Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion

Last week Senator Chris Dodd introduced the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act of 2009. I feel very proud of and inspired by the things he had to say. If you want to read the whole speech (and it's worth it), click here. Here are some of my favorite parts:

For 48 years, the Peace Corps has stood as a uniquely American institution. What other great nation would send its youth abroad, not to extend its power, not to intimidate its adversaries, not to kill and be killed, but to build, to dig, to teach, to empower - and to ask nothing in return?

And for 48 years, those young men and women - hundreds of thousands of them, myself included - have returned stronger, wiser, and inspired - prepared to live uniquely American lives of service and accomplishment.

For half a century, the Peace Corps has shaped not just these American lives, but the identity of all Americans: who we are as a people, and what we hope to achieve in the world.

It was a wild notion, so breathtakingly outrageous that it could only have been born out of idealism, youthful energy, and, perhaps the key element, too much caffeine.

The Peace Corps, you see, was born at two in the morning.

It was October 14, 1960, and Senator John F. Kennedy was running hours late for a campaign stop at the University of Michigan.

“How many of you,” he asked, “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?”

I believe that challenge is the Peace Corps’s founding document. It didn’t begin with a white paper or a TV ad. It began with a question.

In the days that followed the Kennedy rally at the student union, Michigan students drafted a petition, circulating it to colleges across the state and just a couple of weeks later presenting several scrolls to JFK containing thousands upon thousands of names. Thirty thousand additional letters flooded into Kennedy headquarters.

So, it’s fair to say that the answer to that question - are you willing to serve your country by serving the world? - was an overwhelming “yes.”

One of those young Americans was a 22-year-old English major from Providence College who arrived in the small village of Monción in the Dominican Republic. That young man spoke barely any Spanish. He had no idea what he was doing, and he certainly didn’t have a clue that, more than 40 years later, he’d be standing on the floor of the United States Senate, explaining that the Peace Corps gave him the richest two years of his life.

I owe those two years, and the impact they had on all my years since, to John F. Kennedy’s 2 a.m. question.

As Sargent Shriver said, “Peace Corps Volunteers come home to the USA realizing that there are billions-yes, billions-of human beings not enraptured by our pretensions, or our practices, or even our standards of conduct.”

Today, we honor that accomplishment. Let us commit to strengthening and expanding the Peace Corps by passing this legislation. Let us strive to inspire future generations to walk the path of service and exploration, the one that led me to the Dominican Republic and then, years later, to the U.S. Senate. And let us never lose that spirit, that idealism, that ambition that led a young President of a young nation to ask a generation to serve.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Thank you Senator.