When I think about people I admire most, whether it’s Martin Luther King or the Dalai Lama or John Lewis or Desmond Tutu, one tribute they all share is that they are/were in service of something greater than themselves. They were willing to let their lives be used for a higher purpose, even, as we’ve seen, though it may mean putting themselves in great peril.
I look at John F. Kennedy Jr. the same way. On the 50th anniversary of his death, so much attention is being devoted to how he died. I have so many friends who believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and so many who believe in other conspiracies, but I prefer today to think about his life.
His lasting legacy is the Peace Corps. The notion was created while he was still a Senator. On Oct. 14, 1960, he gave a speech at the University of Michigan. He challenged the students to take the disciplines they were majoring in- whether it be medicine or engineering— and devote their time to giving back on foreign soil. It was an idea that not only embraced service to others, but saw the world as a whole and encouraged people to consider themselves not just Americans, but global citizens whose job it was to take care of our neighbor 10,000 miles away, not just across the street.
Here’s an excerpt of his speech:
"How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past."
From that speech, the Peace Corps was born less than six months later with the idea of spreading peace through service to those in countries less fortunate than America.
I know several people who served in the Peace Corps and only one had a bad experience. For most, it was a life-changing event. I sometimes fantasize about being one of those old ladies who joins the Peace Corps when I’m in my 70s. According to the Peace Corps, more than 200,000 people have served (that number seems really low to me) in 139 countries. The average age of the volunteers is 28, but 7% are over 50. See! It may just happen for me yet!
Today’s $10 goes to the Peace Corps, which operates as an independent U.S. government agency. You can pick your own project to give the money to from a school library in Zambia to an Eco project in Nicaragua to even an Ultimate Frisbee and Leadership Camp in Panama, thanks to JFK.
Nov. 22: Peace Corps
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