Feature

“Flowing” Into the Future

Soka University of America graduates the Class of 2017.

Taking flight—Soka University of America students head to their commencement ceremony, Aliso Viejo, Calif., May 26. Photo: Jonathan Wilson.


ALISO VIEJO, Calif., May 26—As a boy in Europe during World War II, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi observed that few adults seemed able to withstand the privations of war, to reassemble their lives in ways that seemed whole again.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Commencement Speaker

His observations sparked a lifelong interest in understanding what truly makes a life worth living—and to a new generation, living in vastly different but equally complex times, he had this to say:

“As a new generation of young men and young women, are you going to find fulfillment in your work? Or will you feel that what you have to do for a living is burdensome, an unnecessary evil that should be avoided as much as possible? Much will depend on how you personally answer that question. Your own happiness hinges on it, and the welfare of society depends on it in the long run.”

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, considered the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology and architect of the concept of “flow,” served as the keynote speaker for Soka University of America’s 2017 commencement ceremony, held on May 26 at the school’s state-of-the-art Soka Performing Arts Center.

The ceremony included the graduation of the second class of SUA’s master’s program in Educational Leadership and Societal Change.

In a poignant message, SUA Founder Daisaku Ikeda imparted three guidelines for the graduates to engrave as they “take flight upon forged wings as global citizens”:

1. Earn the trust of society and the world, and extend the bonds it builds.
2. Cast the light of hope even farther by working with people and organizations that encourage hope.
3. Live to the fullest in every life moment to discover the fount of joy and creativity to shape the future.

“The time has come for you to soar with courage toward the vast vaults of purpose only you can fulfill,” Mr. Ikeda wrote. “The storm clouds threatening our times darken even further, yet I call on you to transform mistrust into trust, division into unity, the fear of differences into the joys of diversity. Do so with grace and daring without hesitation, fear or uncertainty. That is my abiding hope.”

Global stage—SUA concludes the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2017. In a message, university founder Daisaku Ikeda called on the graduates to “transform mistrust into trust, division into unity.” Photo: Debra Williams.

The heritage of Soka lies in a contributive life.

One hundred and two students hailing from 13 countries graduated from SUA as members of the university’s 13th undergraduate class, joined by six students from its master’s program.

Daniel Y. Habuki
SUA President

SUA President Daniel Y. Habuki, in his opening remarks, told the students that the state of our society no doubt pushed them to contemplate more deeply the university’s mission.

He reminded them of the university’s heritage, beginning with Soka education founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who in his seminal work The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy described three ways of life for human beings: dependent, independent and contributive. Dr. Habuki then cited Mr. Ikeda’s elaboration in his 2016 peace proposal:

In a dependent way of life, a person is typically unable to sense their own potential, giving up on any real possibility of transforming their current situation and instead passively accommodating themselves to others and their immediate surroundings or to the larger trends in society. In an independent way of life, people have the desire to find their own way forward but tend to have little interest in those with whom they are not directly involved. They are quick to assume that however trying the circumstances of another person, it is up to that person to find a solution through their own efforts.

. . . For his part, Makiguchi asserted that the way of life to strive for is a contributive one. “Authentic happiness cannot be realized except through sharing the joys and sufferings of the masses as a member of society.” Today, we need to expand such awareness to encompass the entire world: Nothing is more crucial. (www.daisakuikeda.org)

Soka education, Dr. Habuki said, provides students with the opportunity to see the interconnectedness of all life—to understand that true happiness exists not in isolation but when people experience joy and happiness together. “Our mission, therefore, is to foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life and endeavor to build a foundation of happiness,” he said. “With this in mind, I’m confident that your education at Soka provided you with the best framework and mindset to become such global citizens.”

Fostering a “steady stream of global citizens.”

Mr. Ikeda spoke at length on the revolutionary concept of global citizenry in his June 13, 1996, lecture “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship” at Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York, in which he outlined the interlocking features and requirements of global citizenship: compassion, wisdom and courage.

He proposed that education that cultivates these qualities in human beings can serve a deeper purpose—to further the cause of human happiness and peace not just for citizens of one nation, but for all humanity.

With this profound insight and vision, Mr. Ikeda established Soka University of America on May 3, 2001, as a four-year, nonsectarian undergraduate liberal arts school grounded in the humanistic ideals of Soka, or value-creating education. Its mission is to “foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life.”

Today, SUA is ranked No. 41 among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2017 rankings. This year, SUA also placed No. 1 for three categories among national liberal arts colleges: highest percentage of international students, highest percentage of students studying abroad and faculty resources. Collegechoice.net ranks SUA No. 3 for “Happiest Freshmen” nationally, after Yale and the University of Chicago. The university also offers generous full tuition Soka Opportunity Scholarships, available to eligible admitted students whose annual family income is $60,000 or less.

“Know thyself” and experience “flow.”

Cassidy Bradford
Founders Award Recipient

During the ceremony, Cassidy Bradford, of Shorewood, Illinois, was named this year’s Founders Award recipient, the university’s highest honor for a graduating student.

In an interview following the ceremony, Ms. Bradford said she treasured being able to develop her humanity through a supportive environment at SUA. “I feel what sets SUA and Soka education apart is the attitude toward serving the students and caring for their best interests,” she said. “Because I had so much care, I was able to graduate with such a fulfilling experience.”

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, for his contributions to foster global citizens of the 21st century, was awarded the university’s highest award of honor from Dr. Habuki.

In his keynote that followed, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, best known for his groundbreaking work on the psychological concept of “flow,” offered some suggestions to the graduates on how to succeed in what may seem like perilous times ahead.

Referencing the ancient Greek adage “Know thyself,” he urged the youth to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. “Try to plan your life around the way in which you can feel that you are fulfilling the essence of who you are—in your job, your family life and so forth,” he said. “And then find opportunities for those strengths you have.”

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi added that perhaps the most important thing is to try to do your best at whatever you pursue.

“So many people work with the plan that they will try to do the least effort and just get a paycheck and go home . . . That prescription for a good life really doesn’t work,” he said. “Your life is not given to you to waste or ignore. Your life is for you to share, so as to make the best for yourself and those who depend on you or love you.”

Martin Saito contributed to this article. For more information on SUA, visit www.soka.edu.


SUA Introduces Life Sciences Concentration

In fall 2020, Soka University of America will introduce its life sciences concentration for students considering careers in biology or health fields. A pre-health curriculum will be simultaneously introduced to help prepare students for admission to further study in health fields, such as medicine or nursing, and will offer courses likely to satisfy the admissions requirements of many medical and nursing schools. The pre-health curriculum may be combined with any of the university’s five concentrations.
(pp. 6–7)