In the last 30 days, the evening news has been a repository of seemingly endless stories of all that is going wrong in the world. The Federal Government is dangerously close to defaulting on its debt obligations. The State Government announced that it cannot offer raises to it’s judicial branch despite the fact that its has not received an increase in pay since 1999. Wars on several fronts continue to be waged with no real end in sight. The price of gas still hovers at the $4.00 per gallon price.
And then, just yesterday, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with a terrific, quiet spoken, young man who has worked in our firm as a paralegal over the past two years. Sergio announced that he will be leaving the firm on Friday to join the Peace Corps where he will be trained to serve as an Environmental Health Volunteer.
He must, I thought, have an ulterior motive. I mean, what thirty-something single man would simply quit his job as a paralegal for the mass torts division of a nationally recognized law firm to become a volunteer? A resume building detour, perhaps? A guaranteed assignment to Hawaii, maybe?
No. This remarkable young man was motivated to help others for reasons that evoke the spirit of John F. Kennedy, the man responsible for establishing the Peace Corps.
On October 14, 1960, at 2 a.m., Senator John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 10,000 cheering students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during a presidential campaign speech. In his improvised speech, Kennedy asked, "How many of you, 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?" His young audience responded to this speech with a petition signed by 1,000 students willing to serve abroad. Senator Kennedy’s challenge to these students—to live and work in developing countries around the world; to dedicate themselves to the cause of peace and development—inspired the beginning of the Peace Corps.
Sergio was kind enough to share his motivation with me.
I made up my mind to join the Peace Corps during a trip to El Salvador last summer. I was staying in a poor neighborhood in San Salvador. The house was small, it was hot, there was rarely any running water, and the electricity went out almost every other day, but I was genuinely happy and I did not want to be anywhere else. I noticed that despite the harsh living conditions everyone I met was kind, generous, and optimistic. People would go out of their way to make me feel welcome. At that moment I decided that I was going to join the Peace Corps because as a volunteer you get the opportunity to help improve living conditions in a community even if it’s in a small way.
When I met with Sergio yesterday, I recalled the memorable line from the movie Apollo 13. As the astronauts were preparing to "splash down" near the end of their ill-fated but unforgettable journey, Commander Jim Lovell paused and informed his crew mates "Gentlemen, it’s been a privilege flying with you."
Sergio Maldonado is a young man whose future aspirations include helping less fortunate people of third world nations secure access to clean drinking water and electricity. Finally, some good news. It has been a privilege knowing you, Sergio.