Eunice Shriver on the Peace Corps

In June of 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the speaker at Santa Clara University's commencement. She discussed the recently founded Peace Corps as well as the idea of a domestic Peace Corps. This is a transcript of her remarks:

Peace CorpsRemarks by Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, California

June 2, 1962

The honor you have conferred upon me touches me more deeply than I can say.

Santa Clara University, though small in size, has a quality of greatness that is measured neither by acres nor by numbers of students. As the oldest institution of higher education in the West, it has long played a major role in the development of our intellectual resources. It was here that the first Bachelor of Arts degree by a California institution was awarded. It has weathered attacks by corrupt politicians and by anti-intellectuals. Today, when our nation is properly concerned with the wonders of science and engineering—with orbital flights and intercontinental missiles—it is comforting to participate in ceremonies which are rooted in the high moral and spiritual traditions of the University.

These traditions are especially important at this time.

In his inaugural address, the President promised our help “to those people in huts and villages over half the globe, struggling to break the bonds of mass misery.”

He pledged that we would help them “for whatever period is required, not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.”

It is in this spirit that the President established the Peace Corps: and it was in this spirit that young men and women all across the nation responded.

Even though the Peace Corps stems from the phrase “because it is right”—it nevertheless struck fear into the hearts of Communists who have been telling the world that America has gone soft, that its young people were more interested in luxuries than progress. The Communists are now frantically engaged in a world-wide propaganda campaign to destroy this exciting new idea.

Last week, they told the nations of Latin America that the Peace Corps was making inventories of their national wealth prior to the sale of their nations to the United States.

Who would believe such propaganda?

Too many innocent people.

When the Attorney General made his world tour earlier this year, he found students throughout the world who heard and believed these fantastic stories about the United States. They asked him questions about our country that had been answered fifty years ago.

They wanted to know about the “robber barons” and Wall Street’s alleged control of our economy. They asked about social ills that vanished with Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were completely unaware of social security, minimum wages, labor’s rights in collective bargaining, rural electrification, and TVA. Their ignorance reveals our failure to tell our side of the story. Their questions show how successfully anti-American forces have planted the seeds of hatred for our country.

It is apparent, when you look closely at why the questions are asked, that the real enemies of the Peace Corps are not solely the Communist nations, but the background problems on which Communism thrives: poverty, hunger, disease, and ignorance, - not only in reading, writing, arithmetic, science and the humanities, but ignorance of America itself.

When the President posed the world problems against which the Peace Corps could be utilized, he struck a chord which all America could understand.

Today there are fifteen hundred Peace Corps Volunteers in over a dozen nations. By the end of the year, there will be five thousand Volunteers putting their hands and their hearts to work in 38 countries.

Who are these people who come to the Peace Corps?

One was a wheat farmer from Montana. When he was asked why he joined, he said:

“I’ve been sitting on the sidelines all my life watching the world go to pot and no one ever asked me to help. The Peace Corps asked.”

Another was a Negro agronomist from Florida, a man who earned a bronze star and purple heart fighting as an infantry lieutenant in Korea. Why did he join?

“You learn something about people working with tenant farmers in the South. I think I can help my country overseas.”

Today, two other Peace Corps Volunteers are lying dead on a jungle hillside in Colombia. Their bodies can’t be removed because a landslide might endanger those who came to get them.

Let me tell you about these two men. One came from the Ozarks, a boy gone to the East for an education. When the Peace Corps called to tell the parents the horrible news, the mother was silent.

“That was the best year of my boy’s life,” she said.

The other man came from Chicago. When they called his parents, they said: “If he would have known what was to happen, he would have done it all over again.”

The boy from the Ozarks was David Crozier. He worked in a little Colombian town five hours down a dirt road from nowhere. The people of his town loved him. They said he was the only oe who had ever come to help them and live with them.  Once, they bought him a mule to help him travel the long distances between farms, but it turned out that Crozier was allergic to mules. When the Peace Corps wanted to move him to a location where he could use a bicycle, the townspeople wouldn’t let him go. So he stayed and walked.

The other boy was Larry Radley. He built bridges and schools and left behind a city of people who learned about the United States because he came to work with them.

After their death, the editors of El Tiempo, Colombia’s most important paper, wrote:

“Their bodies have fallen with those of our fellow countrymen. Two races of people were thus joined together in this unfortunate accident. That this not be in vain is the ardent hope of millions of human beings.”

These are national bonds that will not easily be undone.

In Malaya, Peace Corps nurses work in a leper hospital and village. Until they came, there were only three nurses for 2,500 patients.

In the Philippines, Judy Conway of Boone, Iowa, is teaching the third grade, but her doings are already the legend of her island.

Using the only unused portion of the sugar cane, and attaching the fuzz of a local plant, she made paint brushes for her students. She then found natural plant dyes and made paints. Today, all the children are being exposed to the wonders of art.

She also has started a local industry. Taking the same portion of the sugar cane, she began to weave mats on a loom she designed. The local people followed her example and the mats are being sold in cities as far away as Manila.

One of the most heartwarming stories comes from Tom Scanlon, another Volunteer in Chile. He works in a village 40 miles from an Indian village which prides itself on being Communist. The village is up a long, winding road which Tom traveled four times to see the chief.

Each time, the chief avoided seeing him. On the final try, however, the chief relented.

“You’re not going to talk us out of being Communists,” he said.

“I’m not trying to do that,” answered Tom, “only to talk to you about how I can help.”

The chief looked at him and replied:

“In a few weeks, the snow will come. Then you’ll have to park your jeep 20 miles from here and come through five feet of snow on foot. The Communists are willing to do that. Are you?”

When Father Hesburgh of Notre Dame visited Tom and asked him what he was doing, Tom said: “I’m waiting for the snow.”

That’s the kind of spirit that built this country. That’s the kind of courage that is making the Peace Corps. But the overseas Peace Corps is not the only way to serve America in her great hour of need. We have problems right here in the United States of America similar to those overseas.

Last year I advocated a domestic Peace Corps, and just this month Secretary Ribicoff endorsed the idea.

What, then, is keeping us from moving ahead as quickly with the domestic version as with the overseas version?

It seems that when we come into contact with the problems of the  United States, we are a little sluggish in responding. We are cautious and we are conservative. We tend to see the problems of such a domestic Peace Corps and not the advantages.

But some Americans have decided not to wait. In Philadelphia community leaders have begun their own Peace Corps. They are converting tax delinquent lots into attractive community centers.

The city itself gives the vacant land. Architects and landscape specialists work out the design for converting the lots into community recreation areas. The students and local teen-agers go salvaging for bricks, stone lintels, iron fences, cobblestones and railroad ties. The city has given them permission to salvage before the demolition contractors knock down everything in sight.

The same people who helped build the center, are the ones who use it. The local residents supervise the wide range of activities, sports and games, dramatics, public forums, and discussion groups, which have come to replace the marauding gangs which formerly went up and down the streets, for want of anything constructive, creative, or challenging to do.

In Washington, D.C., another domestic Peace Corps has been started. In that city they have concentrated on helping the public schools. Volunteers have been recruited and trained to do dozens of jobs. They help with pupil and parent counseling. They work in the medical, dental and psychiatric clinics, they supervise children during lunch and recess periods. They help to establish community groups to combat vandalism. They coach classes for students who do poorly in their school work. They supervise cafeterias, mark papers, take charge of playgrounds and organize school study groups in poetry, music and reading.

All of these Volunteers are relieving teachers so that the teacher can do her primary educational job more effectively. All these Volunteers work at little or no cost to the taxpayers. Everyone of these Volunteers has helped substantially to reduce truancy, vandalism and teen-age lawlessness. Their work is a genuine contribution to the improvement of education in the public schools.

These results achieved in Philadelphia and Washington prove that the time has now come for cities, states and private organizations to establish their own Peace Corps operations.

One of the major questions that is always asked, when a proposal like this is set down, is, who will pay the bill?

The problem was the same with the overseas Peace Corps. The Federal Government, of course, pays for the Peace Corps. Actually the bill is small. It is small because people volunteer their services, and that’s the biggest cost of any program. But other funds are available too. Private Foundations are already beginning to finance local efforts of this type. The President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime has money to energize local programs. In other words, the city of San Francisco can apply to the President’s Committee for a grant to establish a local Peace Corps.

A well-coordinated program for a domestic Peace Corps can greatly expand all the fine efforts already being undertaken by organizations which do not have the support, the finances or the publicity to attract volunteers in the numbers needed to do the enormous job of meeting our domestic problems.

What does that mean for you as students here at Santa Clara? It could mean that while at college you might engage in local, domestic Peace Corps type activities to prepare yourself for overseas service in the national Peace Corps. In fact, even before a local, domestic Peace Corps is organized in your community you could start out individually to do much of the work that needs to be done.

You could volunteer your services at the public school system as a remedial teacher for eighth grade boys and girls who can only do third grade work. You could volunteer to assist the public welfare department with families who never take their children to doctors even though they had been advised to do so. You could apply to the recreation department and offer to help on the playgrounds, organizing baseball games, swimming, tennis, at centers anywhere in the big city, but especially in the under-developed areas. You could volunteer to help those who are working with juvenile gangs. Monday, in fact, you could go to the nearest municipal court and volunteer your services as a temporary probation officer. In all these fields there is a shortage of man-power.

The dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Chicago told me recently that we have less than half of the personnel needed for recreation work, and less than 25% of our country’s needs for social workers.

Seventy-five percent of the probation officers in our country today do not have the college degree, which all of you have received today.

Every state institution for the mentally retarded or for the emotionally disturbed needs social workers, probation officers and house parents. In short, there is a world of opportunity for those with the courage to act.

I have told you how some men and women have chosen to serve the United States of America abroad, and at home. But we need thousands more.

Everyone in this audience, I hope, will pledge to give voluntarily two years of service to their country at some stage of their career—preferably now. I would ask those of you who look with disdain or despair upon the possibility of public service as exemplified by the Peace Corps, social service, teaching, or recreation work, to remember that our nation’s first leaders were traditionally our ablest, most respected, most talented men who moved from one field to another with amazing versatility and vitality. A contemporary described Thomas Jefferson as “a gentleman of 32, who  could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin.”

John Quincy Adams, after being summarily dismissed from the Senate for a notable display of independence, could become a great Secretary of State. Daniel Webster could throw thunderbolts at Rutherford Hayes on the Senate floor and then stroll a few steps down the corridor and dominate the Supreme Court as the foremost lawyer of his time.

It is clear that these were men of talent—that in the early days of our country our foremost scholars, men, like yourselves, were interested in becoming our foremost public servants.

It is not enough to lend your talents merely to discuss the issues and deplore their solution. Many scholars, I know, would prefer to confine their attentions to the mysteries of pure scholarship or the delights of abstract discouse. But, “Would you have counted him a friend of Ancient Greece,” as George William Curtis asked a century ago, “who quietly discussed the theory of patriotism on that Greek summer day through whose hopeless and immortal hours Leonidas and his three hundred stood at Thermopylae for liberty?” Was John Milton to conjugate Greek verbs in his library, or talk of the liberty of the Ancient Shunamites, when the liberty of Englishmen was imperiled? No, the duty of the college graduate—particularly in a republic such as ours—is to contribute not only his view, but his efforts and time to the affairs of his state and nation.

This is a great institution of learning. Its establishment and continued functioning, like that of all great colleges and universities, has required considerable effort and expenditure. I cannot believe that all of this was undertaken merely to give you graduates an economic advantage in the life struggle. “A university,” said Professor Woodrow Wilson, “should be an organ of memory for the state for the transmission of its best traditions. Every man sent out from a university should be a man of his nation, as well as a man of his time.” And Prince Bismarck was even more specific.

One-third of the students of German universities, he once stated, broke down from overwork; another third broke down from dissipation; and the other third ruled Germany.

Peace CorpsAnd so I strongly urge the application of your education, your spiritual heritage, your personal labors to the great problems at home and abroad.

The President has said: “Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and honor in future years:

“I served the United States Government in that hour of our nation’s need.” mag-bug

Fall 2011

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