Friday, August 18, 2006

Canuck Students, HHDL to Discuss Kindness

Reported in the Vancouver Sun; August 18, 2006

Nine teenagers to share Vancouver's Orpheum stage with Tibetan leader Sept. 8

By Nicholas Read

Nine high school students will receive a first-hand lesson in empathy and compassion next month when they share centre-stage with the Dalai Lama at a special gathering at the Orpheum Theatre.

The students, who range in age from 13 to 17 and represent school districts throughout Greater Vancouver, will get a chance to speak personally with the Tibetan spiritual leader in front of 1,500 of their peers.

There will be no adults on stage with them except the Dalai Lama and his interpreter during the Sept. 8 meeting.

Two of the students -- Stephen Boles, 15, from Pinetree secondary school in Coquitlam and Angali Appadurai, 16, from Gleneagles secondary school in Coquitlam -- will act as emcees, while the rest will pose questions and help moderate a theatre-wide discussion.

Next month's visit will be the second time in three years that the Dalai Lama has been in Vancouver. This visit, scheduled for Sept. 8 to 10, coincides with the inauguration of the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education, a non-political, non-religious cultural institution scheduled to be built in downtown Vancouver at a site not yet determined.

The idea for the student gathering -- which will focus on the importance of compassion and kindness -- is called Nurturing Compassion. It was conceived last spring by educators who wanted to debunk the notion that teenagers are a selfish, self-centred lot.

"Most are not like that," said University of B.C. education professor Kim Schonert-Reichl. "They are compassionate and kind. This is an opportunity to listen to what they have to say.

"Also, what we know from research is that kids don't learn from an adult lecturing to them. It's only through peer dialogue that they learn. It's only when they have the opportunity to hear each other that they can move forward and reach higher levels of understanding."

In addition to Boles and Appadurai, the students are: Lucy Wang, 17, from Point Grey secondary school in Vancouver; Kit Sauder, 17, from Earl Marriott secondary school in Surrey; Vinny Locsin, 17, from St. George's secondary school in Vancouver; Irene Hong, 16, from West Vancouver secondary school; Angela Tsui, 17, from Richmond secondary school; Bennett Chung, 13, from Burnaby Central secondary school; and Janny Gao, 17, from New Westminster secondary school.

The nine were chosen from among hundreds of students around the Lower Mainland, based on essays they wrote about their own experiences with kindness and compassion.

Some of their stories will be told on stage Sept. 8.

The event will also be shown via a Vancouver school board webcast, Schonert-Reichl said.

Boles, who has spent several weeks of his summer holiday working on and rehearsing an emcee script, said he was surprised and honoured to be chosen for the job, even though he had only a vague idea of who the Dalai Lama was when the essay contest was launched.

"I knew he stood for peace and compassion, and was a leader of the Buddhist religion, but that was pretty much it," Boles said Thursday.

He also says he isn't nervous -- yet.

"But as the time gets closer, I'll get more butterflies in my stomach," he said.

Asked if his schoolmates might think it's nerdish of him to want to meet the Dalai Lama, Boles, who wrote his essay about getting to know someone with autism, said no.

"Cool's maybe not the right word to use about it, but people are amazed by him and what he stands for," he replied. "So I guess you could say it is cool."

Boles said he and Appadurai have been told to have fun with their script, but not to be too silly.

"It's not supposed to be teenager fun -- goofball fun. It's supposed to be serious fun," he said. "We're not supposed to be uptight, but we can have fun."