Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Early morning crowd marks 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s Peace Corps challenge

More than 1,500 members of the U-M community gathered in the drizzly cold on the Michigan Union steps at 2 a.m. today to commemorate the precise 50th anniversary of presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s challenge to U-M students to commit their lives to service in developing countries.


Click here for a list of events associated with U-M's Peace Corps celebration.

The lively crowd stood for more than an hour and a half to celebrate the events at the university that helped turn Kennedy’s challenge from a bold ideal into the reality of the Peace Corps.

Alan Guskin, a U-M student activist who was moved to advocate for the creation of the Peace Corps after hearing Kennedy speak on the steps on Oct. 14, 1960, said today that he still is amazed that a group of U-M students were able to influence a new president to form a an organization — the Peace Corps — that has changed the way Americans serve the world.

“As Margaret Mead said, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” Guskin said.

Former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford (right), who taught the first Peace Corps class at U-M, talks with Steven Weinberg, a U-M student and founder of Will Work for Food, at this morning's event at the Michigan Union. (Photo by Scott Galvin, Photo Services)  

Indeed, small groups of U-M students have a long history of changing the world one idea at a time, said Steven H. Weinberg, a U-M student and founder of Will Work for Food, a group that raises donations for charitable work and then uses the donations to pay for food for undernourished children. He said his organization is just one of the dozens created by U-M students endeavoring to improve the world in which they live one neighbor at a time.

Weinberg credited the events associated with Kennedy’s visit to the steps 50 years ago with helping to engender a culture of service at the U-M that lives on and thrives.

After also hearing from Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams and U-M International Center Director John Greisberger, the enthusiastic crowd of students, faculty, staff and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers broke into “The Victors” before dispersing to rest up before the next celebratory ceremony on the steps at 11 a.m. with university and government officials.