Tony Junker ’59
In a recent entry in my '59 Class notes in Wesleyan magazine, I mentioned my work at age 70-plus in founding Envision Peace Museum (www.envisionpeacemuseum.org). One response asked if I thought my Wesleyan education played a role, and if so, how?On pondering, I believe the answer to the first part is, yes. The second part of the answer, "how," requires some telling of my personal Wesleyan story.
When I think about the most valuable "take-aways" I received from Wesleyan, the most basic has to be my exposure to the great sweep of human history and ideas, and the curiosity and excitement that introduction kindled, still at work today in my life. As a "city kid" from Brooklyn, and the product mostly of parochial and public schools, I was fascinated by the prospect of attending college in New England, a romantic, far-away land, and attending this school whose signature brand at the time was producing graduates who were "well rounded." I immersed myself in every exciting opportunity I found on campus, and there were so many, eventually majoring in art history and physics, in preparation for graduate work in architecture. Looking back now at my life's path, having evolved to an architect, fiction writer, tour leader in Italy, not to mention social activist, skier, sailor, and most recently -- museum founder -- I'd say that the school's signature brand took.
But, what were the more fundamental, concrete gifts that Wesleyan helped impart that took me down this particular path? I believe there are three main gifts or goals that have stood by me. First, I would mention critical thinking, the need to explore issues rigorously and independently, and to challenge established authority where necessary, in seeking truth. Second, a lifelong commitment to creativity, which Wesleyan encouraged in so many ways. Third, I would stress the obligation to make a contribution to society, how it is up to each of us to help one another, and in some way, to leave the world better than we found it.
All three of these gifts or goals were at work, I believe, on the sunny, frigid December morning nine years ago, as I stood on the open, windy lawn in front of the newly opened National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, tending our US flag draped, speak-out podium. I had helped to organize and had worked hard with a group dedicated to heading off war with Iraq, and when the US invaded, we switched tactics, holding speak-outs in prominent locations around Center City Philadelphia on vital, related topics. That morning, we were engaging with visitors approaching the new building on the subject of the US Patriot Act.
A lively class of high school students from North Philadelphia had just departed, and desperate to warm myself, I ducked into the building's lobby, ending in the bookstore. I was amazed by what I saw on the racks, the children’s books especially. Every one spoke of patriotism, and taking-up arms. Indeed, this seemed the dominant message in all the institutions in the city's historic area. I thought of the thousands of museums across our nation dedicated to military subjects and war, but could not think of a single one dedicated to nonviolent problem solving or peace. If this was our message to our children, these were tools for dealing with conflict that we provided them, then no wonder our country's preoccupations with military might, arms production, and knee jerk reactions toward violence in situations of threat and conflict. Something had to change.
On a personal level, I had worked extremely hard in the period leading up to the Iraq war. I could not believe our nation could be taken in by the distortions and rhetoric our national leaders and the media were promoting. When our Congress finally voted and the US mounted its attacks, I was devastated. I also felt worn out. Since the early days of the Viet Nam war, I had been among the protestors, joining every possible march. Now, after some months of soul searching, I decided: No more fighting against things, immersing myself in negative energy. I vowed to find avenues of positive action, projects that multiplied rather than sapped creative energies. In my architectural practice, my specialty was museum planning and design. Why not a museum dedicated to peace? Hence, Envision Peace Museum, a place where, in a world increasingly subject to tensions and violence, positive alternatives to violence are offered, and courageous, cooperative citizenship extolled, where people are inspired and given practical tools to become active peace-builders in their own lives and in their communities. And, although Envision is a global institution, what better place to erect a "lighthouse of peace" than in Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love” and "birthplace of liberty," founded on William Penn's historic peace legacy?
Yes, I believe, Wesleyan's gifts played a crucial role in this story. When I think of all the varied and amazing accomplishments of Wesleyan graduates that I've read about over the years, I feel an intense sense of appreciation for what we've all taken away from our years there, and encouragement to work for that which is worthwhile to the very end.