Volunteers Forever

University Essays: Lesson 16, Reading 2

by Sargent Shriver


I recommend that we remember our beginning. We are dedicated to the pursuit of peace—which means we oppose the idea that war is inevitable. We believe that with God’s help we can get rid of war. We are a corps, a band of brothers and sisters, united in the conviction that, if we work hard enough, we truly can avoid warand achieve peace. And we all think that everyone in the Peace Corps, and everyone who has ever worked in the Peace Corps, is a special person, who, given a chance, will overcome any problem! In believing this about each other, in believing this about all Peace Corps people, we are giving reality to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. He said:

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato or Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics and physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul regenerated by love.”

So, in 1985, we look back across a quarter of a century of grace and soul—and we know how fortunate we are. In the Peace Corps, we have known the summer heat of the Sahara, the biting cold of the Alte Piano, the endless rain of the monsoons in Asia, and the even greater obstacles caused by bureaucratic inertia.

And what a precious gift it has all been! For we have also seen the smile on the face of a child who has just learned to read; the energy of people in a dusty village who have just learned that they can lift the dead hand of hopelessness; the wondrous sense of powerless people taking destiny into their own hands for the first time.

We have been pioneers of the Peace Corps worldand, in that new world, we have seen the worst that happens to fellow human beings in daily acts of indifference and even evil; but we have also seen what is, what can be, the best in ourselves and others. We have seen into our own souls, even as we have felt our eyes misting and our hearts touched when it was time to say goodbye. But, for Veterans of the Peace Corps enlisted in the cause of peace, whatever we do when the first tour is over, there is never a final “goodbye.” We are Peace Corps volunteers forever, and we will never be the same again.

In that spirit, let us resolve to continue and complete our real tours of duty—which are not for two years—but for all the years of our lives—until the peace we dreamed of when we signed up for the Corps, is finally won.

from an address entitled “Volunteers Forever”, 25th Anniversary of the Peace Corps University of Michigan, October 7, 1985

This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202.537.1372.

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