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Coming together: Through spiritual journey, SU trustee is able to bring Dalai Lama to campus

Courtesy of Seed of Compassion 2008 | Katie McCullough

The Dalai Lama (left) and Dave matthews will appear at SU for the One World concert.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, Erin Kane’s position was misstated. Kane is the associate vice president for public relations. The Daily Orange regrets this error. 

During a three-month spiritual journey, Syracuse University trustee Samuel Nappi found himself in Jordan.

Nappi, a local businessman, was accompanied by Martin Luther King III, His Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan and a Jewish friend. One evening, the four men walked along the banks of the Jordan River and stopped to pray.

Two Christians, a Muslim and a Jew all prayed together.

“It was a wonderful experience and it’s what ‘Common Ground for Peace’ is all about,” Nappi said.

“Common Ground for Peace” is a two-day forum that will be held at Syracuse University Oct. 8-9. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and more than 20 musical artists, such as Dave Matthews, Natasha Bedingfield and Counting Crows, will engage the Syracuse community in talks about how to shift global consciousness toward peace.

The event includes a public talk by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, panel discussions for faculty and students, and a festival-style concert in the Carrier Dome.

The possibility of the event came up last year, when Nappi’s journey around the world took him to the Vatican, Saudi Arabia, Israel and, eventually, India. He met with international peace leaders and asked if they would be interested in attending a peace summit.

After speaking with numerous leaders, Nappi realized it might take years to get everyone together. That was when he received an invitation from the Dalai Lama.

In December, Nappi traveled to India with his son, Justin, and caught the Dalai Lama’s interest. The Tibetan monk said he would check with his staff about scheduling a visit to SU.

“I had a good understanding that it was possible, but I certainly was grateful when I found out that he confirmed,” Nappi said.

And so began the mad race to pull the event together.

Nappi hired a production team to recruit the talent. Legendary music producers Phil Ramone and Don Was will lead the group, Nappi said, as they are both the best in the industry.

“It’s still kind of evolving. This is happening very rapidly,” he said. “Something like this does usually take a few years to put together — we’ve done this in three months. It’s a lot of work in a very short period of time.”

Despite the quick turnaround, community interest has been staggering, Nappi said. Approximately 4,700 student tickets sold within the first 90 minutes of availability. The university offered a second student presale due to the high demand.

Nappi emphasizes the influence of the summit and its speakers. A panel discussion will be held on Oct. 8 featuring the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King III and R. James Woolsey Jr., a former director of the CIA, among other guests.

“If people can be moved when they leave, and their minds and hearts are open, then that’s certainly a direction I’d like to see things go,” Nappi said.

Separate tickets will be sold for the symposium discussion, said Erin Kane, associate vice president for public relations at SU. A number of tickets will be made available to students, but professors who wish to bring their classes will have priority.

Any student who is unable to get a ticket to the panel will be able to watch it at various locations on campus via live streaming, Kane said. Ticket information will be released shortly.

The musical artists performing on the night of Oct. 9 will contribute to the global shift toward peace because “music is the universal language that we all understand,” Nappi said.

“I’m hoping that the musical element will bring out the vibe in some people to help be entertained and be inspired,” he said.

The peace forum is sponsored by One World Community Foundation, a nonprofit established in June by Nappi and his wife, Carol. This will mark the organization’s first public event.

World Harmony Productions, an entertainment company that develops films, plays and musicals with a social message, will produce the event at the Dome. Nappi founded World Harmony three years ago as a vehicle to become “socially conscious” of Broadway shows and films.

World Harmony theatrical productions include “Stick Fly” and “Prometheus Bound.”  Nappi is currently in the middle of producing a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic that he hopes to release next year.

Although the event is about a month away, preparations are underway, said Mark Emery, media representative for World Harmony Productions. Students should be prepared to have their belongings searched before entering the Dome, similar to when other high-profile visitors — such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden — came to SU.

“This area is very experienced with handling large scale events,” Emery said. “There are standard operating procedures in place to deal with events this size.”

The event will cost several million dollars to produce, but many high-profile guests, including the Dalai Lama, are not charging appearance fees, Nappi said. A portion of the ticket sales will also be donated to help fund a new scholarship named after Bassel Al Shahade, an SU graduate student killed in May in Syria while making a documentary film on the country’s violence.

“A lot of people want to be entertained because they love the artists, but it’s not just about the artists,” Nappi said. “It’s really about His Holiness, his wisdom and his compassion.”

Nappi said he hopes this peace summit will be one of many great achievements in his life. After all, he’s still on the journey.

“Success is a journey, it’s not the key to happiness,” Nappi said in an email. “Compassion for others and giving back is happiness and you’re not really a success if you don’t give back.”

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