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JHHS Conference Participants Shine

Successors—Junior high and high school members gather at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, Calif., June 2023. Photo by Jolie Tea-Taniguchi.

by Ai Nishino and Shu Matsuoka 
SGI-USA future division young women’s and young men’s leaders

Courageously Advance One Step Toward 2030”—this was the theme that the 12 members of the national junior high and high school core chose for the SGI-USA’s 2023 Junior High and High School Conference, held June 23–26, 2023, at Soka University of America (SUA) in Aliso Viejo, California.

Future division members, ages 11–18, gathered from across the country to make friends, study Buddhism and engage in activities and discussions that helped them put into practice Ikeda Sensei’s encouragement to courageously advance one step at a time.

The conference was planned entirely by the national junior high and high school core members, who began meeting in February toward the event: Krishna Desai, Akemi Ducreay, Aarini Sengupta, Nikita Agarwal, Bless Muslar, Bailey Stewart, Malhaar Jain, Austin Utsumi, Mason Yu, Angel Bahamon, Eddie Laiche and Nico Konyk.

Through studying Sensei’s encouragement to the future division and sharing their own struggles, they came up with session topics that their peers could relate to. They also used their amazing creativity to plan sessions that made Buddhist concepts such as “cherry, plum, peach and damson” and the “oneness of life and its environment” feel relevant and applicable to every participant. 

During the four-day conference, we started every morning by reading Sensei’s conference message. In it, he calls the future division members Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who chose to appear at this time to bravely and joyfully work for people’s happiness and a peaceful future. Sensei continues:

Nichiren also says that the idea of “cherry, plum, peach, and damson” means that each of you will blossom in your own unique way. You each have a great mission that only you can achieve. You might not be good at certain things and sometimes may face struggles. But chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the main power source for creating unlimited possibilities and shining your brightest. The more you chant, the more you can turn your problems into “treasures of the heart.”

Sensei has continually referred to junior high and high school members as treasures of the future, his essential disciples and dearest friends from the remote past. During the conference, their beauty and mission shone through as we witnessed the creativity, openness and vulnerability of our incredible future leaders of kosen-rufu. We were moved by their actions to support their friends and family, and the fresh determinations they made upon returning home from the conference.  

One young woman came to the conference with limited knowledge of the SGI and Buddhist practice. However, after the first day, she said  that the SGI was awesome and that she wanted to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo regularly. Her change in perspective was no doubt due to her experiencing the warmth of Sensei’s heart and the ethos of the SGI.

One young man participated in his first Soka Group shift shortly after returning home from the conference. He also invited 10 of his friends to his local July Young Men’s Outing, and all of them attended! He’s now determined to continue sharing his Buddhist practice with others and supporting SGI activities behind the scenes. 

After spending time on the beautiful SUA campus, another young woman returned home and told her mom that she was inspired to apply to SUA. She also asked her mother to take her to the July kosen-rufu gongyo meeting. She now has a dream of attending SUA and a desire to engage more with her SGI community. 

We spent the weekend in awe of each participant who arrived at SUA with different personalities, struggles and interests—similar to the cherry, plum, peach and damson. Through the different sessions, we saw each person shine in their own unique way. We experienced unity as we vowed to respond to Sensei by creating a society in which the dignity of life is respected.

Together we are determined to join the future division members in advancing kosen-rufu in America toward 2030.  Thank you, precious future division members, for leading the way and for being the light of hope for humanity and the treasure of the world!

—Tessa Murray contributed to this report

Voices from the Junior High and High School Divisions

Cassidy Mahon, 12

This was my first conference! I wanted to go to learn more about Buddhism and make more SGI friends. I was a little worried that it would be hard to make friends, but the first night when we met in our chaperone groups we were all able to start talking
immediately. Everyone was really funny and nice. 

I also got to emcee for one of the sessions and read Ikeda Sensei’s message. I was really happy about it. 

I definitely want to go back next year! Toward 2030, I want to have my friends receive the Gohonzon and get more youth in my district. After attending the conference, I invited some of them to the July Young Men’s Outing, and they went! 

Angel Bahamon, 17
New York

I enjoyed meeting and making new friends with people my age from different states. My group at the conference felt like a family. I became genuine friends with all of them, even with my chaperone, Ryan. We all still keep in touch. 

In one presentation, there was a quote shared from Ikeda Sensei about the importance of focusing on your studies. Being there with everyone made me want to chant more daimoku and do well in school since next year will be my senior year, and I will be applying to college. 

After leaving the conference, I determined to stay in touch with all of the friends I made there and introduce my friends to Buddhism so they can learn about what makes me happy. I will be too old for this conference next year, so I’m determined to go to the student division conference in 2024 with the friends I made in my group! 

Yayoi Tomaszewski, 16

Recently, I fell out of my Buddhist practice a little so I signed up for the conference to be inspired again. I learned a lot from everyone. I I especially enjoyed finding out more about Ikeda Sensei, Josei Toda and learning about the history of the Soka Gakkai, which is super encouraging. 

At the conference, we each received a copy of A Youthful Diary by Sensei. I have been so inspired by the book so far, and I’ve been taking notes on what I’m learning. 

One of the sessions was on my favorite Buddhist concept—cherry, plum, peach and damson. Sometimes I feel like I’m not enough, but this session helped me remember that I’m special. I matter, and I have a mission. 

During the talent show, the leaders performed “Forever Sensei.” This song always makes me feel really united with the people around me. We are connected—not only do we have a mission to fulfill together, we are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth!

July 21, 2023, World Tribune, pp. 6–8

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