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 Student Perspectives

FYI asked two students to share their experience of the Dalai Lama’s first trip to SCU. Erin Callister is a Hackworth Fellow with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and studies compassion. She had the pleasure of meeting His Holiness and shaking his hand before the morning session. Marissa Minnick is a regular blogger for Campus Ministry and had early access to the Leavey Event Center prior to the Dalai Lama’s arrival.

Erin Callister '14, Psychology

I don’t think anything can prepare one for meeting the Dalai Lama—for his spontaneity, goofiness, and the fact he’s as jovial as he is wise. I was one of 30 students fortunate enough to meet His Holiness when he visited campus. Although we had no more than five minutes in his presence, I know I speak for the whole group when I say those were five minutes we’ll never forget. They were immortalized in our memories more vividly than the photograph we took with him.

I shook the Dalai Lama’s hand (which is incredibly soft, by the way), and I felt a surge of peace and calm run through my body, easing the nerves I initially felt from seeing him in person. In that moment, all fears and concerns evaporated. I was tremendously present, immersed in the collective giddiness of the student group. We were on a high, riding a wave of joy and gratitude from simply being alive, from being in the here and now.

After shaking our hands, and poking and giggling at my friend Natalie Lays’ nose piercing, the Dalai Lama addressed us as a group. He emphasized and re-emphasized the importance of education in our lives: “Education is more important than prayer,” he said.

He told us we must continue to educate ourselves and those around us because the world depends on it. “The more education, the better.”

Then, the Dalai Lama spoke words I’ll never forget, calling our group to action: “I’m old. And he’s old too,” he said, pointing to Kirk Hanson, the director of the Markkula Center of Applied Ethics with a laugh. “The generation after you is too late. The future is in your hands. It is up to you to make peace.”

He continued, telling us that we need to develop a code of secular ethics—that secular morality is the way of the future, more so than religion. “It’s not easy. It’s very, very difficult. But it must be done by you.”

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Marissa Minnick '14

As soon as I walked into Leavey Center, a sense of calm overtook me. As I looked around at my fellow students and others who were at the event, I realized that I was not the only one experiencing this tranquility. The aura of peace was audible; believe it or not, I could feel the calmness in my body—a warm, relaxed feeling that I had not expected. Looking at and chatting with the people around me, I could tell that there was a shared feeling of peace in Leavey Center, and perhaps even across campus. The Dalai Lama was not even in the building, yet we could already feel his presence. Furthermore, Twitter was facilitating a student discussion, as we were posting to #DalaiLamaSCU to share in our anticipation of seeing the Dalai Lama take the stage. And the moment he did take the stage, it was like a charge of electricity entered the room. His Holiness filled us with awe.

One of the most unexpected and wonderful aspects of the Dalai Lama’s talk was the natural humor that he exuded. Oftentimes, we think of religious leaders as serious beings, unwilling to make or take a joke, yet here was one of the most important leaders in the world joking with the audience, even laughing at a joke about prostate exams. His humor was so incredibly genuine that as a member of the audience, it made me more comfortable, more open to listening to his message. The fact that the Dalai Lama can find humor in this chaotic world gave me a sense of hope, and his laughter reflected the true joy that he surely has. And his laughter was definitely a source of joy for the audience; it was one of the most pleasant and authentic laughs I’d ever heard.

It was not all jokes, though. The Dalai Lama also conquered difficult topics for students including finding a balance for material versus spiritual wealth, being inclusive of nonbelievers in discussions for peace, and trusting others. One of his quotes that really stood out to me was “The 21st century could be a more compassionate society...but we need to make an effort.” The fact that he sees brightness in the dark corners of this world filled me with hope. The Dalai Lama is honest in acknowledging that there are damaging aspects in the world including weapons and overwhelming material desires, yet he also truly believes that humans are, by nature, good, and therefore there is always a reason to work for peace. Hearing him tell us that peace is possible was reassuring and reminded me why I desire to change the world.

As a senior who falls into a cynical mindset when things aren’t going right in my life, it is vital for me to remember that there is always, always hope, despite the darkness that I experience. The Dalai Lama helped me to remember this, and I think his message resonated deeply with the rest of the Santa Clara community. In a way, his visit was a source of rejuvenation and spiritual refreshment. The fact that our university got to witness, however briefly, a source of the world’s healing is the most incredible blessing many of us could have ever asked for.


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