The 25th Anniversary Conference mostly took place on the Washington D.C. Mall where 5,000 + gathered under the largest tent ever raised at the foot of the Capitol Dome and adjacent to the Air and Space Museum. The Mall was the brainchild of Bill Carey (India 1968-69) the executive director of the conference.
The late talented writer David Schickele (Nigeria 1961-63) wrote, “The tent was like the Peace Corps I was part of. Its muggy windless flaps said something about heat and hard work and improvisation, its massive nonchalance the perfect protection for the ideas being hatched beneath it.”
Over 70% of those at the conference had served in the first 10 years of the Peace Corps. Almost 45% had served in just 10 of the 82 countries represented at the conference. Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Liberia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Thailand and Turkey. People had come from all 50 states and 12 other countries.
Doug Siglin would tell the conference at the opening of the conference, “This is the largest gathering of RPCVs in 25 years. We are 120,000 strong.”
In the year 2011 we will be over 200,000 strong, but how many RPCVs will turn up in D.C.?
The hope in 1986 was that the conference, and the gathering of RPCVs in Washington, would enlarge the vision of what the extended Peace Corps community might do to fulfill the dream of a more cohesive and effective alumni community. The question was asked: Can we achieve here at home with our rich heritage of common ideals and personal experiences what we accomplish overseas?
That question was never answered. That hope, I believe, was never fulfilled.
The truth is that the majority of Volunteers don’t join the Peace Corps for life. They were overseas for two years and leave the experience behind them, as they left behind their undergraduate years at college. The Peace Corps became only a moment in their lifetime, replaced by marriage, children and a career. Those Peace Corps years for most of us are just a lot of bedtime stories told to sleepy kids.
Reunions, however, do have a way of rallying old emotions that stir us to go back and find out what happened to so-and-so….to see again a lost love, or have another beer with someone we once roomed with and haven’t seen in years.
Perhaps that is the only gift, and the best gift, we can receive from a trip down memory lane. There is nothing wrong with this. Life is full of such moments and those of us who were in the Peace Corps together, we are all lucky enough to have lived long enough for another weekend that ends with a sad goodbye.