John Kerry's Remarks at Peace Corps Swearing-in Ceremony

Remarks to Swearing In of New PCVs
John Kerry
Secretary of Stateimages
Ministry of Youth and Sports
Rabat, Morocco

April 4, 2014

Chris, thank you very much. Thanks for your service, and thank you for the introduction. And Minister Ouzzine, it’s a great pleasure to be here with you. Thank you very, very much for being part of this. And all of our guests, distinguished guests – oh, there’s President Kennedy over here. I’m just looking over there. (Laughter.)

This is really cool. I want you to know I’m really excited about this. I’m thrilled that somehow it coincided and we were able to work out that I have the privilege of swearing you in. And when I heard I was swearing in 101 Peace Corps volunteers, I immediately thought of 101 Dalmatians. (Laughter.) I couldn’t help it. Sorry about that. That has nothing to do with anything, all right? (Laughter.) And you certainly don’t think of yourselves that way.

There are a lot of reasons why this is special. I am old enough to have been old enough at the time that it meant something to me when President Kennedy made the announcement about the Peace Corps and appointed his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver to be the first head of it. And I remember that very distinctly, the sense of excitement. I had the privilege of meeting President Kennedy, because I was then 18 years old and just out of high school, working full time for somebody who was to become my colleague, Senator Ted Kennedy, then a candidate for senator in Massachusetts. And I was just a kid in the summer, and I happened to be in a place where the President was during that period of time. And we chatted a bit, and he chastised me for my choice of college, but – (laughter) – he was very funny about sort of the commonality of some of the interests at any rate. And he made an impression on me – a lifetime-lasting impression.

And the Peace Corps itself has always embodied really the best aspirations of America in terms of our reach in the world – our efforts to help people to do better in life, our efforts to try to create stability and opportunity and prosperity, our efforts to give people a sense of what makes a difference in terms of the values which will guide them as they grow and become, hopefully, public citizens themselves at some point in time. And so your willingness to stand up and say, “I’m going to serve,” in this capacity is really, really special, particularly at a time when so many people are sort of pressured and enticed towards a more lucrative undertaking, particularly in their immediate post-college years, where you’re saddled with college debt and other career pressures and choices.

You’re joining one of the proudest traditions that there is. As Chris mentioned, the 5,000-some people who have served here, it includes Ambassador Chris Stevens, whom we lost, as you all know, in Benghazi. It includes a fellow by the name of Ambassador Robert Ford, who has been our special – really, he’s been the ambassador to Syria, but because he hasn’t been in Syria, he’s been our special envoy, so to speak, to the Syrian opposition, and has worked diligently these past years to be able to help the people of Syria do better. But his commitment began right here, like yours. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, one of our distinguished diplomats, a man who went on to help broker peace accords at Dayton and dealt with so many difficult issues, began as a Peace Corps volunteer.

So you’re following in the footsteps of accomplished, distinguished diplomats who made a difference as they went on in life, and I’m confident that you will, those of you who choose to go on in that way. And I have no doubt that perhaps sometime in the future, when a next secretary is standing up and swearing people, one or more of your names will be the examples that will then be given to people.

You’re joining the Peace Corps at a very, very important time. I can’t emphasize enough to you how critical it is. And obviously, it has its challenges. The world is changing unbelievably rapidly. And to some degree, that’s creating the counterforce that we see in certain places. It’s a reaction against modernity, against change, against the invasion of the rest of the world into people’s lives because of the media and because of communication that’s sometimes unwanted and unwitting.

And so whether you like it or not – and we talked about this in our security dialogue a few moments ago with our Moroccan friends – that everything that’s happening everywhere invades everywhere all the time. And the result of this is a sense of invasion, really, of sometimes unwanted values, unwanted principles. And it forces a transition, no matter what. So in places that are particularly tribal or particularly insular, and where there’s a more conservative strain, that can be difficult. And we have to acknowledge that. We have to honor that. People need to be able to do things at their pace and in their way, but still, we have to remain committed to fundamental values – freedom, human rights, democracy, and tolerance, things that you will be practicing and teaching every day in your efforts as Peace Corps volunteers.

And when you look at the population of Morocco, it’s really a reflection of what is happening in the rest of the world – 60 percent of a population under the age of 30, and 50 percent of the population under the age of 25 – 50 percent. That’s a lot of jobs to find and create. That’s a lot of educating to do. That’s a lot of opportunity to create. So it’s a big task. It’s a complicated world. And I admire enormously those who have chosen to go out into this world and help to make a difference.

Now, I will tell you that what you do could help shape the economy of this country in the future. It will certainly shape lives. Individual lives will be touched by the multiples for those people that you come into contact with and make a difference for. And it seems to me that this is what makes this adventure you’re about to embark on so meaningful, is that when you help a young Moroccan develop a skill to be able to build their community or to build their own career, when you help somebody to learn English or help somebody to start a business or to learn some valuable lesson as simple as playing sports and being a part of a team, you are investing in a safer region and a stronger world.

So the 101 of you are going to match your diverse talents with your expertise, and you’re going to go out there and have an opportunity to be able to learn a lot about the perspectives of the young men and women that you’re going to meet. And as you do, you’re going to strengthen the friendship between Morocco and the United States, a friendship that is older than the Constitution of the United States of America. I remind you that Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the United States in 1777.

So before I ask you to join me up here on the stage to take the oath, I just want to leave you with one reminder and perhaps one prediction. The reminder is this: In every intersection that you have with any individual Moroccan, anyone you meet, you may be the only American that that person has met that day, that week, that year, perhaps, or that lifetime. So you represent the United States in every single thing that you do. And I ask you to remember that the ambassador who is presenting his credentials today may have the fancy title of ambassador, but every single one of you are an ambassador. And that was something that Sargent Shriver said more than 50 years ago when he returned from Africa at the beginning of this journey. He said that the manner in which volunteers carry out their work is just as important as the quality of their work. And believe me, that is still true today.

So that’s my reminder. My prediction is this: You’re going to find that this journey means as much to you as it will mean to the people and the communities that you’re going to serve. It goes both ways. That’s the beauty of it. And in the same message that I just mentioned Sargent Shriver gave when he came back from Africa, you know what he said? He said, “Go in a spirit of humility, seeking to learn as much as to teach.”

So I’ve got every bit of confidence that you all are going to do that. It’s my honor now to administer to you the very same oath that I took, the very same oath that the President takes and that all of us have taken since the time of George Washington. So please, if you will join me up here on the stage, I will deliver your oath that will make you official Peace Corps volunteers.

(The oath was administered.)


Leave a comment
  • To use the lofty language of our Secretary of State: this is very cool. Yes, a nice tribute to Peace Corps. Now if only President Obama would make good his promise to increased dramatically the number of PCVs, we would be even more pleased.

  • I was reminded of the thoughtful, provocative speech Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, gave at the Democratic National Convention when he was nominated for the Presidency. She said something like the world needs to see the U.S. through the faces of Peace Corps volunteers. After the speech, I was shocked to hear Jim Lehrer say that the presidential candidates’ wives’ goal in their speeches is supposed to be to discuss the human side of their husbands with stories about family.
    I was not shocked, naturally, to hear David Brooks agree with him. Neither pundit gave any credit to Teresa for a magnificent speech. So when his daughter spoke, she told a story about their hamster falling out of the sailboat and her father giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Lehrer and Brooks thought that was wonderful.
    I am soo glad we have John Kerry representing us to the world.

  • Applications are down for the Peace Corps. It is unable to meet the requests it currently is receiving. I think that Carrie Hessler-Radelet is on a recruiting tour on college campuses. It is not “Your mother’s Peace Corps anymore.” Whether the ‘new and improved” Peace Corps will attract more applicants remains to be seen. So, I don’t think petitioning Obama to budget more to increase the number of Peace Corps Volunteers makes sense, right now.

  • Opaque, rambling dross. The only memorable line was one lifted from Sarge, but then we already knew this.

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