Fifty Years Ago
By Jonathan Pearson on Thursday, October 14th, 2010
At one point in the new documentary film on the University of Michigan and its role in Peace Corps’ history, one of the former students who was there fifty years ago to hear the words of a young and inspiring presidential candidate says “Can you imagine standing outside at 2 AM in the morning on a cold drizzly night?”
Approximately one thousand people actually could imagine the scenario as they came together early Thursday on a very similar evening to October 14, 1960 to mark the historic moment. From a third floor window of the Michigan Union, a handmade banner swaying in the 2AM breeze said it all in three simple, significant words: “Thank you Kennedy.”
John Greisberger, Director of the university’s International Center and a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Afghanistan from 1973-75, expressed how thrilling it was to stand on the steps where 50 years earlier, Kennedy challenged an estimated 10,000 students to serve their nation abroad.
Bob Cooper of nearby Brighton was one of those students who was at the Union in 1960, as an 18 year old freshman. He called that exciting evening a great introduction to his college career. “I can remember that moment fifty years earlier like it was yesterday.” While Bob did not serve in the Peace Corps, he is especially proud that his niece Alyssa – a Michigan grad – has participated in the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Madagascar.
For many of the current students on hand early Thursday, attendance was predicated by an understanding of the significance of the Michigan moment. Freshman pre-med student Trisha Paul of Ann Arbor said “It’s really cool to think that 50 years ago, the idea of the Peace Corps got started here.” She added the Peace Corps is definitely still alive, saying people she knows want to be a part of it.
For Natalie Erb, a Peace Corps experience through the Masters International program may be in her future. A history major and graduating junior from San Diego, Natalie said Peace Corps is very attractive because of the way it immerses volunteers into a community. “It was very inspirational to be around people who had all those (Peace Corps) experiences.”
The new generation to carry the torch was not restricted to college age students. We met three excited sixteen year-olds, who traveled to Ann Arbor from Detroit where they are attending the Youth Service Institute weekend conference. The group decided they had to break away from the conference to be part of the gathering. “It is great being here, a once in a lifetime experience,” said Taban Flores of Ripley, Ohio. “I never thought I’d be so inspired at two in the morning!”
Watch the 2 a.m. speech by Alan Guskin, RPCV Thailand and student activist on our YouTube Channel.