Shriver Stories: Sarge at Georgetown University Talks About Debra Marcus

[A couple weeks ago I posted what Jon Ebeling (Ethiopia 1962-64) had to say about Shriver visiting his town of Debra Marcus, and then seeing Shriver a few years later at the State Department in Washington. Here’s Shriver again talking about that visit to Debra Marcus, and quoting from a letter written by another PCV in that town, Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64).

Sargent Shriver gave the one hundred Sixty-fifth Commencement of Georgetown University in early June of 1964. He talked, of course, about the Peace Corps, telling the graduates and their families that he had been at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and was awarded an honorary degree to honor the Peace Corps and the 265 Volunteers serving in Thailand.

Three of those Volunteers, he said, graduated from Georgetown. Then he went onto talk about eight Volunteers who had trained at Georgetown for the Peace Corps in the summer of ’62.]

Shriver began the Commencement Address with….


Let me tell you about eight other 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 about his hometown, “discovered four or five 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 Georgetown campus to Debre Marcos, Ethiopia, are now coming home. Dick Lipez in his letter home tried to explain why they were coming home with a new sense of responsibility. “The 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 another, to ourselves–and in meeting these responsibilities we found a kind of freedom greater than any we could have imagined.”

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  • Beautifully stated, Dick. This, in addition to your remembering the bookstore name, gives you a great edge.

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