For Graduation Season: A Message for the Young

“To America’s young people, who listen with despair to the nightly drum beat of bad news, I’m saying: Peace is the Answer. [...] After all, we are brothers and sisters living on a tiny, fragile planet, under the same sun.”
Sargent Shriver | New Haven, CT | November 10, 2001

Our Quote of the Week is a fitting piece of advice from Sargent Shriver for graduating students: that regardless of the turmoil they see and read about, they should focus on our common humanity and on building peace for all of us.

Two months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Sargent Shriver gave an Address at the Yale university’s Daily News Annual Banquet. He was on familiar territory; not only had he had 40 years of speaking to students about peace and service by then, but he was also a Yale alumnus and a former editor of the Yale Daily News. He addressed the turbulence of the US response to the terrorist attacks directly, stating:

“Today, it has become easier to stand up for military defense and also for aggressive action against enemies of our nation, especially if you are a New York policeman or fireman, a postal worker or a mayor of any city under attack. But it may not be so easy to stand for peace in a nation darkened by conflict, and looking to war for quick solutions.”

As was his inclination, he asked the audience to think creatively about the situation, and not to rely on what had worked in the past in times in conflict:

"[W]e have to ask ourselves: NOT what has served us well in the past but, what has fundamentally changed, and how should our political, diplomatic, and service institutions behave in this radically new world?”

And in this context, he underlined that it is not our material interests that we should be defending in times of conflict; it should be our peace.

“What have we got that’s worth defending, worth dying for? I say that peace is the answer. No matter how many bombs we drop, no matter how skillfully our soldiers fight, we are not responding to the ultimate challenge until we show the world how and why we must all learn to live in peace, until peace becomes the only permanent alternative to war.”

“Peace is much more than the mere absence of war. Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.”

As the Founding Director of the Peace Corps, Shriver then brought up that the Peace Corps could have a role in bringing about peace in this “radically new world.” He reminded the audience of the three goals of the Peace Corps:

"(1) to provide technical assistance to poor people; (2) to promote better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and (3) to bring the world home to America.”

And he added that in the 21st century, a fourth goal could be added:

“We’ve struggled with words for the Fourth Goal, but let me give you the sense of it: to bind all human beings together in a common cause to assure peace and survival for all.”

He then made an impassioned plea for us all to empower our young people to face the world as it is, and to eradicate its primary scourges, poverty and militarism.

“Let us unleash the power of young people in all nations to see the world for what it is now, and then go out to change it for the better. Let’s join in common cause with all countries to eradicate poverty and militarism.”

In this season of endings and new beginnings for our young people, let us create the conditions that will allow them to be simultaneously grounded in the reality of the world around them, AND to be determined to make it a more peaceful and prosperous place for all of us.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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