April 2, 1999 - Cavalier Daily: Gearan commends University for volunteer tradition

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Directors of the Peace Corps: Mark D. Gearan: August 11, 1995-August 11, 1999 : Gearan: April 2, 1999 - Cavalier Daily: Gearan commends University for volunteer tradition

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Gearan commends University for volunteer tradition

Gearan commends University for volunteer tradition

Giving peace a chance

Gearan commends University for volunteer tradition

Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan spoke to students yesterday in Madison House about positive aspects of volunteering.

By Nicola M. White
Cavalier Daily Focus Editor

He held a plaque describing the organization he runs as "the toughest job you'll ever love."

Standing by a window inside Madison House yesterday, Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan spoke to a small but attentive crowd about the importance of the Peace Corps-and how many University students have made the journey from the cozy boundaries of Charlottesville to take on the rigorous Peace Corps challenge.

"U.Va. is a great school of excellence with a commitment to service," Gearan said, citing the fact that the University ranks first in the Mid- Atlantic states and 20th in the nation as a producer of Peace Corps volunteers.

Faced with harsh conditions in mostly third-world countries, Peace Corps volunteers have worked at the grass-roots level since President John F. Kennedy first introduced the program in 1961. Volunteers serve overseas for two years, ensuring clean water, education, environmental protection and better health standards for communities in 80 countries around the world.

Although never a volunteer himself, Gearan has served in many political positions, including being Deputy Chief of Staff for President Clinton for three years. Since he first took the position of director in 1995, he has traveled to over 30 countries to see the Peace Corps volunteers in action.

"People say it's an extraordinary experience," Gearan said. "It's striking how important that period of time in their lives is and how they not only help others, but learn about themselves."

A Massachusetts native, he said the Kennedy legacy influenced his commitment to the Peace Corps, but moreover, the ability to be a firsthand witness to the Peace Corps' impact on others has profoundly influenced him.

Soon after Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras and mudslides devastated Nicaragua, Gearan made trips to Latin America to oversee the relief effort. Gearan said disturbing newsreel footage and media coverage did not equal experiencing the disasters first hand.

Gearan described his recent trip to Nicaragua as a "moving experience.

"I met with some of the survivors of the mudslide. I talked to a father who told a story of being able to rescue one of his children, but not the others," Gearan said. "It was heartbreaking."

Pounding his fist into the palm of his hand, he emphasized how strong the Nicaraguan and Honduran people were in spite of the disasters.

"What struck me once again was their courage and their commitment to rebuild their families, their communities and their country," Gearan said.

He said college graduates' commitment to the Peace Corps underscores a commitment to service among young people.

Despite "those pundits who want to paint Generation X as slackers, our experience at the Peace Corps proves that theory of Generation X as fundamentally wrong," he said.

University Peace Corps Recruiter Eileen Conoboy said the University produces many qualified applicants.

"U.Va. is definitely a great school to recruit at," Conoboy said. "The Peace Corps requires volunteers to take an initiative and to be self-motivated in getting projects started."

Brought to the University by the Jefferson Literary & Debating Society, Gearan's visit fell in the midst of Peace Corps Awareness Day.

This paper was published on April 2, 1999 by The Cavalier Daily, Inc., at the University of Virginia.

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Story Source: Cavalier Daily

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