The early 1960s were fraught with global strife, and President Kennedy challenged the nation in his inaugural address by saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”; inspiring a generation of Americans to civic action and public service. A few years later, as a junior at Camelback High School, Peter Banko had big dreams of attending college, studying abroad, and eventually having an international career. Peter had neither the money nor the study habits to attend a prestigious university straight out of high school, and sought a more intimate college experience to develop himself scholastically. Peter’s high school counselor recommended that he consider Phoenix College (PC), and in 1962, Peter was awarded a Camelback Faculty scholarship to PC. Peter recalls that his classes were small, and the faculty were attentive and involved. As many students experience at PC, the faculty and staff get to know each student, and take an interest in the students’ academic and personal growth. Peter served as Associated Student Body President, and recalls the historic and somber moment when he announced to the PC student body that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
Go Far. Close to Home.
While attending PC, Peter was accepted into The Experiment in International Living Program, which paired students with host families in countries around the world. In the summer of 1964, Peter went to live with a family in Mendoza, Argentina. He didn’t speak much Spanish, and the family didn’t speak any English, but after ten weeks Peter says he was dreaming in Spanish. More than 50 years later, Peter describes his summer exchange program as one of the most impactful experiences of his life. Before leaving for Argentina, Peter applied to Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, in Washington, D.C. He learned that he had been accepted while in Argentina, and soon after he returned from South America, Peter transferred to Georgetown. Among his classmates at Georgetown were future president of the United State Bill Clinton, and the future president of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal. His time at Georgetown included rigorous studies in economics, history, government, philosophy, world religions, and foreign languages, but it was the quest for global understanding, a commitment to social justice, and the need to question accepted norms, that made Georgetown special, Peter says.
From PC to the Peace Corps
After college, to further his interest in foreign affairs, Peter joined the Peace Corps, and was soon on an airplane headed to Iran. In his first Peace Corps posting, Peter taught English as a second language to Iranian middle and high school students in the small rural town of Shushtar, Iran. He was the town’s first international teacher; and a curiosity to the Iranians, but says that “The Peace Corps enabled me to view people from different cultures on their own terms”. In the evenings, Peter enjoyed informal language sessions with his colleagues during shared meals, which increased his Farsi language acquisition and expanded his interest in living and working abroad. The following year, he was assigned to the University of Tehran’s Graduate School for International Studies, where he taught courses on the United Nations. When he returned to Phoenix, he enrolled in a graduate program at the Thunderbird School of International Management, where he was a teaching assistant in international relations. He also taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at night in the adult learning program at Phoenix Union High School.
Around the World and Back Again
After completing his master’s degree, Peter was hired by Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Following his first international appointment in Beirut, Lebanon, Peter returned to New York to work in the bank’s Middle East department. He went on to manage banking operations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with 13 overseas assignments in more than 8 countries, including Bahrain, Beirut, England, Hong Kong, Iran, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo.
Peter retired to Arizona in 2002. Not one to sit still for long, he was asked to employ his global experience as an advisor to the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He cultivated his interest in the arts by enrolling in a second graduate program at Arizona State University (ASU), completing a Master’s in Liberal Studies and a certificate in Museum Studies. Afterward, he joined the staff of the ASU Museum of Anthropology and co-chaired ASU’s Museums, Galleries & Collections Committee of 32 entities.
He was a trustee at the Phoenix Art Museum (PAM) for eight years, and he guest curated three exhibitions and guest lectured on Asian art, and was president of PAM’s Asian Arts Council for two years.
Reconnecting with PC
Returning to the Valley of the Sun also sparked Peter’s interest in rekindling friendships with PC classmates. Peter discovered a group of dedicated Phoenix College alumni meeting regularly to plan annual half-century reunions. The Half Century Club (comprised of PC alumni who graduated 50 years ago or more) was reviving a history of PC book in anticipation of the College’s Centennial celebration in 2020. Peter soon found himself giving his time and talents to multiple PC projects. He also supports a number of projects with financial contributions, including scholarships, the PC Pantry for student experiencing food insecurities, the Eric Fischl art initiative with the Phoenix Art Museum, and mentoring students with international career ambitions.
The choice to attend Phoenix College fortified Peter’s scholastic preparedness, and the study abroad experience broadened his vision for living and working internationally. Peter reflects about his time at Phoenix College, and how important the decision to attend PC has been in his life.
“Having survived a civil war in Lebanon, the revolution in Iran, missile attacks in Taiwan, and two airline hijackings, highlights of an extremely interesting career begun at Phoenix College, I am grateful and want to give back. Enrolling at PC was the first best decision of my adult life”, Peter says.
Peter is giving his time, talent, and treasure to support current PC students. If you would like to learn about mentoring a student, joining PC’s Half Century Club, or donating to a scholarship or program, visit phoenixcollege.edu/alumni, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.