May 14, 2010

11 years of Naropa University Commencement Ceremonies.

Ancient History

I was born in Boulder, Colorado, during the first summer of Naropa. I was a thoughtful newborn—my parents were both students of that first wild enthusiastic serious summer of Naropa University, in 1974—conveniently, I chose to enter this planetary orb on July 16—the day between summer sessions. My mom named me after Philip Whalen, a round Zen/Beat poet whom she had a literary crush on.

As far as my dad was concerned, I was named after Waylon Jennings—they never could agree on much, and divorced (not a moment too soon) when I was six.

My mother was a student of Naropa’s founder, Chogyam Trungpa, a wild and sweet trailblazer for meditation in the West. So I grew up around Naropa. I got to take a class with Allen Ginsberg, Beat poet, activist and marketeer supreme. He paid very flattering attention to me (and very respectful, too).

By the time I was 10, my mom was a teacher at Naropa, helping form their English department so they could get accredited nationally. So I spent a bunch of time waiting around for her after my classes had finished, lying about the colorful Maitri rooms with fellow young troublemakers.

Recent History

When I returned to Boulder after 11 or so years in Vermont and Boston, I wound up starting grad school at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and co-founded the Founder’s Society, which reintroduced meditation and the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa in a daily context to a university that was drifting, inevitably, toward “respectability.”

I left to found what would become elephant magazine, now elephant journal dot com and Walk the Talk Show, and interviewed Presidents Cobb and Coburn several times. Various professors—particularly Frank Berliner, but many others—contributed to the magazine over the years.

Since returning from the East Coast, I’ve attended every Commencement, I think. Eleven in all.

The Commencement ceremonies under President Cobb were magical, wild, celebratory. I knew most of the graduating students (I had just been attending, and was crazy and fun) and President Cobb’s addresses were charismatic, dignified. The ceremonies went on forrrrreeeeeevvvvvvvver, but were worth every minute. I think at least one took place at Chautauqua, a century-plus old open air hall that provided a perfect bucolic, lofty setting for such an achingly joyous day.

The ceremonies under President Coburn were wonderful, too. Bow-tied and scholarly, President Coburn was less “crazy wisdom” ish, more academic—but he had that spiritual background, and his own brand of nerdy charm. I may have skipped out on a few early—one in particular horrified me, ending in a sudden, unplanned chaotic rush of neo-hippieism. Naropa is not about letting it all hang out, at its core. That’s a mistaken notion. It’s about giving rein to the fierce individualism that comes from studying the present moment, and one’s craft, with fervent love. And, beauty. And, dignity.

Above right: I attended a bit of a press conference for Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff during the Clinton Administration. Ambassador Verveer is now the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues—a new post created by President Obama.

The Graduating Class of 2010

This past weekend marked my first Commencement with Dr. Stuart Lord. He’s an immensely charismatic leader—who does not seem to enjoy or exploit his public speaking role half as much as he might. The ceremony was…ah, blessedly…short. It had that same jubilation as all the others. An amazing speaker, an Ambassador and former Chief of Staff for Hillary Clinton on women’s human rights. Bagpipes, playing a familiar tune that the founder loved so well. Beautiful students’ hearts, overflowing with joy and a little sadness. The high-larious Junior Burke. A newly beautiful podium, and the sashes, and the amazing students and devoted, loyal professors. It was a joy.

A bunch of weak iPhotos, mostly via yours truly:

For Naropa’s photo slideshow, click their image, below:

For The Daily Camera’s slideshow, click their image, below:

Great video via The Daily Camera, captures the day:

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