Emory Report

January 20, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 17

Emory chooses Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as commencement speaker

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and secular leader of 6 million Tibetan people, will make his third visit to Emory when he delivers the 1998 commencement address May 11 and receives an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

The Dalai Lama first visited Emory in 1987-two years before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize-at the invitation of the late John Fenton, professor of religion. His second visit was in September 1995, with Emory the first stop on a four-city, 12-day visit to the United States in celebration of his 60th year. He received the first President's Medal during that visit and spoke to a crowd of more than 4,000 in the P.E. Center.

The religious leader also met with Emory faculty and administrators to lay the groundwork for a collaborative effort between the University and the exiled Drepung Loseling Monastery in southern India for the study of Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Drepung Loseling is Tibet's ancient seat of scholarly activity, comparable in prestige to Oxford University. An affiliation agreement prepared by Emory College faculty, Dean Steven Sanderson and the Office of International Affairs will be signed by President Bill Chace and the abbot of the monastery this spring.

The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born in Takster, a tiny farming community in northeastern Tibet, in 1935. Through a series of divine revelations, he was revealed at age 2 to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and two years later embarked on a rigorous course of study in preparation for his new role. By age 15, he was negotiating with Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, whose forces had raided the remote mountain country in 1950. His entreaties failed, and by 1959 the young ruler was forced to leave his homeland and live in exile. He now resides in Dharamsala, India, a small town about 300 miles north of New Delhi, and has never returned to Tibet.

Since then, the Dalai Lama's life work has been the rescue of his native land before its culture and heritage are subsumed by the Chinese. After their invasion, the Chinese destroyed nearly all of Tibet's monasteries, tortured monks and nuns and brought about the deaths of more than a million Tibetans, according to some reports.

His quest has nothing to do with nationalistic aspirations or a lust for power, the Dalai Lama told his Emory audience in 1995. "The Buddhist culture of Tibet has great potential to create a more peaceful human society and a proper relationship with the environment," he said. "The interests of the world's different nations have become extremely interdependent. The global reality has changed. But our mental attitude has not caught up with that reality. Many of us are still thinking in terms of 'we' and 'they.'

"If the Chinese government would adopt a more open mind and a more open policy, I know that we could reach an agreement."

Coinciding with the Dalai Lama's visit, the Carlos Museum will host an exhibit of Tibetan and Himalayan art, "The Buddha's Art of Healing," from May 9 to July 12. On view will be "The Blue Beryl," a beautifully illustrated and faithful early 20th-century rendering of an original 17th-century medical treatise. It is the only complete set known to have escaped intact from Tibet after the Chinese takeover and will be seen for the first time in the U.S. The exhibit's 40 paintings once hung on the walls of Chakpori Medical College and served as instructional aids in the training of doctors.

In addition to the Dalai Lama, other honorary degree recipients include:

  • Bruce Roberts, noted biologist and president of the National Academy of Sciences since 1993, who has achieved prominence in the study of DNA replication and in science education. Roberts is first author of Molecular Biology of the Cell, a leading textbook in cell biology for undergraduate and graduate students. He has actively promoted the involvement of scientists in elementary and secondary school outreach programs, and Emory's own Elementary Science Education Partners (ESEP) program is based on his initiatives.
  • Phyllis Kravitch, a member of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who has practiced law for more than 50 years. Kravitch has spent much of her career breaking gender barriers, often in legal practice. She is widely recognized and respected for the power and detail of her written opinions. A Savannah native, Kravitch has served on the law school's Board of Advisors since 1987. She is a fellow of the American Bar Association and has received numerous awards for her community and professional contributions.
  • Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, who has brought national recognition to the state through his education initiatives. A lifetime public servant and teacher, Miller pioneered Georgia's first state-wide kindergarten program as lieutenant governor. As governor, he pushed for state lottery funds to be used to fund free pre-kindergarten education and the creation of HOPE scholarships. He will become Presidential Distinguished Fellow in History and Political Science at Emory when his term ends in January 1999. (See story on page 1.)

-Stacey Jones

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