Dalai Lama gets Richfield’s first-ever ‘key to the city’


Richfield City Councilmembers Michael Howard, left, and Maria Regan Gonzalez, middle, meet the Dalai Lama in the Minneapolis Convention Center auditorium June 24. They presented the Dalai Lama with a key to the city and a poem by a Richfield sixth-grader. (Submitted photo)

The Dalai Lama is a man of access, having collected ceremonial keys to cities across the world during his travels.

After visiting Minnesota last week, he can now add to that collection a “key to the city” of Richfield, which he received June 24 during a program at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Richfield Councilmembers Michael Howard and Maria Regan Gonzalez had occasion to meet the Tibetan Buddhist leader, handing over what, according Howard, was the first “key to the city” that Richfield has ever dispensed. It was also the first ceremonial key any Minnesota city given to the Dalai Lama, he added.

“The Tibetan community really, really wanted us to give him a key to the city,” Regan Gonzalez said. “Apparently he really likes to get keys to the city.”

The Richfield leaders were tapped to be part of the program due to Richfield’s high Tibetan population and the city’s work with the Tibetan community, she said.

This framed poem and “key to the city” of Richfield were given to the Dalai Lama June 24 during his appearance at the Minneapolis Convention Center. (Submitted photo)

Richfield has the second-highest Tibetan population in the state, behind only Columbia Heights, according to Regan Gonzalez. And earlier this year, the city council declared March 10 Tibet Day in Richfield.

During a program featuring the Dalai Lama’s teachings, Howard personally presented the key to His Holiness, and Regan Gonzalez gave one more gift: a poem by Richfield sixth-grader Gladys Calderon Castillo describing the city in terms of community.

Regan Gonzalez read short the poem aloud during the program. The two Richfield council members also joined several elected leaders from other cities for a more intimate meeting behind the auditorium stage.

“It was surreal,” Howard said. “You hear his message of compassion and kindness and peace, and all of that just emanates from him.”

Gladys Calderon Castillo, middle, stands with Richfield City Councilmember Maria Regan Gonzalez, left, and Councilmember Michael Howard, right. The trio had just finished attending a June 24 Dalai Lama program at the Minneapolis Convention Center. (Submitted photo)

Regan Gonzalez noticed how much time the Dalai Lama took to acknowledge everyone in the room.

“He gave a lot of attention to each individual looked at each person, touched each person,” she said.

“He had the funniest laugh. He would just make a lot of jokes and we would just be laughing, because his laugh was so funny and very light-hearted.”

The Dalai Lama also emphasized “how we are all brothers and sisters across this whole earth,” Regan Gonzalez added – an appropriate topic, she said, since that was the theme of Gladys’ poem.

As the poem was presented, Richfield’s strong Tibetan connection was clear.

“You could hear throughout the crowd there was definitely a Richfield contingent,” Howard said.

So, the next time he visits the Twin Cities, the Dalai Lama knows where he can receive an especially warm reception, key to the city in hand.

“It’s obviously ceremonial,” Howard said, “but it’s his message of compassion, peace and togetherness that’s always welcome.”

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RISunCurrent.