“I wish to begin with a word from the Dalai Lama, ‘If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another,’” shared 12th-grade student Beatrice Miller, in her address to the Mount Madonna School (MMS) student body, faculty and guests during the school’s commemoration of the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21.
Students kindergarten through high school presented and performed, along with remarks from Head of School Ann Goewert, faculty member Greg Shirley and special guest Tenzin Chogkyi, Buddhist teacher and activist.
“The International Day of Peace commemoration ceremony was a powerful, unifying experience for our school community,” Goewert said. “Tenzin brought focus to the room by articulating what peace looks like in action. The guided meditation acknowledging similarities between ourselves and those we perceive as others was illuminating. This practice can serve our community by bridging differences to develop a better understanding of our shared humanity.”
Held each year on Sept. 21, the United Nations has declared this as a day “devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.” The 2023 theme, “Actions for peace: Our ambition for the #GlobalGoals,” represents a call to action that recognizes the individual and collective responsibility to foster peace.
“In hosting this International Day of Peace commemoration, Mount Madonna showed all students that peace is a core value of education at this school,” said middle school humanities teacher Manjula Stokes. “Having various classes celebrate by performing age-appropriate songs, poetry and essays was a wonderful way to include everyone and make it relevant to their lives.”
Several seventh-grade students read aloud “The Swan” by the late poet Mary Oliver to those assembled.
“As we rehearsed and studied this poem, the students learned how taking the time to stop and observe nature is one way to inner peace,” Stokes said. “The poem begins, ‘Did you too see it…’ and the speaker is inviting others into their world by pointing to a bird and sharing their reflections. The poem details the swan as it floats along the river. When the poet asks, ‘And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?’ they are inviting the listener to join them in self-reflection.”
In her address, Buddhist teacher Tenzin Chogkyi offered the school community a message about empathy and forgiveness. Following the commemoration, Chogkyi visited several MMS elementary and middle school classes, including sixth- and seventh-grade humanities classes, where she held workshops that got the students writing and talking about their core values and strengths as individuals.
“The core values exercise was a chance for students to reflect on what they have as a value and how they can share it with others,” Stokes said. “They discussed their writings with the class and listened to one another. They showed support with what their classmates saw as important parts of themselves. This is related to the peace day commemoration because it connected them to one another in a positive way.”
Chogkyi is based in Santa Cruz and became interested in meditation in the early 1970s. She began practicing Tibetan Buddhism in 1991 during a year-long study in India and Nepal. She worked in administrative positions in several Buddhist centers in the 1990s, and completed several long meditation retreats over a six-year period. In 2004, Chogkyi took monastic ordination with the Dalai Lama and has practiced as a monastic for nearly 20 years.
Chogkyi is a certified teacher of Compassion Cultivation Training, a secular compassion training program developed at Stanford University. She also teaches the Cultivating Emotional Balance program, a secular program using contemplative techniques drawn from Buddhism for managing emotions.
In 2023, she started teaching regularly at Insight Santa Cruz, and is also a visiting teacher at Lion’s Roar Dharma Center, Diamond Light Tibetan Buddhist Group and the San Francisco Dharma Collective.