||It began with a dream, a book and a letter...
In the early 1980's under the direction of then Headmaster Kent Ferguson, the entire faculty, staff and student body of Santa Barbara Middle School read My Land and My People by the Dalai Lama, planting the seeds of a connection that spans continents and decades. It was an eye opener for everyone, both teachers and students. At the end of the assignment each student wrote a letter to the author and sent it to the Office of Tibet in New York. Almost eighteen months later, an auspicious pile of mail was in the headmaster's office. Half way down in the stack was a handwritten envelope. The XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet had somehow taken the time to respond to a small middle school on the west coast of North America!
The next chapter of this most unusual friendship occurred in late October of 1984. His Holiness was coming to Santa Barbara to speak at the local University and reside for a few days at the President’s House on the campus. Kent was asked if he would be willing to serve as a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama, who was at that time a Head of State as well as a religious leader and teacher. This duty required Kent to be within 50 feet of the Dalai Lama for a day, and to remain outside of his bedroom door and awake for a night. On Kent’s 41st birthday, a car drove up, and out came an incarnation considered to be godlike by five million Tibetans. The Dalai Lama came up, smiled, put his hands together, and bowed. Kent did the same, "it was among the high points of a wonderful lifetime!" he said.
When the Tibetan Village School opened in Dharamsala, India, SBMS began to deepen its connection with the Tibetan people by creating a Sister School Program. SBMS English Teacher, Tressa Kallio attended opening day where the Dalai Lama was the honored guest.
The Dalai Lama returned to Santa Barbara in 1989 to be honored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on the heels of his Nobel Peace Prize. Kent wrote again to the Office of Tibet in New York asking if it might be possible for the Dalai Lama to visit with the school. "I knew it was, at best, a real long shot." he said. He hoped SBMS might have ten minutes with the Dalai Lama. Kent presented His Holiness with a scarf and asked him to allow three things to happen: to accept handmade gifts from three students--including a Mandala and seeds of plants in Santa Barbara, to take our greeting to our Tibetan Sister Schools, and to let our math teacher, Russ Lewin, take his picture. His Holiness smiled and agreed.
The Dalai Lama spoke to SBMS students for two hours, inviting students to visit him in Dharamsala and talking of the rains, weather, and fruits. Then he held out his hands and made a moving gesture, “did you not wish a picture?” The entire school got up and raced onto the stage. Students crowded around him like iron filings drawn to a magnet. One sat between his legs and was ecstatic to be tickled by his new friend. This student, and many others over the years, have traveled to Dharamsala to visit the Dalai Lama.
23 years later, in 2012, Whit Ingersoll spent a moment with the Dalai Lama in Seattle, sharing a photo of his visit with SBMS in 1989. We invited him to return to SBMS whenever he returned to Santa Barbara!