My Doctorate of Happiness

How Kevin Moncrief learned that the shared vow of mentor and disciple is the key to surmounting every obstacle.

Kevin Moncrief at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California, where he teaches courses in the department of International Business and Marketing. (Inset) Kevin with his father and brother at his doctoral degree graduation, Claremont, Calif., 2010. Photo by Ken O’Ferrall.

by Kevin Moncrief
West Territory Men’s Leader
Aliso Viejo, Calif.

When my mother became pregnant with me, my parents were forced to marry, and so I grew up feeling responsible for their unhappy marriage. My self-loathing only intensified when my parents divorced while I was in high school.

I sought to follow in the footsteps of my father, a neurosurgeon, by becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force after college. My first duty was at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, where I worked with an SGI-USA pioneer member. On one occasion, she told me with conviction that no life was irredeemable— that anyone could become a Buddha. That was the linchpin for me. I wanted nothing more than to transform my cynical way of life, and, at my second meeting in 1984, I joined the SGI.

After receiving the Gohonzon, I focused on three dreams: 1. to restore my family relationships; 2. to establish a harmonious family of my own; and 3. to pursue a doctorate and contribute to a peaceful world through the creative and constructive use of knowledge (inspired by one of SGI President Ikeda’s peace proposals).

I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to keep these promises. Among my many challenges, I had been pursuing a Ph.D., off and on for 17 years while working full time, when I found a wonderful program at the Claremont Graduate University Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management.

I began at Claremont in September 1999. As my pursuit of a Ph.D., stretched on for another eight years—and as I agonized over the work and my feelings of inadequacy—I was ready to give up.

It was during this time that, in 2007, I attended the 12th Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting in Osaka, Japan, as an SGI training course participant. President Ikeda spoke at the meeting about the Ever-Victorious Kansai spirit. The Kansai members had significant struggles just like me, but they embodied the spirit to never be defeated. I learned that their joy derived from living their lives based on the oneness of mentor and disciple.

I felt Sensei’s unlimited compassion for my life and his unwavering belief in my potential. In that moment, I determined to replace the constant voices of “You’re not worthy or good enough” with a deep sense of conviction that I was fine just the way I was, and that I could become absolutely happy.

With this newfound determination to dramatically transform my view of myself, I was forced to go beyond my ego based on the shared vow of mentor and disciple. I took on a part-time faculty position at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, and while barely meeting my basic needs, I continued to fight all-out in SGI activities. I put more than 100,000 miles on my car in just two years, visiting members and picking them up for daily chanting sessions. The rides were joyful and encouraging, as we shared our pains and dreams with humor.

In August 2010, 20 years after I entered a doctoral program, I successfully defended my dissertation. The very next day, I received a job offer from a leading computer science company focused on predictive analytics— the exact topic I had studied!

Today, I’m still teaching undergraduate- and graduate-level courses at Cal Poly Pomona in the department of International Business and Marketing while operating my own consulting company. My brother and father attended my graduation, and we spent a whole day together enjoying one another’s company. We had never been able to do that before because our father performed operations almost every day for over 40 years. We speak multiple times a day now.

As for creating my own harmonious family, I have been happily married to my kosen-rufu partner, Akimi, for 12 years. I also have three wonderful stepchildren, Rochelle, Joellen and Randy. While finishing my doctorate and searching for full-time work, my family never looked at me with shame, disappointment or disgrace during those difficult days. I attribute so much of my success to their support, including a major health struggle that I recently overcame.

I became very sick a few years ago due to sarcoidosis, an inherited autoimmune disease. In 2015, my vital organs shut down, and I passed out. My wife and daughter, who were with me at the time, saved my life by getting me to the emergency room. After a five-day coma, I woke up in excruciating pain. My medication had restricted my blood flow and caused damage to my joints. I had to have my right hip and left knee replaced, but I wasn’t defeated in the least.

In February I had a final operation, ending my battle with this illness. My doctor said I could now get into great shape like a 25 year old! I will do just that while running alongside the youth toward the September 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival.

President Ikeda writes: “I want to raise lions who each possess the power and ability of a thousand. I want to foster even one more lion of justice who will remain unperturbed by the harshest storm. This is my present wish and vow” (June 9, 2017, World Tribune, p. 7).

As the newly appointed West Territory Men’s Leader, I’m determined to pour my entire life into our efforts to gather 50,000 Lions of Justice, so that I can repay my debt of gratitude to Sensei and Mrs. Ikeda, and to the courageous pioneer who introduced me to Buddhism 34 years ago. I’m determined to awaken four lions, so that they too can realize their dreams and persevere over themselves to become the happiest people! It takes a lion to raise a lion, so it all starts with me!