Conference speakers offer praise and advice for women as mothers, leaders.
Long Beach, Calif., USA 27 Sept 2006 (Don Jergler/www.presstelegram.com) - His Holiness the Dalai Lama was in Long Beach on Tuesday to offer his vision of how to build a better world: More women must become leaders and schools must teach compassion.
'The female is the source of genuine human compassion,' he told an audience of about 13,000 packed into the Long Beach Arena for the annual California Governor and First Lady's Conference on Women.
The conference at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center drew a cast of prominent speakers.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver and Martha Stewart perked up the crowd in the morning, followed at noon by Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, 'Meet the Press' host Tim Russert, columnist Anna Quindlen and ABC President Ann Sweeney.
As the day went on, the crowd swelled in anticipation of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's speech, drawing the biggest crowd in the event's 20-year history, according to organizers.
The Dalai Lama and Shriver appeared on stage together for an hour in the evening, as he delivered lessons on the importance of women, motherhood, inner peace and harmony.
Change in society begins with the mother, who passes those feelings on to her family, which in turn influences society, he said.
The Dalai Lama also expressed concern that values and compassion have been ignored in education.
'The education system has been negligent about our inner value,' he said.
In a society where not everyone goes to church, too many people do not get exposed to lessons on morality or 'secular ethics,' a term he said he prefers.
'We have to find ways to educate moral values without religion,' said the Dalai Lama, who was quick to add that it is important to respect all religions as well as the beliefs of those who are not religious.
At one point during the speech, laughter erupted when the monk donned a red visor.
Shriver pleaded with him to remove it, but he pointed up to the rafters and said, 'Very strong light.'
'That's your interest,' he said pointing to the lights and the audience. Then, turning his finger to the hat, he added, 'This is my interest.'
Schwarzenegger focused his brief speech early in the day on California women, avoiding repeating political rhetoric that in the past has caused him problems.
'As a man I can honestly say that I've been fortunate to have surrounded myself with smart, savvy, strong, independent and accomplished women,' he said.
Unlike past years, Schwarzenegger was not interrupted by protesters inside the conference, although the California Nurses Association staged a protest outside the convention center.
After a few more complimentary words about women, including his wife Maria and his two daughters, who introduced him, Schwarzenegger had these parting words:
'One of the things I've learned (is that) when women on a mission get together: smart men stay out of the way.'
The governor was followed by Stewart, who talked about her career from aspiring architect to stock broker to caterer to building a multimillion-dollar image and reputation.
'I have not been motivated by money,' she said early in her speech.
Shriver discussed her experiences as First Lady and talked about organizing the conference.
The first two conferences were shrouded in politics, with Schwarzenegger in a political war with public employee unions and his failed special election hanging over the events.
'He got what we politely call the comeuppance in the polls,' Shriver said of the election.
Last year her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, fell and broke her hip the night before the conference. This year the elder Shriver suffered another accident, falling on Friday and breaking a knee and ribs.
Cameras turned to Eunice Shriver, who was in a wheelchair near the front of the audience, and
flashed a large image of her on the big screens.
'Stop it. Stop. Stop,' she mouthed, as if embarrassed by her daughter's remarks.
Maria Shriver discussed her life and transition from television anchorwoman and author to mother and caretaker of her elderly parents.
Turning the subject to Schwarzenegger, as a governor who is 'having the time of his life,' she said, 'I think he's doing a great job at that, and I'm really proud of him.'
The luncheon session was led off by Russert of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' who talked about his father, who worked two full-time jobs, and his mother, who died last year.
'She taught me that you don't have to make a lot of noise for people to pay attention to you,' he said.
Columnist Anna Quindlen's message was that one must help people as well as help themselves.
'A lot of women in this room want to do well, but if we do not do good too, doing well is not good enough,' she said.
Ferguson brought with her to the podium a little red-headed rag doll, which she said was in her office in the World Trade Center when it was destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
A firefighter later found it in the rubble and put it in his hat, and it was identified by talk show host Larry King as Ferguson's doll, which she calls 'Little Red.'
The doll is used as the logo for her 'Chances for Children' charity, she said.
'She's a fighter, she's a survivor, she's a woman and she's here to tell the tale,' she said of the doll.
At age 12, Ferguson's mother left her to be with a man in Argentina, she said.
'I never saw her again in England,' Ferguson said, adding that the situation caused her to build a fortress 'and everybody knows it as Fergie.'
She went on to discuss the compulsive eating problem she developed.
'My only friend was food,' said Ferguson, who is now a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers.
Despite, or because of, being left by her mother, Ferguson, a mother of two, said she places great importance on motherhood.
'I believe that mother(hood) is everything,' Ferguson said.
Shriver presented her Minerva Awards for women who made contributions to the state, with a lifetime Minerva Award going to Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut.
Ride, who has worked to encourage girls and young women to study science, gave a can-do speech.
'When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of flying into space, and amazingly, that dream came true,' she said.
The Dalai Lama closed the conference with a three-minute meditation session, which commanded a deep silence from the large crowd.
People closed their eyes or bowed their heads and took calculated breaths at his instruction. He asked people to either reflect on their religion or to focus on their mother's compassion.
He then exited with thanks to the audience, his hands clasped.
Shriver closed the conference with a few quick words.
'If Arnold wins the election, I'll be back,' she said. 'Otherwise, see you later.'