Hobart and William Smith Colleges opened the 2010-2011 academic year by celebrating the power of an idea. Aaron S. Williams, the 18th Director of the Peace Corps, was this year’s Convocation speaker.
The Peace Corps, celebrating its 50th anniversary, traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then-Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that one idea grew a federal government agency devoted to world peace.
Convocation took place Wednesday, Sept. 1, at 5 p.m. on Stern Lawn.
“During my tenure as Director of the Peace Corps, I was struck by the power of the idea for the agency: send Americans in peace and friendship to needy countries around the world,” says President Mark D. Gearan, who served as Director of the Peace Corps from 1995-1999. “From that fairly simple concept evolved some of the very best spirit and international development work of our country.”
In the coming year, the Colleges will invite other speakers to campus to reflect on the power of an idea in shaping other organizations and efforts which seek to make a difference in the lives of others.
“I believe our students were keenly interested and motivated by Aaron Williams’ lifelong commitment to international development and assistance programs,” says Gearan.
Williams served as a volunteer from 1967 to 1970, first in a training program for rural school teachers in the small town of Monte Plata, Dominican Republic for two years, then as a professor of teaching methods at the Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra in Santiago. Upon completing his service, he became the coordinator of minority recruitment and project evaluation officer for the Peace Corps in his hometown of Chicago.
He served as a Vice President for International Business Development with RTI International, and was a Senior Manager at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he attained the rank of Career Minister in the U.S. Senior Foreign Service. He also served as Executive Vice President of the International Youth Foundation.
As USAID Mission Director in South Africa, Williams led a billion dollar foreign assistance program during President Nelson Mandela’s administration. In addition, he has extensive experience in the design and management of assistance programs in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. He was awarded the USAID Distinguished Career Service Award, and was twice awarded the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service.
A graduate of Chicago State University, with an MBA from the University of Wisconsin, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he was a member of the USAID Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid. He served on the Obama-Biden transition team, the advisory board of the Ron Brown Scholar Program, the board of directors of CARE, and the boards of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the Pan American Development Foundation, and the National Peace Corps Association.
Williams was presented with The President’s Medal at Convocation. The award honors distinguished individuals and celebrates their achievements. The Medal is presented to individuals for outstanding service to the community, the country and their profession. The recipients of the President’s Medal embody the values of Hobart and William Smith Colleges: a student-centered learning environment, globally focused, grounded in the values of equity and service, developing citizens who will lead in the 21st century.