Interview by Reilly Ebbs
Jim Antoniono possesses a unique perspective when speaking to his experiences surrounding his time at Penn State. Jim has found great success in his endeavors as an entrepreneur, lawyer, advocate and Penn State alumnus. As a Vietnam era veteran Jim saw a side of America that most people did do not want to see and from his experiences abroad he formed his anti-war positions which he publicly shared. Jim was born to parents whose education stopped before high school and a father who had moved to America from Italy, alone at the age of 17. Jim felt little inspiration in his studies throughout his early schooling and as a result struggled academically, however, this all changed for Jim in the year of 1964 when he enlisted in the U.S Army. Jim thrived serving his country and had the opportunity to spent most of his service in Berlin, after extending his enlistment to a 4th year, where tensions with the Soviet Union were high. While in Berlin, Jim served with the U.S. Military Liaison Mission, a unit formed after WWII to spy on the Russians and East Germans.
Jim met many men who were serving in Vietnam and quickly came to the conclusion to condemn America’s involvement in this conflict. He carried this position with him when he stepped onto the University Park campus in the summer of 1968. Jim wanted to just focus on academics and stay away from any political involvement when he first began, but soon was swept up in his desire to share his opinions concerning Vietnam. Jim and a few other students would meet weekly and held deep discussions on their anti-war beliefs and frustrations. It was from here these small meetings turned into a platform for Jim to share his condemnation for the war.
By Jim’s senior year his platform was successful as he had been elected student government president. Jim experienced opportunities as a Penn State student that shaped his political and academic career like being invited to the White House to meet with President Nixon’s foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger.
Following his Penn State graduation with a degree in political science, Antoniono was accepted as an Eagleton Fellow at Rutgers University where he received his MA and his law degree from Duquesne University. Antoniono established his own law firm upon passing the bar, his practice is now focused on personal injury and estate planning. Along with law, Antoniono shares a vested interest in Penn State as he is part of the alumni mentor program in the Liberal Arts College and sits on the Board of Directors of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society as well as being a Member of the Board of Visitors of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. In 2014 Jim Antoniono and his wife, Susan, donated 1 million dollars to the College of the Liberal Arts to promote student and academic excellence. Antoniono represents the kind of student Penn State shapes. He found inspiration in his Penn State experience and as a result of his success from this education he eagerly and graciously gave back to the institution he credits to his success.
Integrating my passion for history and love of Penn State by interviewing alum, Jim Antoniono was a neat experience. I am a junior studying history and anthropology and love reading about political and social characteristics of the 50s to 70s in America. 1968 in particular is a tumultuous year with riveting events that are still shaping our society today. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F Kennedy along with the peak of the Vietnam War and general hysteria over Civil and Women’s rights rocked the year of 1968 and reflect the passion people felt for challenging the government and creating cultural change.
I interviewed Mr. Antoniono with the intent to learn how this Vietnam era veteran came home to a very conservative Penn State campus at the time to develop his leadership into becoming Penn State student government president his senior year. From serving in the Army in West Berlin right as our conflicts with the Soviet Union were escalating to being discharged and the very next day stepping onto the Penn State University Park campus, Mr. Antoniono offers a unique perspective as a war veteran who very strongly and publicly opposed the Vietnam War. Mr. Antoniono helped shape Penn State’s campus in the ways he believed the public should view America’s foreign involvement.
I had a great time listening to his story and while these clips cannot possibly cover the length and detail of Mr. Antoniono's passionate and incredible experiences from his years before and during Penn State they offer an opportunity to see Penn State in a more historical light.