For some, it is the sense of adventure. For some, it is the desire to serve others. And for some, it is the most memorable part of their lives.
On Wednesday, the University of Miami helped honor the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps’ commitment to creating global citizens and promoting unity across cultures. The event featured a panel discussion with President Donna E. Shalala, Director of the Peace Corps Aaron Williams, Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibarguen and Founder of Educate Tomorrow Virginia Emmons McNaught.
Titled “Honoring Our Past, Inspiring Future Generations,” those on the panel described their personal experiences with the Peace Corps and how it usually inspired them to continue service even at home. The youngest of eight children and from a poor family, McNaught was largely inspired by her Peace Corps experience in Niger, West Africa, to create Educate Tomorrow, a non-profit organization dedicated to end poverty worldwide through education.
According to the panelists, the Peace Corps also helps volunteers learn valuable skills in languages, develop an appreciation for diverse cultures and take on a “can-do” attitude.
But Williams believes that the connections formed while working for the Peace Corps are the most important part of the experience.
“In the 21st century, it is so important to be interconnected,” Williams said. “College graduates should invest in themselves to make a difference. They are natural ambassadors to help young people abroad.”
Started in 1961 by former President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps has now expanded to various countries, from the Caribbean to Asia. Countries invite the Peace Corps to send volunteers to work on development projects for 27 months.
For instance, Shalala spent her two years in Iran, teaching English and gaining insight into the Iranian lifestyle.
Williams worked in the Dominican Republic during the ‘60s. He said it changed the way he looks at the world today.
“I had heard about Kennedy’s speech and thought it would be important to join,” Williams said. “It is a great privilege to return as director.”
Aside from the panel, the UM community and general public could also visit the “Making a Difference” Job Fair. The fair brought various government organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and City Year, to present the available opportunities for those interested in government work.
Students, like junior Saira Sumbal, thought the fair was a great way to build relationships that may help after college.
“Networking lets one to compare and see what one organization offers that the other doesn’t,” Sumbal said.
Others, like senior Andre Heard, were more interested in the Peace Corps discussion.
“Since I am in the middle of the application process, I thought it would be good to listen,” Heard said. “I see the Peace Corps as a first step to a job which allows me to see the world.”
As one of the top producers of Peace Corps volunteers, UM hopes it can continue to inspire more students to follow the panel’s footsteps. Currently, 23 of the university’s alumni serve.
During the discussion, McNaught pointed out only one disadvantage to the Peace Corps.
“It is a travesty that the experience only lasts two years,” she said.