Oct. 10, 2007

Bridging Worlds right here in Ithaca

"Bridging Worlds" -- the theme of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama's three public talks in Ithaca -- is more than a concept for Cornell organizers and volunteers involved with these events. It is an exercise in community, one that resembles the spirit of the Tibetan system of teachings based on the Kalachakra, or wheel of time, said Ted Arnold, president of the board of directors of Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies in downtown Ithaca: "These teachings detail the inextricable relation between the individual and the society, in that the development of one is linked necessarily to the other. It has been wonderful to see the enormous sharing of talent and resources and, hopefully, the building of new relationships" in planning the Dalai Lama's visit.

For Peggy Beach, Cornell director of campus information and visitor relations, the wheel of time started turning in the spring of 2006 when representatives from Namgyal approached Cornell and Ithaca College seeking a venue for the Dalai Lama's visit. Within a year, a large planning committee had been formed that included representatives from Cornell, IC, Namgyal, the city of Ithaca and area law enforcement agencies. One venue became two, then five.

"It took us a while to figure out who was going to do what, but it was a collaborative effort from the start," said Beach. "It's been a wonderful experience getting to know colleagues at Ithaca College and to work with the people at Namgyal."

The Cornell anthropology department stepped in to anchor the Barton Hall event; Cornell United Religious Work, the Johnson Museum and the Office of International Relations along with student activities and the communications division, among other campus groups, all played important roles in early planning and coordination.

"We're so grateful and happy to be putting this together for the community," said Laurie Damiani, director of international initiatives. "The beauty of this is that we're bridging worlds right here in Ithaca."

Cornell took the lead in providing security for five separate venues, each of which required top-level diplomatic security and clearance through the state department, said David Yeh, assistant vice president for student and academic services.

The university helped to produce more than 1,800 credential badges for more than 500 people (some working multiple venues) including maintenance workers, caterers, performers, bus drivers, ushers, media -- just about anyone in the vicinity of the Dalai Lama's entourage. All told, Yeh said, nearly 1,000 staff members from Cornell, IC, the State Theatre, Tompkins County Sheriff's Department, New York State Police -- Troop C, Ithaca police and fire departments, and the entire staff at LaTourelle resort outside Ithaca, played key collaborative roles in supporting the Dalai Lama's visit. Multiple venues added an unusual level of complexity even for a university accustomed to handling high-profile visitors, said Yeh. But the spirit of cooperation carried the day.

"I love it when a plan comes together," said Beach.