When Gabby Rutkauskas read an article in the Chicago Tribune about the opportunity for a select number of Illinois high school students to hear the Dalai Lama speak in person on the topic of nonviolence, she was determined to be one of them. She proposed the idea to Hinsdale Central Principal Mike McGrory, who immediately registered with the TIBET center at Loyola University in the hopes of receiving one of the 452 tickets available to Illinois high school students. Hinsdale Central received two tickets, and Principal McGrory nominated both Gabby and Taylor Rasmussen to attend on behalf of the school.
Hinsdale Living talked to Gabby and Taylor just before the event and again afterward to get their thoughts on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
HINSDALE LIVING: Tell us a little about yourself and why you want to hear the Dalai Lama speak.
GABBY RUTKAUSKAS: I’m President of the Ecology Club, and I like the Dalai Lama’s philosophies on the environment and being one with nature. I am a vegetarian, and I hope to study biology in college, specializing in equine surgery. This summer, I will be attending a three-week leadership clinic on global health at Brown University that ties in to the Dalai Lama’s philosophies. I hope it will help me to be a better leader in the clubs I lead.
Also, I’ve heard from so many people that you leave with such a peace of mind after hearing him speak.
TAYLOR RASMUSSEN: I’ll be attending Georgetown University in the fall, majoring in Spanish and Arabic with a minor in business. I also speak French. I hope to find a career with an international organization, using my language skills to lessen the barriers and help unite the Western and Eastern worlds.
The Dalai Lama is so renowned all over the world for the extraordinary things he has done and become. I feel honored to hear someone of that status and power speak. Shortly before the event, Hinsdale Central was given the opportunity to send nine additional students, who were Gen Carter, Robert Chun, Kati Holland, Lucas Mayer, Aakaash Meduri, Ted Owens, Lauren Paul, Stephanie Scholl, and Zoe Kafkes. Accompanied by social studies teacher Jessica Hurt, the students traveled to Loyola University to participate in the hour-long mediation and sacred chanting ceremony, then listened to the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on nonviolence. Actor, writer, and humanitarian, Sean Penn, who was presented with the 2012 Peace Summit Award the day before by His Holiness, introduced the Dalai Lama.
HL: What was the experience like? Did he leave any lasting impressions on you?
GR: The Dalai Lama talked about two things that stood out for me. He said to always maintain a stable peace of mind even when you feel like all the odds are against you. The way to restore peace is to calm yourself, soul search, remember what you are all about, and know who you are. He related this to himself—when people protest his teachings, he needs to keep peace of mind, remember what he believes in, and know the ultimate goal.
He also gave an analogy of a certain breed of turkeys that become immediately independent upon birth. He said that if you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself. There will be opposition against you, but you need to have faith in whatever god you believe in and surround yourself with prayer and people who will support you.
TR: I am going to remember it the rest of my life. He was fun to watch, has a surprising sense of humor, and says really insightful things. He talked about all the problems in the world and where they stem from. He said that we as people tend to fixate and focus on the differences among us, but that we don’t take the time to look at the similarities. If we looked at the similarities, we wouldn’t have all the problems we do.
If I could wind up being kind of like him when I am his age, I would be extremely happy. He’s hilarious, frankly. He does an excellent job of balancing being happy and fun and doing the things that need to be done. If I could wind up with that kind of contentment in my life, I’d be very happy. You could sense the tremendous sense of awe and respect coming from everybody there.
“The Dalai Lama’s message about the power of young people seemed to really resonate with our students,” says Jessica Hurt. “The students on this trip are some of the most gifted and talented students that I have ever known. The Dalai Lama drove home the importance of peace coming from within and guiding decision making. This is not always a message that students are exposed to in our fast paced, ultra-competitive culture. It was refreshing to hear our students engage in conversation with each other about the event and the Dalai Lama’s ideas. There is no doubt in my mind that this event will have an impact on how these students think about life and how society interacts. Personally, it was a privilege to be able to experience this event but to also attend with this group of amazing students. It reaffirmed my faith in our students and the kind leaders they will be.”
—Elaine Doremus Slayton