St. Louis University Commencement Speech

Kiel Auditorium | June 2, 1962

For we are called upon today, in our time of power as a nation, to show the same greatness of spirit that we felt in our early promise, and to do so not only for ourselves, but for the world.

I must begin by thanking you very simply, but most sincerely, for the honor of being admitted as a member of this place of learning. It suggests to me what I have recently noted in Washington that syntax has once again become constitutional. Our nation has often been led by scholars who dared to be statesmen and by statesmen who never lost respect for scholars. The return of this ancient tradition merely proves that a new frontier can sometimes be found by following an old path.

Washington and Missouri may be separated by geography; but they certainly are united by history and by hope. Some of our most important experience as a people found their expression here among the men and women who, in distant days, cherished the dream that schools, colleges, and universities would arise in these new settlements on the frontier. They could have been excused if they had deferred their plans to a later day, for they faced more problems than opportunities. They had a vast community to tame and settle. The tasks of material development were numerous and severe, and there was no reprieve from responsibility. The price of survival was the ability to make constant progress. Yet this early generation of Americans, we must always remember, had such a passion for education that they insisted on the school and the university being among the essential purposes of their work.

In this community today, as in so many other places across America, we are the heirs and beneficiaries of this great tradition. New occasions teach new duties; but there is guidance also in our memory of this heroic past. For we are called upon today, in our time of power as a nation, to show the same greatness of spirit that we felt in our early promise, and to do so not only for ourselves, but for the world. Our educational responsibilities to the free world are awesome. America, like education itself, has not come into the world with a small vocation. There are still many challenges for those who think that more happiness and fulfillment are to be won, for individuals as for a nation, by serving a cause larger than oneself, by concentrating one's life and energy on a great and worthy object rather than on a crafty little inventory of personal advantage. That, at least, is my own faith; and I am glad to be admitted to this community of scholars because I believe that in essence we share the same ideals and hopes. I feel that I can speak to you today under the sanction and inspiration of these shared ideals; and in that knowledge I find both glory in the past and hope for the future.

At the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, today, we are trying to develop a creative union between statesmen and scholars. We may not have the statesmen, but we certainly have the scholars. Thirty-one Ph.D's, 43 M.A.'s, 23 LLB'S - out of about 275 persons. Among our Peace Corps Representatives in Latin America alone there are 8 doctorates, from institutions like Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and the University of Chicago.  In less than a year, Peace Corps training contracts have been signed with 36 institutions of higher learning, ranging from the Ivy League in the East through the Mid-western universities like St. Louis through the Southwest and far West.

These university training programs often record "firsts, in American education like the first Nepal area studies program at George Washington University or the first Ethiopian area studies program at Georgetown, and the first Tanganyika studies program at Texas Western in El Paso. 

And our volunteers are learned people. Of the first 1150 volunteers more than two-thirds had bachelor degrees. And 1 in 10 has an advanced degree, an M.A. or Ph.D.

The Peace Corps has already placed 10 teachers on the faculty of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok; 8 teachers on the faculty of the University of the East in Venezuela; 30 on the faculty of the University of Nigeria. Soon we shall have 8 teachers at the University of Huamanga in Peru, 25 teachers at the University of Ife in Nigeria, 25 teachers at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City and Los Banos. And by September 1, with our 300 secondary school teachers in Ethiopia, we will have added 50% to the total staff of the Ethiopian secondary school system. Of all the occupations, teachers are most in demand.

It probably isn't going too far to add that the Peace Corps is the most important present vehicle through which college study programs can be internationalized. Every week we receive news of another academic innovation involving the Peace Corps. At the University of California, there is now available a Peace Corps minor. Wesleyan College recently asked if we could coordinate our training with their program for the Master's in Arts in Teaching, so that each of their graduates would receive a certificate as a Peace Corps Teacher as well as the Wesleyan M.A. in Teaching. And it is now a commonplace that academic credit, undergraduate and graduate, is offered for the service and study of volunteers overseas. 

But with all this effort to join statesmanship and scholarship, we have much more to do than we have done. Last week, an experienced missionary from Chile was in Washington talking to government officials about the nature of the Latin American revolution. This revolution, he said, is more than an economic revolution. It requires more than a program for economic development. It is a "social revolution, and it is inevitable." The Latin American masses have over the past centuries borne -- their frugal destiny with amazing apathy, but they are now waking up in an explosive way to social aspirations well beyond the available economic resources. It is the old story of the champagne taste and the beer pocketbook.

Luis Munoz-Marin, Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, has recently made the same point. He said: "the economic body of Latin America is being nourished, but the heart is not." Munoz-Marin insists that there is little or no popular support for American economic aid from within Latin America. Economic. Aid, he said, appears to Latin Americans as an American policy with a "Made in the U.S.A." trademark. 

Both men agree that while the governments of North and South America talk to one another, the Communists talk to the people.. And what are the universities doing about it? Not as much as they should. Jesuit colleges and universities and many others admit Latin American students. But how many of them are from aristocratic and upper-class families? And what do these young men study? The liberal arts or science, or perhaps one of the professions, law, engineering or medicine.

But do we have any idea what kinds of Latin American students are studying in Russian universities and in the universities of Latin America? They are not the rich students, but the poor ones, and the Communists carefully select the brightest and most disaffected. What do they study? Not the learned professions, the studies that tend toward leadership today. The poor, bright, disaffected Communists-influenced student studies subjects which will bring leadership tomorrow: politics and economics, labor relations and technology. These are the students who rarely enter the ivy-covered walls of North American universities.

As much as we improve our performance here at home, it is overseas that the battle is being fought. And it is a battle for more than men's minds; it is also a battle for their souls. Graduates of St. Louis University must be aware that one-third of the world's Catholics are in Latin America; one of every three Catholics speaks Spanish or a related tongue. Yet, a Sao Paulo priest, Father Edmund N. Leising, recently reported that 2,000 Catholics a day in Brazil are losing their faith, that only 3 percent of the Catholics in Sao Paulo practice Catholicism to the extent of hearing Mass on Sunday. I believe that when Our Lord told the apostles "You shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth," He had Sao Paulo in mind, and St. Louis too.

This is why I am so pleased by the new St. Louis University project in Honduras. It is not only an instance of uniting scholarship with statesmanship, but another case of a university adopting a country and planning to work there in the coming years. Last year, Notre Dame began the first Peace Corps university-administered program in Chile; this year the second contingent will train at Purdue. Georgetown University in Washington just signed a contract to train the largest single Peace Corps group to go overseas: 300 volunteers for Ethiopia. Georgetown has also one of the smallest, and most critical projects: 12 nurses and teachers for Afghanistan where 2,000 Russian technicians are already at work. 

These projects are good for the Universities and for the Peace Corps. They are also good for helping to solve our problems in Latin America and elsewhere in the world.

In the case of Georgetown and St. Louis, the projects are especially interesting because both Ethiopia and Honduras have Jesuits working in the field. One can easily imagine the growth of international faculties, of libraries, and publications emanating from these projects as they develop.

In Washington, D. C. we now have a Consortium of 7 universities pooling their faculties and resources to train up to 600 volunteers this summer. There are 11 countries involved – ranging from fishermen for Togo to college teachers for Nepal. We have high hopes for this Consortium – one of the first in American higher education – but we are also aware that international, not merely inter-university, faculty exchanges are possible through cooperation between universities and the Peace Corps.

For example, we have contacted some young American poets and asked them to go to South America as faculty members at universities. We have asked poets to do this because many Latin Americans think of the United States as a place inhabited 100 per cent by business men working for Sears Roebuck, Socony Vacuum, Anaconda Copper and Pan American Grace, not to mention United Fruit. 

And we are exploring the possibility of sending a jazz combo to a South American nation. Music is a language which opens many minds as well as many hearts. Jazz is popular, especially with the younger people in South America, and we have been lucky enough to find a group of brilliant young jazz musicians, all of them college graduates, three with-M.A.s, who have indicated they are willing to give up their promising careers to serve in the Peace Corps for two years at $75 a month.

Maybe we have some Jazz musicians among you graduates here today, and maybe Father Henle or someone else here at St. Louis University has spoken to you about Peace Corps service - for the work in Honduras calls for this University to do some recruiting. But I would warn that recruiting is a difficult job among Catholic college graduates. Let me give you some sobering statistics. All of the Jesuit colleges and universities in America have given the Peaces Corps only 48 out of 1350 volunteers.  Marquette University has contributed the largest number – 8.  If St. Louis University itself procured all of the 25 volunteers for the Honduras project, it would – at one stroke – do half as well as all Jesuit colleges and universities combined.

And St. Louis University would then be equal to Harvard and Columbia, both of whom have sent 24 volunteers. And it would surpass Notre Dame and its 11 volunteers.

I said earlier that our volunteers are learned people, citing their bachelor degrees. But some-people in America think the B. A. degree, like the high 'school diploma of 50 years ago, is becoming commonplace. Such is certainly not the case in much of the world. I don't want to confuse you – I just spoke of the Honduras project – but let us take British Honduras, a country with 93,000 people of whom only 33 have graduated from college. When the Peace Corps sends 40 volunteers there in September, we will have doubled the educated class of that country.

One Jesuit there told us recently that British Honduras needed help so badly it would take any warm bodies the Peace Corps had. I can assure him that the bodies we send will be warm, but so will the heart and soul animating the bodies. It may even be that our 40 volunteers in British Honduras will outnumber the Jesuits there. When one speaks of numbers it is well to remember that missionary movements never have enlisted millions of people, but they have been quite effective. If we measured the number' of Jesuits, Benedictines, Franciscans, and Dominicans, for example we should have no real index of their powerful and effective work. 

I have become convinced that our small Peace Corps (we now number 1350 overseas and in training) is a new American export, one that the Soviets can’t match. The Russians can export everything except people. From colonial times, we American have witnessed the great flood-tide of migration to our shores. We have said to the oppressed of other lands: come live with us. Even before a grateful French nation erected the Statue of Liberty, its meaning was clear and evident to the world. From the beginning of our republic, we have turned a friendly face to freedom loving peoples around the world.

But I see another kind of migration in the Peace Corps. Beginning inside America, rather than outside, it nonetheless is turned toward helping others – as the first migration was. It is in the best tradition of America’s historic generosity. This migration says: let us live with you and let us share not merely the world's goods, but a common humanity and a desire for peace.

Arnold Toynbee recently said that the Peace Corps represents to the non-Western majority of mankind a sample of Western man at his best.  After visiting our Peace Corps headquarters in Washington recently, he wrote, "Travel in present-day Asia, Africa and Latin America and you will see living examples of the terrible things that are said about the rich in the Gospels." He spoke also of "the thousands of Westerners, scattered all over the world, doing jobs in non-Western countries doing good work," he said, "in a disinterested spirit; but they have been living in closed communities in a virtual state of siege, importing even their food and drink from their Western home base, for fear that the local food and drink might be poison. They have, in fact, been segregated as the prisoners of their higher material standard of living." Toynbee does not say, but I would add that some Americans would package American air if they could and breathe it in non-Western countries.

Toynbee, like other Western intellectual leaders, sees the Peace Corps in a large and noble perspective. "The human race," he says, "is of greater account than any particular section of it...Our hope of salvation lies in leaning to live together like a single family...Any effort to breakdown the insulating barriers is a service to the human race as a whole; and this is the ultimate significance of the Peace Corps."

I have spoken of the Peace Corps volunteer as an American export. And how do the importers feel about the volunteer? Here is an example from Father Thomas Cronin, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish on the Island of Negros in the Philippine Islands. He says: 

"More than 300 Peace Corps men arrived recently in the Philippines. The impact of their arrival was greater than the impact of the 50-megaton bomb exploded by friend Khrushchev. And the fallout promises to be more effective still. This is the first time that a major power has crossed the ocean with books, not guns, brains not bombs, for peace in order to win a war.

This is the greatest export the U.S. has ever made. Better than sewing machines, T.V. sets, refrigerators, tractors, or jeeps. All the world loves the Irish. And well they might. For years the Irish have been exporting the most popular commodity on the market. Real live human beings.  Mostly priests and nuns, who in one capacity or another end up teaching people of every shade of color in the human spectrum. And now the U. S. is catching on....For most of the people out here, America means Al Capone, Billy the Kid, Marilyn Monroe, divorce, two cars in the garage and one lonesome baby in an overstuffed cradle in a jumbo sized house. They like us all right. They figure America is like a Moslem's heaven – a dream impossible of attainment....A new image is taking shape. True, America has been helping people all over the world with food and clothing. But always we send things. Now we are sending people, people whom the people of Asia can get to know as the real Americans. They will eat their food, they will sleep on mats in nipa huts, they will pet their babies. They will teach with their teachers, they will farm with their farmers, they will nurse with their nurses. One American living in a Filipino town is worth more than a whole boatload of corn. A boatload of corn is hard to digest, but a real live American, him they can love. The U. S. had finally realized that superiority in the realm of material things is useless without the corresponding superiority in things of the spirit. To my mind nothing typifies that new attitude more than the Peace Corps. May their tribe increase.

In my opening remarks, I alluded to the development of the mid-western United States and its commitment to education. And I have spoken of the new relation between statesmen and scholars. None of this should be alien to the Jesuit tradition here at St. Louis University. St. Ignatius was not afraid to break new trails. For example, the Jesuits at the beginning had no distinctive habits for their members. And I would add that one of the first rules of the order required its members to learn the language of the country in which they resided. Surely there is much in common between these ideals and the Peace Corps.

But the problems of world leadership are now larger even, than those envisioned by St. Ignatius. Even if it be true, as Dr. George N. Shuster has said, that if the Jesuits way of dealing with non-Western peoples had become the rule, we should now be living in amity with many peoples today for whom we are oppressors and imperialists, we must still say - with Dr. Shuster - "I may be an incorrigible skeptic, but I wonder whether even St. Ignatius were he amongst us at the moment, could extricate us from the impasse to which colonialism and the assumption of race superiority have brought us."

The Peace Corps is no panacea, but it is a long stride forward in the right direction. Service in the Peace Corps is not a tourist trip, not a debating tournament, not a prolongation of adolescence, nor a way to make money. But it is a way - one of the new and exciting ways in American life - to bring together the virtues of the statesman with those of the scholar.  It is a way of participating in modern history and a way of expressing the new face of America. 

One enters the Peace Corps to give; not to get something. What you give is yourself and the American values that are a part of you. It is these values that the world needs today.

A professor friend of mine, now working with the Peace Corps told me recently that life in Washington was to be distinguished from life on the campus in this way:  in Washington, the distinction between the urgent and the important is not drawn often enough so that one does the urgent thinking it is the important; in the universities, on the other hand, the distinction is clearly drawn, but they do not think the important is urgent.

I know this is not true of St. Louis University, for you both draw the distinction and think that important things are urgent. As the history of this great institution and the Peace Corps develop together, new and even greater relations between scholars and statesmen will develop. Let us look forward to that day as our forbearers looked forward to the establishment of centers of learning here at St. Louis. There are many new frontiers and surely one of the greatest is the union between men of affairs and men of intellect. It is in this spirit that I thank you again for the honor of being admitted to membership in this community of scholars, teachers, and students.