Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, August 16, 2010

Website highlights alumni service in the Peace Corps

During his Peace Corps service in 1987-89 in Guatemala, U-M alumnus David Swaney decided he would be a teacher: “It was just clear to me that lack of education was the root of most of the problems I saw.”

Click here to view a trailer for the documentary "The Passing of the Torch — The University of Michigan, JFK and the Peace Corps."

Jacqueline Rose, an alumna who served in the Peace Corps in Africa in 1994-96 and 1998, says, “Having witnessed the (Congo) war and its devastation on the people around me, I became invested in helping refugees and victims of war directly … I now serve refugees from around the world who come to Vermont.”

Their comments are among those collected from 57 alumni on their Peace Corps experiences, presented on a new U-M website commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sen. John F. Kennedy’s Oct. 14, 1960, speech outside the Michigan Union. Kennedy that night sparked the creation of the Peace Corps when he urged students to work in developing countries to promote peace.

The website,, was created in advance of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 1-Nov. 9 on campus. A focus of the celebration will be two ceremonies Oct. 14 on the steps of the Michigan Union. The first ceremony will occur at 2 a.m., exactly 50 years after Kennedy delivered his remarks. The program will include audio of JFK’s speech and remembrances by guest speakers including Alan Guskin, student leader in 1960 who with others advocated for the creation of the Peace Corps; remarks from Steven Weinberg, current U-M student and founder of Will Work for Food; and a brief performance by the student theater company, UMetc.

The second ceremony will start at 11 a.m. with Ghanaian drumming followed by a number of special guest speakers including Jack Hood Vaughn, second director of the Peace Corps; President Mary Sue Coleman; Julia Donovan Darlow, chair of the Board of Regents; former senator, Kennedy aide and Peace Corps architect, Harris Wofford; and the current director of the Peace Corps, Aaron Williams.

Another focus of the celebration is a National Symposium: The Future of International Service, from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at Blau Auditorium in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. It will include opening remarks by Wofford, a keynote address on “The Future of the Peace Corps” by Williams, a presentation by Coleman and four panel sessions.

“Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy called upon our students to serve this nation by serving others in developing countries. He never uttered the words ‘Peace Corps,’ but the Peace Corps was in fact born that night on the steps of the Union,” says John Greisberger, director of the International Center.

“The first director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, said, ‘It might still be just an idea but for the affirmative response of those Michigan students and faculty.’ In addition to celebrating one of the proudest achievements of the Kennedy administration, we are also celebrating the activism of our students and faculty that led to the creation of the Peace Corps, while encouraging our current students to accept JFK’s challenge by serving others both at home and abroad,” Greisberger says.

Other highlights of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration include:

• The premiere of “A Passing of the Torch,” a documentary on U-M students’ push for creation of the Peace Corps, at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.

• American travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux speaking at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library on “How the Peace Corps Changed My Life.”

• Challenges and Opportunities of International Service: A Student Symposium, at 10 p.m. Oct. 13.

• A speech by U-M alumnus Tom Hayden on student activism at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 14 in Hatcher Library.

• Provost’s Seminar on Educating Globally Competent Students, from 1-5 p.m. Nov. 2 in the Michigan League, a professional development opportunity for U-M faculty.

Several events will feature U-M alumni recounting their experiences as Peace Corps volunteers. U-M ranks fourth among all colleges and universities in sending its graduates to the Peace Corps with 2,331 alumni having served.

The public is invited to read more about Peace Corps 50th anniversary events at, and/or sign up for e-mail event updates.