About Naropa50 Years of Naropa

Celebrating 50 Years of Naropa

Welcome from President Charles G. Lief, JD

Celebrating 50 years of Naropa University

It is a joy to welcome you all to celebrate Naropa’s 50th anniversary in 2024. I was most fortunate to have participated in the opening Summer Institute in 1974. I was particularly moved by the loud and clear proclamation of our founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, that our challenge was to reignite the pilot light and create a new form of higher education, one that integrates the contemplative practices of mindfulness and compassion with the liberal and creative arts.

The pioneering faculty and staff took up the challenge and welcomed the first cohort of students. Since then, generations of teachers and students, supported by a dedicated administrative team, have not only shared the founding energy but confidently evolved, changed, and challenged our community to be both relevant for our times and cutting edge in our outlook and our offerings.

My family has gone all in for Naropa. My wife Judy was our first Dean (President in today’s language), our daughters are Naropa alumnx, and I was blessed to have been asked in 2012 to serve as President. And we are not alone. “Community” is not a casual descriptor of who we are as a living body of scholars, students, philanthropists, alumnx, and support staff.

You are warmly invited to connect to Naropa at 50 in any and all ways that move you. Our team is planning a vast array of opportunities. We will nostalgically remember and appreciate the past and, without limit, envision the future we will create together.

About Spark the Mind. Ignite the Heart. Illuminate the World.

At Naropa’s opening convocation in the summer of 1974, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche proclaimed that ‘When East meets West, sparks will fly.’ The sparks made from the friction of East bumping into West have now ignited into a blaze that is leading higher education into a more holistic, wise, and compassionate place. The fire outlining the official Naropa seal symbolizes wisdom’s capacity to burn away ignorance, pride, and aggression.

Buddhist teacher Simon Luna, who served as the Director of Publications at Naropa in the early nineties, wrote the following on Naropa’s 25th anniversary: “Naropa University is alive and well. The sparks have been ignited, the kindling lit. The flames of wisdom are burning…May the Sparks of wisdom fly in all directions.” As we look toward the future, we stand poised to continue to illuminate the wisdom of our students, so they may light a path for others to a more compassionate and just world.

A Note from Tyler Norris, MDiv, Board of Trustees Chair

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and alumnx, I invite you to join us in our inclusive journey to celebrate Naropa’s 50th anniversary! 

I first experienced Naropa in the early ’80s in Buddhist-Christian dialogues. I was drawn by the depth of spirited discourse, the quality of respect across traditions and perspectives, and the spirit of appreciative inquiry.

I returned at midlife, over a decade ago, to earn my Master of Divinity degree, while raising a family and building a business.

Here I deepened my practice, opened my heart, and allowed the program to springboard me into my next chapter of service.

Now as Chair of the Board of Trustees approaching Naropa’s 50th—my commitment is to build on the wisdom, learning, and experience of the past 50 years—to inform how we prepare our students as good humans and leaders facing the challenges of the next 50 years.

As a long-time leader in the fields of health philanthropy, community development and creating the conditions for equitable well-being, I know no greater place of service.

Come explore with us how Naropa can be a vehicle for helping you manifest what you care about most in transforming ourselves to transform the world!

Envisioning the Next 50 Years

As you walk around our beautiful campuses, know that nearly every building, classroom, or contemplative space resulted from the generosity and vision of our alumnx and friends. We rely on your support to help us maintain the outstanding and innovative education we offer.

As we approach our fiftieth year, Naropa University continues to be a place where students have been inspired to make the world a better place. It is where our students learn, live, and gather, where we practice mindfulness and compassion, and the hub of our creativity, innovation, artistic expression and social engagement.

This is just the beginning! Naropa’s first fifty years were focused on preparing the ground for the even greater things to come. Your donations to the 50th Anniversary Campaign support the future of our university and investments in student success.

Your gift helps create the conditions for thesparks of wisdom to fly in all directions.” 

Here are some of the ways you can engage with Naropa and help celebrate fifty years of contemplative education and the role of mindfulness and compassion to build a more sane, vibrant, and generous world.

1. Join One of the 50th Anniversary Committees and Share Your Wisdom

Donors and other friends, please email Sharla Owens. Naropa alumnx, please email Kelly Watt.

2. Attend One of the Numerous Celebrations to Mark the Occasion

3. Make a Gift to the 50th Anniversary Fund


Email Sharla Owens

Schedule a Chat with Sharla Owens


50th Fundraising Gala (Fall 2024)

Members: Sharla Owens (lead), Kendra Sandoval, Jessica DelCastillo (project manager), Martha Husick, Rachel Solum

50th Kickoff Events with Summer Writing Program (2024 & 2025)

Members: Jeffrey Pethybridge (lead), Stephan Taylor (project manager), Alanna Marks, Caroline Swanson (Swanee), Regina Smith

Conference: Joanna Macy Center for Resilience & Regeneration

Members: Michael Bauer (lead), Stephen Polk, Peter Grossenbacher, Regina Smith, Cory Potash, Joseph Grobelny (project manager)

Academic Program–specific Alumnx Reunions

Members: Kelly Watt (lead), Kendra Sandoval, Jessica DelCastillo

50 Students/50 Years Project

Members: Jeremy Moore (lead), Alanna Marks, Lexi Watkins, Zeek Miller (project manager), Karen Wills (project manager)

Years of Service Celebration Honoring Faculty & Staff (Fall 2024 with Gala)

Members: Bob Brown (lead), Jessica DelCastillo (project manager), Stephan Taylor

Student Design Competition/Collaboration for 50th Swag (Summer/Fall 2023)

Members: Tonni Tis (lead), Stephan Taylor, Marcos Perez

Commemorative Coffee Table Book (completed by Fall 2024)

Members: Cassie Smith (lead), Ben Williams, Danielle Poitras, Marcos Perez

Afrofuturism Event

Members: Regina Smith (lead), Jeffrey Pethybridge, Monera Mason, PJ Gunter

Interactive Programming around Founding Vision of Contemplative Education

Members: Carolyn Gimian, Irini Rockwell, Zeek Miller (project manager), Karen Wills (project manager)

Family/Community 50th Celebration Event/Cookout

Members: Tonni Tis (lead), Bob Brown, Stephan Taylor (project manager), Jialin Chu, Kelly Watt, Cory Potash, Rachel Solum

Highlighting Important Faculty and Their Contributions

Members: Cassie Smith, PJ Gunter

Special Concerts, Events, Conferences, Symposiums

Members: PJ Gunter (lead), Carolyn Gimian, Kendra Sandoval, Lexi Watkins, Jialin Chu, Martha Rome, Cory Potash, Rachael Gula, Zeek Miller (project manager), Karen Wills (project manager)

Poetry Competition and/or 24-hour Poetry Marathon

Members: Jeffrey Pethybridge, Jialin Chu , Stephan Taylor (project manager)

Designating Boulder as a Literary City

Members: Caroline Swanson (lead), Alanna Marks

Video Project: “I am here because…” “To me Naropa is…”

Members: Bob Brown (lead), Lexi Watkins 

Native American Film Festival

Members: Seann Goodman (lead), Regina Smith

Bhutanese Connection Day

Members: Jane Carpenter (lead), Dr. Anne Parker, Tashi Browder, Rinchen Love, Janneli Chapin

Art Installations and/or Beautification Project along 21st & Arapahoe

Members: Cory Potash, Rachael Gula

The story of Naropa has been written by all of those over the past fifty years who were called to be here. Tell us in words and/or images about your Naropa experience and how Naropa has made a positive difference in your life.


Submit Your Naropa Story and/or Photographs

Summer Writing Program // June 9–29, 2024

50th Anniversary Gala // September 2024

Family Weekend // Fall 2024

Looking Back: The Sparks of 1974

The purpose of Naropa Institute is to bring together the dynamics of opposites, to unite extremes in viewpoints. When opposites rub against each other, there is a spark of energy. Our interest is to make Naropa Institute a place where intellectual activity will be combined with experience, to blend the two kinds of knowing—the intellectual with the intuitive. The split between East and West is the split between the mind and the heart.“—Naropa’s founder,  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Archival photos of 1974 by John Barkin, Laura Blades, Roy Bonney, Blair Hansen, Andrea Craig Roth, Karen Roper, Alan Rabold, Hudson Shotwell, Robert Del Tredici.

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This is where experiential learning meets academic rigor. Where you challenge your intellect and uncover your potential. Where you discover the work you’re moved to do—then use it to transform our world.

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