Theresa Papola describes herself as a "nontraditional student." She's 42 with two boys at Hudson Middle School.
Once upon a time, she tended to passengers on Pan-American flights. "The company went bankrupt, I had babies," she said. And years later she ended up here, on the New Port Richey campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Going back to college can almost feel like being born again. Older students often bring wisdom and leadership to the campus. And Wednesday afternoon, the middle of Peace Week, Theresa Papola found herself the center of attention.
She had read about an international project where people paint peace slogans and inspirational pictures on ceramic tiles. She brought the idea — along with paint, tile and brushes — to a shaded area in front of the college's modern conference center. And to her surprise, the people came … and came … and came. Even the Buddhist monks who spent days creating a delicate sand mandala inside the center came out to express themselves on tile.
That was really cool.
Peace Week featured enough positive vibration to rattle the most cynical heart. And it brought visitors to a campus that has become an oasis in an otherwise bland landscape. If you haven't been there lately, take a look. It's especially enjoyable from the bench I found near the gym and the library, a few feet from a signpost that read Que la Paz Prevalezca en la Tierra. On the other side, Japanese script proclaimed the same message: May peace prevail on earth.
A similar spirit greeted me at the University of Texas many moons ago. Gentle souls in tie-dyed shirts and embroidered jeans danced in circles with tambourines, burned incense (and other things) and opened fingers to flash a V for peace at the drop of a hat. They occasionally placed flowers in the barrels of the M-1 rifles that ROTC students carried during drills. I found this particularly amusing, since most of us cadets were in the program for the draft deferment.
Things changed in my second year at the school. Bomb threats forced evacuation of the ROTC building. No more flowers in gun barrels. Anti-war gatherings ended with tear gas and clubbings. The V gave way to a single finger as police dragged bloody protestors to jail.
"Give peace a chance" was a nice little slogan, but it got lost in the anger and frustration many students felt over their government's escalation of a war on the other side of the world — not to mention its war on them.
Today our soldiers fight a different war on the other side of the world. Once again the population is divided over a policy of occupation and violence.
Peace Week played to rave reviews. My fear is what comes next.