[There is a plaque on the steps of the University of Michigan Student Union at Ann Arbor that reads: Here at 2:00 A.M. on October 14, 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy first defined the Peace corps. He stood at the place marked by the medallion and was cheered by a large and enthusiastic student audience for the hope and promise his idea gave the world.

In her book, Come As You Are: The Peace Corps Story, Coates Redmon tells what happened next: Kennedy was making an unannounced stop at the University of Michigan in the last month of his campaign for the presidency to rest up after his third debate with Richard Nixon. The Ann Arbor crowd had been gathering, by means of word of mouth, since the middle of the evening. Deborah Bacon, the dean of women at Michigan, knew of the visit and was ‘inspired’ to lift the ban that said women had to be in their dorms by midnight.

According to Mildred Jeffrey, Kennedy’s Michigan coordinator, “It was a serious crowd, minus the usual jumpers and screamers, and there were even some people with Nixon placard there. The Michigan faculty was at that time rather skeptical of Kennedy, by and large, and the insistence upon seeing him was something that throbbed.”

It was just a few minutes before 2:00 A.M. when Kennedy got out of his car and was led up the steps of the Student Union, and according to Mildred Jeffrey and others present at that moment, Kennedy immediately sense that the atmosphere was challenging and dicey. He thus opened with some light, teasing remarks but the late hour and the need to get to bed. This was greeted by muted giggles and hoots, suggestive whistles, a few disappointed moans, and the faintest sound of booing. Kennedy suddenly tightened his tone, raised his voice, and swung into this: “How many of  you are willing to spend ten years in Africa or Latin America or Asia working for the U.S. and working for freedom?…..”

Though began the Peace Corps. The University of Michigan will start the 50th Anniversary next fall with this fall event on the campus at Ann Arbor. Here is an early listing of events scheduled by John Greisberger (Afghanistan 1973-75) Director of the International Center, and others at the University:

Events
Looking forward to this year’s 50th anniversary, the university is planning many events, including a national symposium on the future of international service and a commemoration of Senator John F. Kennedy’s speech on the steps of the Michigan Union. 
The events that have been planned to date include:

  • October 13
    National Symposium: The Future of International Service
    8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Blau Auditorium Ross School of Business
    This symposium kicks off a year-long series of events across the nation that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. Sponsored by the U-M, the Brookings Institution, and the National Peace Corps Association. Registration required; Web streaming available.
  • October 13
    Paul Theroux Speech
    7 p.m. Hatcher Library
    The American travel writer and novelist will discuss the impact of the Peace Corps on his life. Sponsored by LSA Theme Semester (”What Makes Life Worth Living”), Hatcher Graduate Library, and the International Center.
    October 13/14
    Challenges and Opportunities of International Service: A Student Symposium
    10 p.m. Oct 13 - 2 a.m. Oct 14 Michigan Union
    This student organized and led symposium will culminate at 2 a.m. with a ceremony on the steps of the Union (the same time and place JFK spoke 50 years earlier).
  • October 14
    First Ceremony on Michigan Union steps
    2 - 2:30 a.m. Michigan Union steps
    Audio of JFK’s speech followed by remembrances of those who were there that night 50 years ago.
  • October 14
    Second Ceremony on Michigan Union steps
    11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Michigan Union steps
    Participate in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps with special guests.
  • October 1 - 31
    U-M/Peace Corps Archival Exhibit
    Normal library hours - Hatcher Library
    Enjoy an archival exhibit of U-M student and faculty involvement in the creation of the Peace Corps.
  • October 14
    Spending Your Days in Ghana: Responding to JFK’s Challenge
    1:30 - 5 p.m. Symposium: Michigan Union, Reception: UMMA
    JFK asked, “How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” Learn about the U-M’s long history-and exciting future-in Ghana during this Medical School sponsored symposium. Registration required; Web streaming available; reception to follow symposium.
  • October 15
    Reception for U-M Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs)
    4:00 - 6:00 p.m. Hatcher Library
    U-M alumni are invited to a reception honoring their service as Peace Corps Volunteers.
  • October 16
    Tailgate Party
    (prior to football game) President’s Venue
    U-M alumni who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are invited to join President Mary Sue Coleman at her tailgate party prior to U-M’s Homecoming game.
  • October 16
    Football Game/Program
    Michigan Stadium
    U-M-affiliated Returned Peace Corps Volunteers will be recognized during the Homecoming football game.
  • October 1 - 31
    Peace Corps Photo Exhibit
    Normal Union hours, Michigan Union
    Enjoy a photo exhibit featuring five decades of U-M alumni experiences in the Peace Corps.
  • October-November
    International Film Series
    Residential College
    Course registration required.
  • November 10
    Provost’s Seminar on Educating Globally Competent Students
    1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Michigan League
    Sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching for U-M faculty members.


“We want to acknowledge U-M’s long history and commitment to volunteerism and service-learning, both in this country and abroad,” says John Greisberger, director of the International Center. “We also want to celebrate our student and faculty activism that helped create the Peace Corps, and encourage our currently enrolled students to consider various opportunities to engage with service learning.”

peace.corps@umich.edu
internationalcenter.umich.edu/peace