Lee Tuveson (Nepal (1962–64) was nice enough to send me a copy of the address that John F. Kennedy made to 600+ Peace Corps Trainees in Washington, D.C. on August 9, 1962. Lee , who was in attendance, was headed off to Nepal with that country’s first group of PCVs,  and Marian Beil and I, who were there as well, were leaving after Labor Day with the first group of Volunteers to Ethiopia. Here are JFK’s remarks to us, but really, Kennedy’s comments were for all the PCVs who would join the Peace Corps in the years to come. It would be great now to get comments from other departing Trainees who were on the White House lawn that August afternoon, and from those PCVs who were at “send-offs” by other presidents, or by Peace Corps Directors, in later years. What do you remember?

Ladies and gentlemen:

We are very glad to welcome you here to the White House. This occasion gives me a particular sense of satisfaction to welcome 6oo Americans from all parts of the country who have committed themselves to a great adventure, I think, for our country and more than our country, for really all people.

kennedy-pcv-send-offI think that by the end of this year we’ll have more than 5,ooo Peace Corpsmen, men and women of all ages, serving abroad in all parts of the world, in countries about which most Americans knew little 10 years ago, countries which we did not even know existed 20 years ago.

This is an extraordinary action by this country, and I know that you are proud to take part in it. And I must say that it gives me the greatest satisfaction that it’s taking Place at this time.

I’ve been through the list of the various areas to which you are going-Georgetown University, 307 secondary school teachers for Ethiopia. Perhaps those of you going to Ethiopia could hold up your hands. We have 2 medical doctors for Ethiopia included in that group.

Now there are 11 teachers, nurses, auto mechanics, going to Afghanistan. Oh, they’re not here today; they’ve gone to Afghanistan.

From George Washington University, 76 secondary and college teachers and agricultural extension workers for Nepal. Would they raise their hands? Very good.

University of Maryland, 48 secondary school teachers and agricultural workers for Turkey, and 36 teachers, at all levels, for British Honduras-you’ve got them sort of down at that end [indicating].

Nineteen secondary school teachers for Ecuador, 12 secondary school teachers for Venezuela.

And at Howard University, 29 rural development workers for Cyprus-is that better than going to British Honduras? I don’t think it is-22 English teachers for Togo, 20 medical doctors, nurses, and technicians for Togo, 9 fishermen for Togo, 7 English teachers for Niger, 6 English teachers for Senegal, 9 medical doctors, nurses, technicians for Sierra Leone-613.

Well, I must say I wish that all Americans could hear that litany of countries that you’re going to, your willingness to do it. And I hope that when you come back that we can persuade you to come and serve in the United States Government in other areas, particularly in the Foreign Service, in all of the areas, because I think the United States is so heavily involved in so many parts of the world. We are so in need of dedicated men and women of talent and experience, that I can think of no more significant recruiting ground than the Peace Corps for our future Foreign Service Officers, for those who represent our information services and aid agencies abroad. So I hope that you will regard this as the first installment in a long life of service in the most exciting career in the most exciting time, and that is serving this country in the sixties and the seventies. So we are very proud to have you here.

The White House belongs to all the people, but I think it particularly belongs to you.


NOTE: The President spoke at 4 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. The trainees were introduced by Warren W. Wiggins, Associate Director for Program Development and Operations of the Peace Corps.