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Posted on Tue, Oct 12, 2010 : 6:12 a.m.

University of Michigan kicks off Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebrations with national symposium and more

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the night then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy stood on the steps of the Michigan Union at 2 a.m. and asked University of Michigan students if they would be willing to help promote peace by taking their skills to work in developing countries around the world, saying:

How many of you 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? 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!

Out of that call was born the Peace Corps.

The University of Michigan is kicking off a year of national celebrations by hosting a series of events this week, including a national symposium on the future of international service, lectures, art exhibits, films, and a commemoration of Kennedy’s middle-of-the-night speech.

A few highlights from the University of Michigan website include:

October 13

National Symposium: The Future of International Service
8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Blau Auditorium, Ross School of Business
This symposium focuses on new initiatives and policies related to global service and kicks off a year-long series of events across the nation that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. This event is sponsored by U-M, the Brookings Institution, and the National Peace Corps Association, with support from the Building Bridges Coalition. Public welcome, registration not required; web streaming available.

Paul Theroux: How the Peace Corps Changed My Life
7 p.m., Hatcher Graduate Library, Library Gallery (Room 100)
The American travel writer and novelist will discuss the impact of the Peace Corps on his life. Sponsored by LSA Theme Semester ("What Makes Life Worth Living"), Hatcher Graduate Library, and the International Center.

October 14
A Passing of the Torch
1-2 a.m., Michigan Union steps
Special outdoor screening of A Passing of the Torch immediately before the commemoration of Senator Kennedy’s inspiring late-night speech on the steps of the Michigan Union on October 14, 1960. This new documentary captures the amazing set of circumstances, efforts, and coincidences that occurred, as well as the extraordinary people that made it all happen. This screening is sponsored by the Student Symposium, which directly precedes this screening.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at