Five years ago today, the Dalai Lama stood before an audience of over 12,000 at Bud Walton Arena for an afternoon and morning session. The tickets had sold out in a few hours, and people had arrived from all over the country. There were four monks from Amdo, Tibet, the province where the Dalai Lama had been born in 1935. The monks were sitting high in the bleacher seats, and when I brought them down to the front row, they laughed, cried, and bowed at the same time, and all in rapid succession. They later received a personal audience with His Holiness.
Tibetan vendors from around the country had gathered south of Bud Walton, and were selling their wares, chanting their chants, and telling their stories.
The event was broadcast on C-Span, and the online broadcast was viewed by people in both Europe and Asia. Geshe Dorjee and I, along with Melissa Banks, Senior Director of Donor Relations & Special Events, and Matt Mills, a Captain with Arkansas PBSF (Public Safety) worked tirelessly with the State Department, the town of Fayetteville, and a gallery of other organizations and individuals that wanted to help and participate in the event.
I don't recall asking for assistance one time and being told "no." I have served on many committees in my 30 years of working for the University of Arkansas, but never have I served on one as well-intentioned, hard-working, and co-operative as the Dalai Lama Steering Committee. It replenished my faith in the human enterprise.
Which, I guess, is one of the things the Dalai Lama does: he replenishes our faith in our fellow human beings. And that is something that all of us need on a daily basis.
I have never known a single individual to bring together a diverse community so completely, so thoroughly, so peacefully. He gave our community, I am convinced, a sense of its potential, and Fayetteville, under the leadership of our mayor, Lioneld Jordan, has steadily grown to embrace and develop that potential.
I could list for you the speakers that have come through our town, I could cite such nationally significant developments, like our own Trails and Greenways, our Farmers Market, or the numerous festivals, events, and corporations that attract visitors from around the world (Crystal Bridges, for one); and I could even point to the new generation of eco-conscious, local businesses that practice responsible consumerism—I'm thinking of Fayettechill, or course, one of whose founders, Devin Michael O'Dea, went to India with us on The TEXT Program, and so has been the driving force behind another remarkable project: TibetanTees. Under Devin's guidance, we will soon be able to add more money to our project to place tutors in the Tibetan schools of south India.
May 11, 2011 was indeed a transformational day for our community, but our community had long been engaged in the communal endeavor of transformation. His Holiness helped to accelerate that process, and I am grateful that he accepted our invitation.
Fayetteville is a unique and, as the Tibetans say, auspicious place to live.
Two more images from that magical day.