Chancellor Block speaks at a basketball banquet; Chancellor Block, in academic attire, speaks at Commencement; Chancellor Block gestures with his hands

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Commemoration

Royce Hall

March 2, 2011


Good evening. I’m Gene Block—I’m chancellor of UCLA, and it’s my great pleasure to welcome you to our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.

The birth of the Peace Corps signaled to the world “what together we can do for the freedom of man,” as President Kennedy said in his inaugural address.

In the five decades since, the Peace Corps has translated the idealism and noble ambition of hundreds of thousands of Americans into international partnership and mutual respect. 

Peace Corps volunteers have helped their adopted communities build roads, provide clean water supplies and prevent disease. They have taught algebra, sign language, computer skills and organic farming. In turn, the Corps’ “practical idealists” were enriched by their experiences and by the relationships they forged with their hosts.

Like the Peace Corps, UCLA was molded out of a sense of optimism and a dedication to service. So it’s no wonder we have enjoyed this long-standing partnership.

Although UCLA was just 42 years young at the time, our campus was chosen as one of the original training sites largely because our African and Latin American studies faculty who were recognized as among the nation’s premier scholars in their fields.

During the Peace Corps’ first six years, about 10 percent of its volunteers trained here. Several of them are here tonight, and many have traveled great distances to join this celebration. Welcome back. Please join me in a round of applause. [Applause] 

Overall, more than 1,800 Bruins have served in the Peace Corps. And today, UCLA is sixth among large universities in terms of the number of graduates in the program.

I’m proud to share with you that we received a letter from First Lady Michelle Obama—recognizing our strong partnership and offering congratulations on this milestone anniversary. We are deeply appreciative that the first lady took time to share her thoughts with us.

We take great pride in UCLA’s contributions to the Peace Corps, and this week, we pay tribute to this great American institution for what it has given to UCLA and to our country.

What began in a unique era of American optimism has promoted human solidarity for half a century. 

Our celebration is tempered because of the recent passing of the Peace Corps’ first director, Sargent Shriver. The Peace Corps’ enduring success owes much to his spirit and to his vision. We’re honored tonight to have his daughter, Maria, and son, Bobby, here with us. 

Sargent Shriver’s devotion to service helped spur a national culture of volunteerism—a commitment that UCLA builds upon through our full range of volunteer programs.  

I would like to thank the UCLA faculty, staff and students, and the former Peace Corps volunteers who helped organize this week’s events.

I also want to give special recognition to vice chancellor emeritus Elwin Svenson—or Sven as we say on campus—who spearheaded the establishment of Peace Corps training at UCLA. We were fortunate that he was directly engaged at the very beginning and helped to shape this very successful program. He is currently our executive director of international programs at our Anderson School. 

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce director Aaron Williams.  

Director of the Peace Corps since 2009, he is the organization’s fourth leader to have been a Peace Corps volunteer—he served in the Dominican Republic from 1967 to 1970 and was a project evaluation officer in Chicago in the early 1970s.

Director Williams has had a long and distinguished career in global development and aid. He was a vice president of the nonprofit RTI International, and a senior manager at the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he attained the rank of Career Minister in the U.S. Senior Foreign Service.

He is a two-time winner of the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service.

And we are delighted that Aaron will speak at our College commencement this June, and we look forward to having him back to campus. I have promised the director that there will be better weather when he visits us in June.

So please join me in welcoming Peace Corp director Aaron Williams.