Nawang Phuntsog

CSUF's Nawang Phuntsog with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at Capitol Hill gala in honor of the Dalai Lama.

Education Professor Attends Capitol Hill Gala Honoring Dalai Lama

Nawang Phuntsog Calls Event ‘Historic’

November 13, 2007

By Debra Cano Ramos

Nawang Phuntsog, associate professor of elementary and bilingual education, was a toddler in the early 1960s when his family fled Tibet after its occupation by China. Last month, he traveled to the nation’s Capitol and witnessed an historic event between the U.S. and the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.

President Bush awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal — the country’s highest civilian honor — to the Dalai Lama during an Oct. 17 ceremony on Capitol Hill. The event was billed as the only time that a sitting U.S. president has attended and bestowed such an honor to His Holiness.

Phuntsog attended an Oct. 18 reception in Washington, D.C. in honor of the Dalai Lama’s award. Phuntsog was invited to attend by the hosting organization, International Campaign for Tibet.

Earlier in the day, he attended a seminar organized by Asia Society, the Brookings Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Moderated by CNN’s Andrea Koppel, the seminar was graced by the Dalai Lama. “I felt very optimistic that the strong support of the U.S. government may soon bring about a resolution to the Tibet issue,” Phuntsog said.

Many luminaries and dignitaries, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), attended the gala at the Mellon Auditorium. Phuntsog met Pelosi and rubbed elbows with actor Richard Gere, a well-known Dalai Lama supporter and Tibet advocate.

“I felt very fortunate to be a part of this history-making celebration of His Holiness’ award,” said Phuntsog, who joined the university in 1995 and teaches multicultural education and curriculum development courses.

An ebullient Phuntsog also mused, “the auditorium seemed to be the happiest place on Earth as people were joyous and happy in the presence of His Holiness and the other dignitaries.”

Phuntsog was among those instrumental in bringing the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists to Cal State Fullerton in 2000. That was the first time he met the 14th Dalai Lama. Since, he has attended a number of events with the Dalai Lama featured, including one in 2006.

At the gala and during the morning seminar, the 72-year-old Dalai Lama expressed his desire to seek genuine cultural and religious autonomy for Tibet within the constitutional framework of China, Phuntsog said.

“He also emphasized the need and the importance of promoting understanding and religious harmony across the world,” he added.

Phuntsog said it was an event of a lifetime and that he was honored to attend.

“I was really happy to witness this great moment in history and to see this spiritual leader holding hands with two of the most powerful people in the United States: President Bush and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was indeed a symbol of the greatness of this nation.”


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