Should the Dalai Lama ever need to check out a book at the Emory University Library, he now has full access. At an installment ceremony Monday morning, His Holiness was presented with the title of Honorary Presidential Professor - and his own Emory University ID card.
"It is a privilege to share our Emory with you," said Emily Allen, the president of the Student Government Association, as she gave him the card. "I suspect you'll never really need it, but if you do ... ."
Showcasing his renowned sense of humor, the Dalai Lama gave a beaming smile and graciously accepted the card.
This same grin was seen throughout the two-hour ceremony, held at the Woodruff P.E. Center on the Emory campus. Members of the Emory faculty, staff and student body spoke on the historic nature of the day, often borrowing university president James Wagner's word for the event: "auspicious."
The Dalai Lama has been named a Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory, and spent four days giving lectures and talks at the school last weekend. Monday's ceremony marked the Dalai Lama's fourth visit to Emory, as well as cemented the formation of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Through this international bridge, the university will work to bring awareness to Tibet's struggle for freedom from China.
This will be the Dalai Lama's first affiliation with any American university.
"This is like the reunion of two long-lost cousins," Wagner said. "It is an opportunity for these two traditions to lead to new realms of knowledge to better humankind. He is a genuine human being. We should all strive to learn to be this kind of open and caring."
Though he is revered by millions and considered by some to be the utmost holy figure in the world today, the Dalai Lama repeatedly insisted he was nothing more than a "simple Buddhist monk."
"Physically, mentally, emotionally, we are all completely the same. I am just a human being," he said. "I have no formal training, no education, but now I somehow have a professorship."
Later in the day, the Dalai Lama spoke to a crowd of thousands at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. Despite the cloudy skies and drizzle of rain, the public nonetheless flocked to the park to hear His Holiness speak. Exact crowd numbers couldn't be estimated because it was not a ticketed event, but Sally Corbrett, a representative with Emory, said she was very pleased with high attendance.
"We didn't know what to expect, what with the rain and all," she said. "But it looks like it has reached capacity. We're thrilled with the enthusiastic turnout."
During his 45-minute lecture, the Dalai Lama spoke on creating world peace and finding alternative solutions to war, which he called an outdated practice.
"In today's reality, our interests are dependent on the rest of the world. We should build each other up, not tear each other down," he said. "Bloodshed and killing is not a solution to the problem. We should discuss our problems and find solutions this way. This should be the century of dialogue."
The Dalai Lama praised the United States for making efforts to create diplomatic policies around the world, though he noted, "you have had a few mistakes here and there." He also touted the country's use of alternative methods and programs to create worldwide peace.
"Less soldiers, more Peace Corps," he said. "That is a great thing. That will help improve America's image."
While his lecture tackled serious topics, the atmosphere was far from somber. Attendees carried tubs of popcorn, mugs of Starbucks coffee, ice cream cones and boxes of pizza. In many ways, the event was more like a concert or sporting event than a lesson on bettering humanity.
This was never more evident than with five Georgia Tech students, each shirtless, with the words "Hello" painted on their bellies, and "Dalai" painted on their backs.
"I thought those guys were pretty funny," said Jana Gutierrez, a professor at Auburn University who attended the event. "I'm here hoping to learn something about peace and patience. Maybe some of his wisdom will rub off on me."