Friday, April 22, 2011

The Peace Corps at 50

"In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps, forever changing the way America sees the world and the world sees us. Today, one of President Kennedy's most enduring legacies can be found in the over 200,000 current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have collectively given over a half century of service to the cause of peace. On its 50th anniversary, the United States Peace Corps remains an enduring symbol of our Nation's commitment to encouraging progress, creating opportunity, and fostering mutual respect and understanding throughout the world." President Barack Obama, February 28, 2011

In a couple of months, my son will join the ranks of those who have chosen to serve in the Peace Corps and though the world seems more cynical, he is not. He believes in the power of individuals to make a difference in places most Americans will never visit or even hear about. For two years and three months, in jobs that will change him for sure, he will engage in national service on an international scale, somewhere in East Asia, somewhere on the water. I admire his willingness to undertake what will surely be an elating and extremely challenging set of experiences. It takes courage and heart to join the Peace Corps and be successful in it. He has that in abundance. It is definitely not about the money--time enough to work on that for the rest of his life.

What does it mean when you raise a child to think of him or herself as part of the larger world and not only a citizen of a specific country? Surely it means that when they leave home they will likely leave thousands of miles and scores of countries between you--not a comforting thought to an aging parent But how can I object in any way? My husband and I set the play in motion through scores of excursions outside the U.S., countless meals and adventures with people not from "here." and early and continuous exposure to volunteering to help people in other countries with so much less materially than we are used to, but sometimes so much more otherwise. That's just who we are and the way we have chosen to live and out of those choices another choice has been made.

Congratulations Thomas. You are now an official citizen of a world that needs you and thousands like you. Here's to the world's practical idealists and to the Peace Corps. May they continue to thrive.