“I wish to begin with a word from the Dalai Lama, ‘If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another’,” shared twelfth 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 September 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,” said Goewert. “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 September 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,” commented 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 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,” shared Stokes. “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 the most moving message about empathy and forgiveness and radiated joy all day on campus with those she interacted with! Following the commemoration, Chogki 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,” said Stokes. “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.”
Among the sixth and seventh grade classes, values of helping others, kindness, family, generosity, reliability, humor, equality, challenge, gratitude, trust – and friendship – were cited.
“Friendship is important because it’s a way for complete strangers to connect,” reflected sixth grader Naya Mortensen. “My two best friends are my favorite people, and over the summer at camp, every day at lunch we would have deep conversations and it was really nice how much we could trust each other.”
“It is good to be generous and help people,” shared classmate Eli Kayne. “Generosity is sharing and it’s also a form of kindness.”
“I challenge myself and even though at times it seems scary, the feeling after accomplishing the challenge is so immense; you almost always have a smile at the end of it,” shared student Pierce Culberson. “Each time I am rewarded with a feeling of accomplishment and then get stronger and more capable every time. Without challenge, the world is nothing.”
“Humor is important to me because I love laughing and making other people laugh,” said student River Russell. “When somebody else laughs at my silly, goofy jokes, it makes me feel loved and valued. When a friend or a classmate or a family member makes me laugh, it feels like a happy, cheerful little fire is bouncing around in my heart.”
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 His Holiness 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, developed at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s request. She loves interfaith collaboration and is a volunteer for the Interfaith Speakers Bureau of the Islamic Networks Group in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and is also on the Board of Advisors for this organization. She is also a training and curriculum specialist for the Conflict Resolution Center of Santa Cruz County and is on the Sustainable Caring teaching team. 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.
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Nestled among the redwoods on 380 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979