Light the Civic Fires For Sargent Shriver

Jan 19, 2011

Today’s post comes from Michelle Nunn, CEO of Points of Light Institute.

Yesterday, an extraordinary civic hero passed away. Sargent Shriver, the Founder of the Peace Corps and Co-Founder of Special Olympics, changed the world and touched the lives of millions. With passion, dexterity, boldness, and idealism he set out to create institutions and movements to alleviate suffering, cultivate bonds of empathy and reciprocity across difference, and usher in a world where every individual realized their own unique potential. In reflecting upon his life, we are reminded in the most profound ways possible, the power of an individual to change the world.

I was at the University of Michigan a few months ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps.  At the event, Senator Harris Wofford told us the story of the agency’s founding. He shared how the idea was born of an improvisational interaction with President Kennedy and a group of students who took President Kennedy’s words and challenged him to turn rhetoric into reality. The students created a petition with 1,000 signatures asking the President to launch a program that called upon the nation’s young people to serve the world.

President Kennedy took note and asked Sargent Shriver and others to create a major policy proposal for what was, within 10 days, coined and framed as the Peace Corps. Harris told us that in the initial frenetic months of its foundation, Sargent Shriver was given a long memorandum that drew out a cautious and conservative approach to the incremental growth of the Peace Corps. Harris recounted that Sarge would give this memorandum to every person who came in to interview for the job and ask them their opinion of it. If they liked it and expressed approval for its safe and prudent approach, he politely dismissed them and continued to search for individuals who would reject caution and aspired to exponential growth and change.

As we consider the world before us and the sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges, I hope that our dreams and actions are enlivened by Sargent Shriver’s spirit of boldness and expansive innovation. Movements are built over the generations and I believe that we truly are, after 50 years, on the precipice of a vision that Sargent Shriver and President Kennedy and the thousands of grassroots students originally envisioned- hundreds of thousands serving internationally, a reciprocal service relationship across countries, and the cultivation of true global citizenship across cultures and societies.   (In fact, the Service World policy proposal that Points of Light and a coalition of organizations are advancing is a wonderful opportunity to advance this vision.)

In celebrating Sarge’s life, may we all be inspired by his uncommon idealism, tenacity, and compassion.  And may we be emboldened to re-double our own pursuits of a world that recognizes the singular worth of every individual and the unity which binds us all, forever, together.

In service,

Michelle Nunn

CEO, Points of Light Institute, and Co-Founder, HandsOn Network

You can leave your own tribute to Sargent Shriver at

Michelle Nunn