THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND MARK GEARAN, DIRECTOR OF THE PEACE CORPS AT SWEARING-IN CEREMONY
The Indian Treaty Room
3:12 P.M. EDT
MR. GEARAN: So this is what it looks like up here. (Laughter.) Mr. President, I can remember the last time I was in the room. I was standing in the back. It was another normal day at the White House. I was standing there praying that the right set of talking points prepared for you would be appropriate for the audience. And I think, fortunately, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts -- (laughter) -- thought that your comments on nuclear nonproliferation were -- (laughter) -- right on point.
But I am deeply honored by this ceremony today. There are a lot of people who I should thank, but let me begin with you, Mr. President. It's been a tremendous honor and privilege to be a member of the White House staff and on your campaign for the past three years. It's been one of the most exciting periods in our lives. Your decision to nominate me to be the Director of the Peace Corps only increases my sense of pride that I have in being part of this administration.
The Peace Corps is a remarkable institution. And its previous directors have cast a very long shadow of which for me to operate. And I pledge all my energies that I have to meet the high standards that they have set.
So I am very grateful to you, Mr. President, for the confidence and the trust that you reposed in me in the opportunity that we now have to serve in the Peace Corps.
Vice President Gore, I will never forget the first day when I picked you and your family up in Carthage, Tennessee, to fly to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the announcement that you would join President Clinton as his running mate. Since that day you've been a source of great leadership to this administration. And I'm very grateful for your friendship, both to me and to my family.
And finally, let me thank the members of the administration, members of Congress and all of my friends here on the White House staff who join me today. Seeing all of you recalls some very fond memories and ones that I will never forget. (Laughter.)
And finally I'd like to -- I'd like to introduce my family, many of you all know -- my wife, Mary, and my daughter down here on the podium, Madeleine Gearan, who sits with her best friend, Madeline Frank. Madeleine is three. And, Mr. President, I'd like to remind you that when Madeline is old enough to become a Peace Corps volunteer, you will be eligible for Social Security. (Laughter.) I'm not making any political comments, it's -- (laughter). Sargent Shriver told me to --. I'd also like to introduce my mother and my aunt, and my brother Jay and his wife Janice, and my sister Mary Alice and her husband Bruce who join me.
To be the Director of the Peace Corps is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Few organizations, either public or private, have earned the kind of broad bipartisan support that the Peace Corps is so fortunate to have. The source of the Peace Corps' success, of course, is due in large measure to the work, the energy and the success of the volunteers all across the field. But let us also give credit to President Kennedy and the people who in 1961 helped him to turn a new vision of public service into a lasting reality.
I am very glad that one of the Peace Corps' founding fathers, Sargent Shriver, is here today. I have read a great deal about some of the hurdles that Sargent Shriver and others had when they set up the Peace Corps in 1961. And one of those challenges was to refute the notion that was popular at the time that young Americans could not meet the high, idealistic, ambitious goals that the Peace Corps was setting.
In our library at the Peace Corps, Mr. Shriver, I found an original transcript of a press briefing that you had March 6th, 1961. Listen to what Sargent Shriver said back then, when he was assuming the job that I am so very honored to have now: "The Peace Corps", he said, "is going to take a lot of people by surprise -- people who think America has gone soft, people who think that the pioneering spirit in America is dead, people who do not think our youth have the stamina or the curiosity, or the sympathy or the responsibility to become working representatives of the United States abroad."
Those words bear repetition today, because similar comments are often referred to today with a so-called "Generation X." We read a lot today about how young Americans are slackers; they have no ambition; they are jaded, cynical, too easily bored; that they're not up to the challenges that confront our country. But the Peace Corps has a way of reaffirming one's confidence about the future of our country. The popular perception about young people is just as wrong today as it was when Sargent Shriver held this job. Every day we receive thousands of inquiries at the Peace Corps about people who want to join. In that spirit of volunteerism, whether it's in the Peace Corps or a community organization, remains a very strong force in our society. Young people are redefining what it means to be successful today. They care a great deal about what's happening in our country and around the world. And they want to be a part of the solution of what we can do about it.
The Peace Corps of the '90s, however, is not just for those young people. We also have a way for Americans of every age, some into their 70s, who can bring their experience and their lifetime of contribution to work around the globe.
Americans across the political spectrum know that the Peace Corps is rooted in the values that it represents in the tangible impact that now more than 7,000 volunteers have in more than 90 countries across the globe. From the English teachers in Morocco, to the AIDS education efforts in Malawi, from the environmental workers in Panama or the Philippines, to the small business volunteers in Poland, Peace Corps is making a real difference in the lives of real people.
Over the course of 34 years, the Peace Corps' impact has perhaps been felt most on the children who in turn grow up and make a lasting contribution to their country and their society. Today there are several heads of state in Africa who were first taught by Peace Corps volunteers. And we can even claim to have an influence on the NBA for the star center of the Houston Rockets, Hakeem Olajuwon, was first taught basketball by a Peace Corps volunteer. (Laughter.) Don't think you'll be hearing a little more about that during -- (laughter).
So as we approach the next century, there will be new opportunities for volunteers to make a contribution and to lend their talents. I think the volunteers, along with 140,000 returned Peace Corps volunteers who have language skills, who have cross-cultural skills, can continue to serve and to do a great deal to respond to the natural disasters and the humanitarian efforts around the Earth.
Therefore, I will be in the coming months working on establishing a crisis corps within the Peace Corps, to help our neighbors in times of need. Ideas that have merit and institutions that have an impact always endure. That's been the history of the Peace Corps. That's why I'm so very grateful for this opportunity to serve as its next Director.
Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Mark, congratulations to you and your family; to all the members of Congress who are here and other former Peace Corps volunteers and others.
I have always been impressed by many things about the Peace Corps, one of which is the contributions made by Peace Corps volunteers after they come home. Senator Dodd was a member of the Peace Corps. Congressman Farr was a member of the Peace Corps. Donna Shalala served in the Peace Corps. The Vice President's beloved sister, Nancy Gore Hunger, was one of the first two people to join the Peace Corps, working with Sarge Shriver, all those years ago.
And it is a remarkable tradition that emphasizes that our country is about more than power and wealth. It is also about the power of our values and the power of a helping hand, and the ethic of service, and the understanding that we have an obligation not only to our own people, but to people around the world to help them make the most of their own lives; and that the best guarantee of peace and freedom and democracy is the ability of people, freely, to develop their God-given capacities to strengthen their families and see their communities succeed. That's really what the Peace Corps is all about.
It is the symbol of everything that got my generation into public service. And it has animated a whole generation of people. It is the inspiration for so much of the service that goes on today, whether it is in the AmeriCorps program that was started in our administration.
I just came from taping a public service announcement for Nickelodeon, the children's television network. One year ago this week, I asked the children in Nickelodeon to volunteer to do community service. And 5 million-plus of them did so by telephone. They called in and actually served. And so this year, we're trying to increase. These are grade-school children by and large.
So this whole ethic of service that has spread across our country in part is inspired by and defined by the work that was begun so many years ago by President Kennedy and by Sargent Shriver. I think it's really fitting that Mark Gearan should be here in this program inspired by President Kennedy. I mean, look around at this family, and notice that Father Leo O'Donovan -- operative word, O'Donovan -- the President of Georgetown is here. Notice -- I was wondering how Mark got so much bipartisan support. Look at the chairman of the committee, Chairman Callahan -- (laughter), and Peter King -- King, in this case, is a very Irish name. (Laughter.)
As a matter of fact, Mark said, Mr. President, I love the Peace Corps just the way it is. I only have one serious change I want to make -- I think we should send 6,500 of the 7,000 volunteers to Ireland. (Laughter.)
Congressman Moran, we're glad you're here. And Congresswoman Pelosi, we're certainly glad you're here to show that we're not trying to ethnically purify the Peace Corps here. (Laughter.)
The Peace Corps is really the reflection of our better selves, isn't it? And one of the reasons we're all so happy to see Mark Gearan become the Director of it is that, on most days, he is the reflection of our better selves. We wish him well; we love him; we respect him; and we know that he will do great honor to this very important position for the United States, and for all the good-hearted people of the entire world.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 3:25 P.M. EST