Forum marks 50 years of the Peace Corps

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Fifty years after presidential candidate John F. Kennedy first proposed the idea of sending American civilian volunteers to nations in need across the world, current and former directors of the Peace Corps gathered at the Kennedy School Tuesday night (Oct. 12) to discuss how the Corps has impacted generations of young people and societies both home and abroad.

The panel discussion, titled “50 Years of the Peace Corps: Answering President Kennedy’s Call to Service,” is one of many events scheduled to commemorate Public Service Week at the School.

Current Peace Corps director Aaron Williams told the audience at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum that the spirit of service that inspired the Corps’ establishment remains very much alive today.

“The Peace Corps allows Americans to engage in different cultures, learn another language and to promote world peace and friendship,” he said.

Other participants on the panel included former Peace Corps directors Elaine Chao (1991-92), who later served as U.S. labor secretary; Mark Gearan,(1995-99), now president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges; and Gaddi Vasquez (2002-06), who is now vice president of public affairs at Southern California Edison. Mary Jo Bane, academic dean and Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management, who served in the Peace Corps in Liberia from 1963 to 1965, moderated the discussion.

“As I look back on that experience in my own life, I can say that without question it changed my life,” Bane said. “It expanded the world for me. It introduced me to public service.

“I think we were pretty good ambassadors for the United States of America. We certainly went in with the idealism to change the world,” she said.

The forum was sponsored by the Institute of Politics.