11 years of Naropa University Commencement Ceremonies.

Via Waylon Lewis
on May 13, 2010
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naropa university commencement graduation boulder college

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.

Picture 15 Picture 14

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:

Picture 13

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

Picture 11

Great video via The Daily Camera, captures the day:


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


5 Responses to “11 years of Naropa University Commencement Ceremonies.”

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  2. Brooke says:

    Thank you for your post about your history with Naropa and its commencement ceremony. I will be attending Naropa in the fall to finish my undergrad and your insight and honesty helped put some concerns to rest. I particularly loved this statement:

    “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.”

    I look forward to reading more.


  3. Timothy says:

    A wonderful article about a wonderful university. Thank you for sharing your intimate historical perspective.

  4. Oh, I enjoyed this so much. And I'll tell you why.

    I actually knew quite a bit about Naropa in 1974, but very little of what had happened since. Why? Because last year I read Ram Dass' Paths to God–Living the Bhagavad Gita, which is a transcript of the lecture series he gave at Naropa in 1974, the very summer Waylon was born.

    There are lots of great pictures of Naropa in 1974, including Dass and Trungpa debating the differences between Buddhist and Yoga philosophy. The book actually opens with an account of these debates and the excitement they generated among the attendees.

    So here we are in 2010. I find myself debating Boulder Buddhaphiles on Elephant about the differences between Buddhist and Yoga philosophy, informed in part by reading Dass' account of his 1974 debates with Trungpa and most certainly by his brilliant analysis of the Gita, which has also inspired my experiment with "Gita Talk" on Elephant.

    To complete the picture, yesterday, completely unrelated to reading Waylon's article here, I put a message on Ram Dass' Facebook wall inviting him and his students to join us at "Gita Talk". Does anyone know him personally?

    Loved the video, too.

    Bob Weisenberg

  5. Sandra says:

    If you have the link to Nataraja Kallio's commencement speech (2006 I think) please post. It was simply stunning. Made me laugh, cry and appreciate everything that is Naropa.