Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale hosted a reception in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps at the Department of State on March 15, 2011.
Returned Peace Corps volunteers, ambassadors from the 139 countries that have hosted Peace Corps volunteers, Members of Congress, members of the diplomatic community, and Shriver and Kennedy family members attended the event. Peace Corps Director Williams presented the Shriver Family with a Lifetime Achievement Award to commemorate the Honorable Sargent Shriver's legacy of public service.
Though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton could not be there in person, she delivered a video message, thanking those who have served in the Peace Corps and honoring the mission of the Peace Corps -- to promote world peace and friendship. Secretary Clinton said:
"I am delighted to send my very best wishes as you celebrate the more than 200,000 Americans who have answered the call to service first issued by President Kennedy and Sargent Shriver in 1961.
"For 50 years, Peace Corps volunteers have been our ambassadors to the world. They're often the first American in their host community and the first American that many have ever met. They share their generosity, creativity and skills in ways that change lives and deepen understanding across cultures.
"I have seen first-hand the enthusiasm and commitment of our volunteers around the world. I will never forget meeting volunteer Muriel Johnston in Morocco, who at age 86 reminds all of us to dream big and follow our hearts. Many of my colleagues as the State Department and at USAID began their careers in the Peace Corps, and it gave them the foundation to bridge cultural divides and inspired them to think about what we can accomplish together so around the world countless individuals have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and live up to their potential because a Peace Corps volunteer changed their lives.
"The world has moved on since 1961, but the agency's mission to promote world peace and friendship is timeless. On behalf of the State Department and USAID, I would like to thank all Peace Corps volunteers past, present, and future for your commitment to peace and friendship."
After the Secretary delivered her message, Under Secretary McHale said, "Secretary Clinton's remarks reminded me of another famous Secretary of State. In 1961 Dean Rusk predicted -- and I quote -- 'If the Peace Corps can let other peoples find out what this country is all about, we shall be surprised to discover how many allies America has all over the world.' Fifty years later, we can see just how accurate Secretary Rusk's prediction was and how important it remains today."
Under Secretary McHale continued, "...For 50 years, the Peace Corps has strengthened our nation and forged connections with the formerly far places of the world. Imagine what another 50 years will bring both for us and our partner countries. In February of 1961, a young woman named Jackie Marie Cipiti was one of thousands of energized youth who wrote a letter to President Kennedy. Jackie was preparing to graduate from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She was eager to know more about President Kennedy's proposed Youth Corps and to find out how she could serve. She wrote, and I quote, 'We as Americans, but more than Americans, as people of a world community, must think big. And these thoughts must be accompanied by small actions -- small actions which are as building bricks, placed one upon the other, until the idea becomes a reality.' Well, for over half a century, Peace Corps volunteers just like Jackie have been building their big ideas into a better reality for us all -- brick by brick, classroom by classroom, village by village, in countries all over the world.
"Our world today changes from moment to moment. People can make and break connections with the click of a mouse. But the Peace Corps remains an unshakable emblem of America's enduring friendship with the world and of our shared commitment to work towards a brighter future for us all. So with Secretary Clinton, and on behalf of everyone at the State Department, I want to thank the Peace Corps and more than 200,000 American volunteers for 50 years of service. Your work has touched the lives of millions of people around the world. You make a difference every day. And I wish the Peace Corps many more decades of good work."
You can read Secretary Clinton and Under Secretary McHale's complete remarks here.