Wofford, Kennedy aide and architect of the Peace Corps

Jack Hood Vaughn, 2nd director of the Peace Corps

Aaron Williams, current director of the Peace Corps

It makes me so proud to have been a part of this organization, and was inspiring enough to make me want to do it all over again.

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