In 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy stood on a staircase at the University of Michigan and summoned students to service in developing countries. On March 1, 1961, the newly elected President Kennedy signed an executive order establishing, an agency “…responsible for training and service abroad of men and women of the United States in new programs of assistance to nations and areas of the world…¹” This agency was the Peace Corps.
Senator Kennedy delivers speech to University of Michigan Students, October 14, 1960. Courtesy of the Peace Corps
Anouncer: Ann Arbor had its first visit from a presidential candidate in about twenty years early this morning, when John Kennedy arrived from New York City.
Crowds had been gathering since about 10 o'clock last night.
The senator arrived at the Michigan Union at about 1:45 a.m. this morning.
Some 5,000 persons were on hand to greet him at that time.
John Kennedy: I want to express my thanks to you, as a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University. I come here tonight [static] but I am delighted to have the opportunity to say one or two words on this campaign which is now coming into the last three weeks.
I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 193[? static], mostly because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s.
The opportunity must be seized. And the judgment of the President, the vigor of the executive, the cooperation of the Congress, through these I think we can make the greatest possible difference.
Interpolation by broadcast announcer: He challenged the assembled students to work for the United States. And then he mentioned the fact that it was getting quite late and all should go to bed.
How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers.
Kennedy: How many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?
On your willingness to do that not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country,
I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete.
I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute.
But the effort must be far greater than we've ever made in the past.
And, therefore, I am delighted to come to Michigan, this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you this country can't possibly move through the next ten years in a period of relative strength.
So I come here tonight to go to bed!
But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort...
This university... this university... this is the longest short speech I've ever made and I'll, therefore, finish it! May I just say in conclusion, that this college, this university, is not maintained by its alumni, by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle.
There is certainly a greater purpose, and I'm sure you recognize it.
And, therefore, I do not apologize... for asking for your support in this campaign.
I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade. Thank you.