Picking on this old bone of the early days of the Peace Corps and “how the Peace Corps came about,” I called the Kennedy Library to get exactly what Kennedy said at 2 a.m. on October 14, 1960, on the steps of the Michigan Union at the University of Michigan. What he said did not launch a thousand ships, but so far, it has launched 185,000 Americans.
Here is a transcript of Kennedy’s extemporaneous remarks.
“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 [to] whether a free society can compete. I think it can. And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we’ve ever made in the past.
“And therefore I’m delighted to come to Michigan, this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can’t possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength. So I come here tonight to get to bed. But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort…
“May I just say in conclusion that this college, this university, is not maintained by its alumni, by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantages in the life struggle. There is certainly a greater purpose, and I’m sure you recognize it, and therefore I do not come here tonight asking for your support in this campaign. I come here tonight asking for your support for this country over the next decade. Thank you.”