June 28, 2009

Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion

Last week Senator Chris Dodd introduced the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act of 2009. I feel very proud of and inspired by the things he had to say. If you want to read the whole speech (and it's worth it), click here. Here are some of my favorite parts:

For 48 years, the Peace Corps has stood as a uniquely American institution. What other great nation would send its youth abroad, not to extend its power, not to intimidate its adversaries, not to kill and be killed, but to build, to dig, to teach, to empower - and to ask nothing in return?

And for 48 years, those young men and women - hundreds of thousands of them, myself included - have returned stronger, wiser, and inspired - prepared to live uniquely American lives of service and accomplishment.

For half a century, the Peace Corps has shaped not just these American lives, but the identity of all Americans: who we are as a people, and what we hope to achieve in the world.

It was a wild notion, so breathtakingly outrageous that it could only have been born out of idealism, youthful energy, and, perhaps the key element, too much caffeine.

The Peace Corps, you see, was born at two in the morning.

It was October 14, 1960, and Senator John F. Kennedy was running hours late for a campaign stop at the University of Michigan.

“How many of you,” he asked, “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?”

I believe that challenge is the Peace Corps’s founding document. It didn’t begin with a white paper or a TV ad. It began with a question.

In the days that followed the Kennedy rally at the student union, Michigan students drafted a petition, circulating it to colleges across the state and just a couple of weeks later presenting several scrolls to JFK containing thousands upon thousands of names. Thirty thousand additional letters flooded into Kennedy headquarters.

So, it’s fair to say that the answer to that question - are you willing to serve your country by serving the world? - was an overwhelming “yes.”

One of those young Americans was a 22-year-old English major from Providence College who arrived in the small village of MonciĆ³n in the Dominican Republic. That young man spoke barely any Spanish. He had no idea what he was doing, and he certainly didn’t have a clue that, more than 40 years later, he’d be standing on the floor of the United States Senate, explaining that the Peace Corps gave him the richest two years of his life.

I owe those two years, and the impact they had on all my years since, to John F. Kennedy’s 2 a.m. question.

As Sargent Shriver said, “Peace Corps Volunteers come home to the USA realizing that there are billions-yes, billions-of human beings not enraptured by our pretensions, or our practices, or even our standards of conduct.”

Today, we honor that accomplishment. Let us commit to strengthening and expanding the Peace Corps by passing this legislation. Let us strive to inspire future generations to walk the path of service and exploration, the one that led me to the Dominican Republic and then, years later, to the U.S. Senate. And let us never lose that spirit, that idealism, that ambition that led a young President of a young nation to ask a generation to serve.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Thank you Senator.

June 20, 2009


“When I was a child my mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general; if you become a monk, you'll end up as the pope. Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."

Such a cool idea isn't it? Picasso wasn’t always “Picasso.” He was just a painter, that’s who he was and who he wanted to be. Fame (empty words) came later but had nothing to do with who he knew he needed to be. It's our destiny to figure out who we are and then fully become that person. What we are truly capable of will astound us and being our truest self is the single greatest adventure we could ever have. Try. You won't fail.

June 18, 2009

To Change Often

The biggest reason I was scared of coming to America was my fear of change. Things were going so well in Mongolia for me and I was so happy that I didn't want that to change. I was even a little sick to my stomach sometimes, wondering what being gone for five weeks would mean. I know that might sound silly, but think back to when you left home for school, or when you left a loved one for a long period of time. What would coming back be like? Better? How could it be better if things were already wonderful?

I think things can improve beyond wonderful for three reasons: (1) things had to change in order for you to get to the wonderful place you are at currently, (2) things always change, wonderful is a perspective and (3) you can control how you respond to your situation, that's it. I didn't learn all of this at once, and especially not on my own. Some things I hoped would be true (and they were) and some things my friends reminded me of as I was up at night wondering why my stomach hurt.

"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." I had never thought about being perfect in that way, but you have to adapt, grow, and be better constantly. It is easy to forget, but if things are wonderful right now that means you had to give up where you were before to be where you are now. You had to leave home to go to school, you had to leave your country to go overseas, you had to leave your old ideas of who you were to become someone you had never been before. If you are happy now, imagine how happy you will be tomorrow, and the next day. Keep growing and improving and you will blow your flippin' mind.

The fact is that everything is always changing, from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest galaxies. Whether we see that as wonderful or not actually tells us more about ourselves than anything else. We see the world as we are. Do we want it to be wonderful, full of opportunities, love and fun? That's a choice we can make ourselves. We are, and the world will be, what we think about day in and day out.

So once I really thought about what I could control I realized that the things that worried me regarding my five weeks away from Mongolia were the same things that worried me about leaving America over a year ago. I wanted to maintain close relationships, let people know I loved them and cared about them, and stay true to the things I believed in. I have learned that there are always ways to do those things no matter where you are, including sending cards, making calls, taking pictures (with other miniature ones even), taking time for reflection, and living in moment to moment awareness. At this level change becomes manageable, almost a day-to-day check list in my mind about the people and things I love and care about. Do my loved ones know I care about them? Did I show them that today? Am I living out what I believe in? If yes, perfect. If no, improve. Simple enough.

Needless to say, my worries about returning to a less wonderful Mongolia (or America for that matter) were unfounded. I have been completely astounded by how wonderful all of you are in both places. I am a very lucky person to know each of you and to be enjoying my life with you. Thank you for teaching me that change is nothing to be afraid of.

June 12, 2009

In The News

I have recently been in the news with the hard work of Catie Connors at Imprint Magazine and Gina Lindsey with the Observer News Enterprise. It was a pleasure to work with both of them and I am really excited that more people can learn about the work of Peace Corps through these two articles. Interest in Peace Corps is at an all-time high and we are all hoping that the role of Peace Corps expands even further with the support of our new President Barack Obama.

Catie's article, titled Post Grad Volunteering, published on May 24th, 2009 in Imprint Magazine which is an internet magazine geared toward college students.

Gina's article, originally titled A Whole New World (published as "Man Reflects on Peace Corps Work in Mongolia"), published on June 6th, 2009 in the Observer News Enterprise which is a local paper in my hometown of Hickory, North Carolina.

June 6, 2009

My Sister's Wedding

I want to brag on my sister a little bit. Her wedding was wonderful, she is wonderful and her new husband Chess is wonderful. I am so impressed by them both. They had such a relaxed wedding and everyone smiled so much that I think all of our faces were sore for days. The ceremony was very simple and very comfortable, definitely the kind of wedding that I look forward to having some time (a long time from now). She was thoughtful about the ceremony, about the music that she and Chess picked out (which was lighthearted, romantic, and funny all at the same time), and all the supplies that were used which were environmentally friendly too (cups, plates, napkins, and so on). I put up my favorite wedding pictures on Facebook and there are many more, growing day by day, at Shutterfly. It was an honor to be in my sister's wedding and it has always been a privilege to be her brother. Thank you Anna, for being so wonderful. I love you very much.

June 3, 2009

After Talking With Dad

If we don't decide what we are living for, who we want to be and what we believe, then we don't live. We just survive. We can be bought, we can be told what to do, we can trade our time for money. The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. We have to live at a higher level, we have to dedicate ourselves to something greater than ourselves, we have to believe that we can become the change we wish to see in the world. Whatever we expect the world to become will happen. We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are. It is great. It is horrible. It is doomed. It is improving. When we become the change we wish to see we do the one thing we can in our lifetime, we choose to live. We don't talk about it, we don't hope, or wish, or expect someone else to do it. We don't give up, we don't give in, we don't say things will always be the way they have been. We say that we will no longer stand idle or wanting, we will change things. We will take personal responsibility for every area of our lives and everything we influence. We will do everything in our power to make the change we expect. We will live the way we wish everyone else would. We are kind. We are helpful. We are sustainable. We don't tell anyone else how to live before we live that life ourselves. We dedicate ourselves to becoming the kind of people others will look to and be inspired by. We can do this or not, our world just depends on it.