Past and present Peace Corps directors celebrated the 50th anniversary of a speech given by Former President John F. Kennedy ’40 announcing his intention to form the Peace Corps in a forum yesterday evening.
The discussion, sponsored by the JFK Jr. Forum at the Harvard Kennedy School, focused on the Peace Corps’ past accomplishments and future goals.
The directors discussed the Peace Corps’ achievement in connecting Americans with the rest of the world, while making an impact on the everyday lives of the countries it has served.
“In this globalized economic world, it’s important we understand people outside our borders and they should understand us,” said Former Peace Corps Director Elaine L. Chao.
Current Director Aaron S. Williams spoke of his visit last week to Ghana, the first country to host Peace Corps volunteers, noting that the impact of the Peace Corps is still visible.
“The Peace Corps allows Americans to engage in different cultures, learn another language, and to promote world peace and friendship,” he said.
The event, titled “Answering Kennedy’s Call to Service”, included a recording of Kennedy’s original speech and news footage of NBC’s coverage of the anniversary. The directors praised Kennedy’s ability to motivate Americans to serve, but also recognized that today’s Peace Corps needs to adapt to a changing world.
“I think it may be time for those of us who care about the Peace Corps to cast an unflinching eye at the Peace Corps today, to contemporize it for the next fifty years,” said Former Peace Corps Director Mark D. Gearan ’78.
His suggestions focused on incorporating advancing technology in volunteer work, and increasing funding and scale, allowing for more volunteers.
Former Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez added that the organization should encourage participation from a broader group of ethnic backgro]unds. “One of the aims of the Peace Corps is that it look more like the panel sitting here tonight,” he said, referring to the diversity of the speakers.
Over the past 50 years, approximately 1,200 Harvard alumni have volunteered in the Peace Corps, with 19 currently serving, according to Williams.