Shared history of World Learning, SIT, and Peace Corps focus of events

Distinguished list of speakers share common belief that a framework of human connections and education is still the solution to address the challenges of today’s world

The important place that School for International Training, World Learning, and the Peace Corps hold in today’s world was a consistent theme Saturday as guests, graduates, family, and friends gathered on a picture-perfect Vermont summer day to celebrate the school’s 56th commencement and to dedicate a marker commemorating the campus as one of the first sites to train outbound Peace Corps volunteers.

A marker on the SIT campus commemorates the site as a primary training center for some of the first Peace Corps volunteers.

“I am grateful to everyone involved in establishing this historical marker commemorating World Learning’s history as a training site for Peace Corps volunteers,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy in a statement read by his staff member, Katherine Long. “Vermont’s connection to the Peace Corps is broad and deep. The work of those who trained volunteers and the volunteers themselves have improved the lives of countless people around the world. It is important that we remember that history and that we continue to build upon it.”

SIT and World Learning grew out of The Experiment in International Living, which was founded in southern Vermont in 1932 by Dr. Donald Watt to improve intercultural understanding. In 1961, Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver, an Experiment alum, called on The Experiment to design programs and train some of the earliest volunteers. These trainings paved the way for the establishment of SIT in 1964. The Experiment’s global development work became World Learning in 1992, with The Experiment continuing to offer youth exchange programs.

This history was brought to life during Saturday’s celebrations, as each speaker talked about the importance of SIT, World Learning, The Experiment, and the Peace Corps in confronting the challenges of today’s world.

World Learning CEO Carol Jenkins thanked the more than 150 guests in attendance, including Lee Satterfield, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and representatives from other members of Congress; World Learning board members; and dozens of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and SIT faculty, staff, and alumni.

“Both World Learning and the Peace Corps remain committed to the belief that a framework of human connections and education is an effective and powerful way to make lasting change,” Jenkins said.

From left, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and SIT alumna Javonni McGlaurin; Dan Baker of the National Peace Corps Association; World Learning Board Chair Larry Cooley; SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett; Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn; World Learning CEO Carol Jenkins; U.S. Rep. Peter Welch; Katherine Long, staff member for Sen. Patrick Leahy and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Earlier in the day, SIT conferred master’s degrees to 54 individuals “equally committed to serve, whether by addressing the challenges of a warming planet, of war, of endangered democracies and human rights, or the exploitation of land and people,” said SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett. “That is what SIT students do. It is what Peace Corps volunteers do. It is what we do as we support them.”

On a stage framed by flags representing the identities of the graduates, set against the rolling Green Mountains, Welch mused about the world that lies beyond those scenic hills. “I’m so amazed, as a Vermonter, that in this little corner of Vermont, in 1932, Dr. Watt had this idea that right from here Vermonters could play a role in helping to make this a better state, a better country, and a better world.”

U.S. Representative Peter Welch

Referring to Sen. Leahy, Welch added, “Patrick understands the vital role that institutions play in allowing individuals to do the extraordinarily important work that is being done in this small, tiny, powerful, international location.”

Citing the work SIT and World Learning have done this year to help resettle nearly 100 Afghan refugees in southern Vermont, Long said Leahy is supporting a $1.5 million allocation in the current federal spending bill to help fund refugee resettlement and the other programs at SIT and World Learning, as well as a $20 million increase in the Peace Corps budget.

In a written message read during the marker dedication ceremony, Timothy Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver, wrote, “My dad never tired of speaking about the impact that his trip with the Experiment in International Living had on his entire life, on his view of the urgency of peace as an alternative to war, on his views that governed the founding of the Peace Corps’ commitment to an inculturation model of solidarity and relationship development, on his work to promote economic opportunity and fight against the systems and structures that keep people in the United States and around the world in poverty.

“It all started when you gave him a chance as a young man to see the world through the eyes of another and to know that by seeing through those eyes he could see more deeply and more accurately the truth.”

Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn, a keynote speaker at both commencement and the marker ceremony, reflected on Americans’ response to President John F. Kennedy’s call for volunteerism and service in the early 1960s.

“There was a hunger to be a part of a different kind of outreach and engagement with the world, a new kind of diplomacy. It was bold and pioneering — and it was risky,” said Spahn. “And a movement was formed that energized an entire country. A movement that involved sacrifice and that recognized the long-term value of building relationships.”

Spahn said SIT, World Learning, The Experiment, and the Peace Corps still share the core values established nearly six decades ago. “The values of deep engagement with and respect for local communities, learning the local language, and long-term commitment. Values that are so strong that they remain foundational today.”

Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn

During commencement, SIT conferred master’s degrees Saturday in the fields of humanitarian assistance, diplomacy, global health, intercultural service, international education, TESOL, and climate change.

Student commencement speaker Domenique Ciavattone put those values into today’s context. Receiving her MA in Climate Change and Global Sustainability, Ciavattone said today’s students feel like they have “the weight of the world on our shoulders.”

“SIT provides experiential, immersive learning programs that allow us to challenge ourselves and the status quo, to connect with people across the globe and build networks of solidarity and support with others who are standing up to injustices. SIT values all voices and encourages different ways of knowing and thinking. SIT moves us to action,” Ciavattone said.

“What joins us all together is a belief that there are issues bigger than ourselves and a community that transcends our own individual concerns, and that we need to be part of supporting that much bigger picture,” Howlett said.

SIT President Dr. Sophia Howlett

Click here to watch the full commemorative marker dedication ceremony.

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