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Kevin F. F. Quigley

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The Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary Celebration

Posted: 10/13/2010 9:00 am

After years of planning, the 50th anniversary celebration is finally here!

One thing that is increasingly clear is that in order for this golden anniversary to be successful, it has to be about much more than celebrating the accomplishments of the past. Rather, this anniversary year needs to be about the future. In particular, we need to take advantage of this anniversary to revitalize the Peace Corps so that it makes more progress in advancing its timeless mission of making the world more peaceful and prosperous.

Since the Peace Corps was established in 1961, the world has changed utterly. Now, more of us live in cities than the countryside. We have far greater access to education and health care, and many of us live longer. Perhaps most strikingly, the world is interconnected through technology, trade, and travels in ways unimaginable just a half-century ago.

Despite this, some fundamental things are unchanged: our world is far from peaceful and too many individuals live in need.

In planning for this anniversary year, we kept a number of principles in mind: 1) whatever we do should advance the fundamental work of the Peace Corps, 2) activities should enable participation by anybody who values the Peace Corps, and 3) the momentum from the anniversary year should propel the work of the Peace Corps and its community for decades to come.

To lay a solid foundation for this anniversary effort, three years ago we launched a campaign to generate more resources for the Peace Corps so that it could realize much more of its initial promise. These hoped-for resources were not just more money but also innovative ideas and entrepreneurial new leadership.

Due to the remarkable work of our community, this campaign had unprecedented success. We helped secure the highest appropriation in the agency's history, and supported new leadership and a set of innovative ideas that can help improve the Peace Corps.

With this foundation now in place, the future-oriented anniversary events can begin. These events will begin where it all started: at the University of Michigan. There, along with the University and the Brookings Institution, the National Peace Corps Association is organizing a symposium on international volunteering.

On March 1, 2011, the day that the Peace Corps was established through an Executive Order, there will be a global birthday party with participants in the 139 countries where the Peace Corps has been and individuals in all 50 states.

On September 22-25, 2011, coinciding with the half-century anniversary of the signing of the Peace Corps Act, there will be a set of capstone events in Washington, D.C. One of these events, we hope, will be a ceremony at the site of a future commemorative to the historical significance of the founding of the Peace Corps and the values that it represents. We expect that this new commemorative will be near the National Mall, which helps record and narrates our evolving American story, and will be a welcome supplement to the other national commemoratives regarding service, courage and sacrifice.

This commemorative would be one manifest expression of our collective efforts to "bring the world back home" and perhaps the most tangible means to promote "...a better understanding ofother peoples on the part of the American people."

Throughout this anniversary year, we will also be showcasing the winners of our "My Piece of the Peace Corps," YouTube Video Contest. We have received poignant entries from host country colleagues whose lives have been touched and transformed by the Peace Corps.

We look forward to these upcoming events, especially as we use this golden anniversary year to help the Peace Corps play its part in building a more peaceful and prosperous world in the future.