I spent the weekend going through files to find documents on the history of the Peace Corps that I might donate to American University and their collection of Peace Corps material.
In the process I came across the address made by Sargent Shriver, first Director of the Peace Corps, at the One Hundred Sixty-fifth Annual Commencement of Georgetown University on June 8, 1964.
I want to quote from the opening of Sarge’s talk as it focuses on two items that are important: one is on Ethiopia One PCVs in Ethiopia, and two is on Sarge’s vision of why the Peace Corps is important to all of us.
It is embarrassing for me today to confess that I remember only one quotatin from St. Ignatius. Fortunately it is only one word: “magis!“— “more.”
The watchword of the Jesuit order has always been: Ad majorem Dei gloriam. But Ignatius was a man of action. His personal watchword was magis: More work, more sacrifice, more men to serve the greater glory of God.
And that is my message now. We need more.
We need more men and women schooled in the tradition of Ignatius and Xavier. We need more like the 238 Peace Corps Volunteers now serving overseas who came from Jesuit schools. And we need more like the thirty-eight Peace Corps Volunteers who studied at Georgetown, who are serving in towns and villages of twenty-three countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. I have seen them work. I can testify to their spirit and dedication.
As a matter of fact these robes I am wearing here today are evidence of their dedication. These were given to me at Chulalongkorn University by the Foreign Minister of Thailand. He was awarding me an honorary degree to honor the Peace Corps and the 265 Volunteers serving in Thailand. Three of those Volunteers studied here at Georgetown. In his speech commending them, the Foreign Minister called the Peace Corps “the most powerful idea in recent times.”
Let me tell you about eight over Volunteers — eight of the first 300 Volunteers for Ethiopia who took their Peace Corps training here at Georgetown. I last saw them in the little provincial town of Debra Marcos, near the Blue Nile, in October 1962. We sent men only to that post because it was considered the most difficult, most isolated one in Ethiopia. I will never forget the rocky ride from the strip of grass on which we landed to their school — the cobblestones on the main street were put in with the smooth side down and the pointed, spike side up. I wondered how these eight men, thrown together like that, without any American women around, would get along.
Here is what one of them, Dick Lipez, wrote recently. “Through some unimaginable fluke we got along. We were not only friends, but we stimulated one another intellectually in a way that perhaps no eight people in the same house ever have. Last year, I did more reading and more talking about what I had read than during any three years of college. We talked politics endlessly, we talked about history, travel, sports, women, literature.” The liberals, he said, became more conservative and the conservatives more liberal. “If anyone in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania,” Dick wrote, “discovered four or fie men sitting around a Coleman lantern in the middle of the night reading and talking about poetry, the scandal would shake the town from the first island bridge to Crow’s Diner!”
Those eight men who went from this campus in 1962 to Debra Marcos, Ethiopia, are now coming home. Of them, a white boy from Alabama, has volunteered to teach in an all-Negro slum high school in Washington, D.C. Another will work for the Peace Corps. All of them are interested in the War on Poverty. Why is this?
Dick Lipez in his letter tried to explain why they were coming home with a new sense of responsibility. “Peace Corps life tempers one by its sheer and irresistible intensity,” he says. They look forward to coming home, but “missing,” he says, will be “the adventure, the thrill that none of us will ever be able to live again with such intensity, such freedom. We had great responsibilities — to our students, to one anther, to ourselves — and in meeting these responsibilities we found a kind of freedom greater than any we could have imagined.”
Soon Dick Lipez will be home, and so will 3,000 of our first Volunteers. You will see how much they have learned. They have learned about the world — not in an abstract way, not in books, but in service — in service to the poor: the poor in education, the poor in health, the poor in spirit. They have learned how to serve. They have learned responsibility. They are coming home feeling responsible for their own country.