In Syria, October 2014 brought a war of countryman against countryman. In Afghanistan, it brought bombings at the hands of the Taliban. In the United States, it brought racial tension stronger than the country had seen in decades.
On the Springfield College campus, October brought a chill. It brought rain. It brought a sense of normalcy as students settled into their routines of the new semester.
Manjunath Burdekar, immersed in his studies as a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program, could not help but be affected by what was going on in the world around him. Though most of the social and political unrest was taking place far from Alden Street, Burdekar felt compelled to acknowledge its presence, particularly as an active member of a College with a mission as rooted in community involvement as Springfield’s.
“At the time, there was a lot of uproar all around the country, all around the world,” Burdekar said. “I was like, ‘Well, we’ve got to do something. We can’t just take a step back and not do anything. I felt like I had to do something personally to show that we do care and we are against violence. We are a not a community that likes violence; we are for peace. That’s why it was floating in my head: How can I help?”
That was when the idea of the Peace Pole Project came to mind. Burdekar had first heard of the project through his undergraduate college, Franklin Pierce University. As a member of the executive board of ALANA, a club that focuses on diversity and the empowerment of African American, Latino/Latina American, Asian America, and Native American students, Burdekar was part of the process that brought a Peace Pole to Franklin Pierce’s Rindge, N. H. campus.
In the fall, Burdekar presented the idea to members of the Graduate Student Organization, of which he is the president.
The Peace Pole, as described in a proposal submitted by the GSO, is “recognized as the most prominent international symbol and model of peace.” Peace Poles, which display the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” have been planted in over 180 countries by such influential figures as Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.
Greg Priester, a second-year graduate student and the GSO’s Vice President of Records, described the Peace Pole as an opportunity for members of the Springfield College community to recognize others who work to create a peaceful world.
“I think ultimately a lot of people like the idea of peace on earth,” Priester said. “With the Peace Pole, it kind of unites us by saying that we’re a campus that identifies with the efforts of other people, whether it be military or foreign leaders doing their parts to make sure we can have peace.”
The Peace Pole that has been planted on the Springfield College campus includes several languages representative of the languages spoken by students in the College community. An unveiling ceremony for the monument will take place on Monday, April 20 at 4:00 p.m. on the pathway between Babson Library and Weiser Hall.
Dean of Students Terry Vecchio said she wanted the Peace Pole Project to involve as many students as possible, and asked Burdekar and the other members of GSO to teach out to several of the College’s departments, including the international office, veterans club, multicultural affairs, and student activities.
Vecchio said she hopes that the Peace Pole will not only be involved in some of the College’s events such as its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day and Take Back the Night walk, but will also be a place for students to take a quiet moment out of their busy days to collect their thoughts.
“We want it to be a place where people can sit and be reflective about the world, about peace,” Vecchio said. “There’s a lot of things that I think rattle us. There’s violence, there’s tragedy that happens around us all the time. I think having a moment to be reflective and meditative is a really important thing that we don’t do enough of.”
Burdekar said that this project is not only a way to further explore the spirit aspect of the College’s Humanics philosophy of spirit, mind, and body, but to also honor those who worked over the years to find and create peace.
Though he doesn’t yet know what the greater message of the Peace Pole project on this campus will be, Burdekar said the inner motivation for the project came with the hope that the Peace Pole and its meaning would be something that all students can take part in and role model as they look to make an impact in their communities in the future.
“It’s just wanting to make a better world,” Burdekar said. “Even though I may not being a great impact on the world, I would like to start in the community. Maybe there will be a ripple effect. It starts somewhere.”