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Become Champions of Peace in Your Communities

Photo by Yvonne Ng.

ALISO VIEJO, Calif.—In the fall of 2020, just months into the pandemic, the Soka University of America Class of 2024 began college life in the rarest circumstances, meeting classmates and professors for the first time via Zoom.

In his welcome message to the class, SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda said that nothing had ever prevented the university from graduating a steady procession of capable individuals—not the 9/11 terrorist attacks (which occurred shortly after the first class began its studies there), not the global crisis that followed, nor any maelstrom since.

“In carrying out your studies, I realize that the pandemic will prove challenging, having to take classes online, just to cite one example,” he wrote. “Yet, all that you learn and experience despite such difficulties will nourish the profound creative energy that you possess, enabling you to apply it to maximum effect. 

“A youthful life resolved to continue learning, come what may, can never be defeated.”[1]

Mirroring their journey, the sun broke through overcast skies just before the Class of 2024 commencement ceremony began at 2 p.m. on May 24. The celebration was held for both the undergraduates and master’s candidates, hailing from 19 countries, at the university’s state-of-the-art Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo, California.

In his address, SUA President Edward Feasel recalled meeting them for the first time via Zoom—the first class he welcomed as the new university president. “Even though it was such a difficult time, hearing each of your bright voices and dreams was immensely inspiring,” he said.

The Class of 2024 is the first to graduate since the passing of university founder Daisaku Ikeda last November. Noting this, President Feasel acknowledged how the community had reaffirmed its commitment to carry on the work Mr. Ikeda had advanced thus far. “And now,” he said, “you will all embark on your next challenge to become champions of peace in your communities based on our mission to become global citizens.”

Following these remarks, President Feasel conferred the Soka Global Citizen Award—SUA’s highest award of honor—on three individuals who had made significant contributions to the university as members of the SUA Board of Trustees.

The first was Stephen Dunham, chairperson of the SUA Board of Trustees and vice president and general counsel emeritus of Pennsylvania State University.

The next two recipients retired from the SUA board after attending their last board meeting a day before the ceremony: Kris Knudsen, chair of the investment and audit committees; and Larry Hickman, professor emeritus of philosophy at Southern Illinois University and former director of the Center for Dewey Studies.

Dunham, the keynote speaker, talked about the intersection of freedom of speech and dialogue and their role in resolving conflicts on college campuses, in light of the demonstrations that unfolded in response to the war between Israel and Hamas (see excerpt on p. 9).

Dunham was a law student in the 1960s during the Vietnam War and the American Civil Rights Movement and a university professor in the 1980s amid the anti-apartheid move-
ment for South Africa. Drawing parallels between these and other examples with current events, he dove into the ideals and limitations of both freedom of speech and dialogue.

While freedom of speech is necessary in our search for truth, he said, dialogue is the key to peaceful resolution of conflicts. He shared Daisaku Ikeda’s call to universities to encourage open dialogue with no restrictions on opposing viewpoints with the conviction that the “mutual understanding and solidarity arising from dialogue can triumph over the threats of evil.” To the students, he entrusted the difficult task of contributing to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in their communities.

Daisaku Ikeda established Soka University of America on May 3, 2001, as a four-year, nonsectarian, nondenominational undergraduate liberal arts school grounded in the humanistic ideals of Soka, or value-creating education. Its foundational mission: to “foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life.”

In 2020, SUA marked its 20th anniversary as a liberal arts institution that champions education for global citizenship by naming its undergraduate program Daisaku Ikeda College. The university’s board of trustees also established the Daisaku Ikeda Endowed Chair to support faculty excellence—the first of its kind for the school.

In an extension of that vision, the university launched the Soka Institute for Global Solutions, a research institute with the mission of growing a network of people imbued with the virtues of global citizenship and helping solve global problems.

Representatives of the graduating class spoke about how matriculating at a university that teaches the qualities of global citizenship enabled them to blossom in their own unique ways.

Hiromi Nitaguchi, who was raised in Italy in a Japanese immigrant family, said it was in the diversity of SUA that she found a sense of relief. “The respect I received as a human being was something that I have been searching for for years,” she said in appreciation. “My memory of finding a place where I can say that I truly belong to will serve as a light of hope in my life.”

Quang Pham, of Vietnam, spoke of how the support of his family and the SUA community gave him the confidence to pursue a new trajectory two years in to his studies, switching his concentration to life sciences. Now, he is set to begin his Ph.D. studies in evolutionary biology at Cornell University. “I have met and befriended so many incredible people who believe in me, love me for who I am,” he said. And rather than the cut-throat, competitive education he had known, “They showed me that kindness is not a weakness but a strength.”

Last to speak was Flor Del Cielo Mejia Mendoza. During her first semester, Mendoza’s family was displaced by a devastating hurricane that hit her home country of Honduras. “It was thanks to all those caring words of encouragement and support from family and Soka friends, whom I hadn’t even met yet in person, that we found so much strength,” she said. “And with immovable determination, we moved forward.”

As the first Honduran graduate of SUA, she conveyed her sense of honor and responsibility to share about Soka with her community back home. While expressing her deep appreciation to her parents and SUA, she concluded: “May we also remember that outside these doors, many are suffering. Let us honor their lives and keep them in our prayers.”

Following these heartfelt words, the recipient of the 2024 Founder’s Award was named: Yuichi Matsuna. His spontaneous words—which were short and simple—resonated with those in attendance. Thank you. He offered appreciation to his parents, family, friends, guests in attendance, the SUA staff, those in the chorus and orchestra, and to Daisaku Ikeda. “In 10 years, we are going to meet again at SUA,” he said. “Let’s all strive and come back to SUA with a smile. Thank you.” 

Voices from the Class of 2024

by Aashish Sunar
Social and Behavioral Sciences

My first year at SUA was a challenge. I was taking classes virtually while still in Nepal, managing the 12-hour time difference by waking up or going to sleep at irregular hours. In addition, I took care of my mother and managed things at home—all within the restrictions of the pandemic.

Through an SUA program, I was connected to a university staff member who met with me each week to talk about everything from my personal life to my academics. Despite his busy schedule, he made every effort to meet, and I sensed that he wanted me to succeed. As an international student and the first person in my family to attend university, the support that I received in such new and difficult times meant a lot.

Over the years, I feel I’ve gained adaptability and strength. I’ve become someone who can now support the new international students and pass on the many opportunities that I had received.

My country, Nepal, faces poverty and a lack of education and good health care. I was fortunate to learn about SUA through a Nepalese SUA alumnus who went on to establish schools back home.

I’m just so appreciative of SUA. As our founder Daisaku Ikeda encouraged us, I want to give back to those who couldn’t receive an education—by going on to establish schools and work on policies that influence education at the community level in Nepal.

All Illustrations by NGEDIT_VECTOR / FIVERR.

by Melanie Schille
Life Sciences

During my junior year, I started struggling with my mental health. It pushed me to look within and open up to the advice of others. It was an important experience that helped me discover what made me happy.

I was lucky to have the support of amazing friends, faculty and staff, who helped me get back on the right path. One professor, in particular, was integral to this. She took me under her wing and shared with me her rich experiences in life.

Her lab became the place I looked forward to going the most. It was a positive environment where I felt safe and could explore my passion for science. She allowed us to make mistakes. No matter how many experiments went wrong, we focused on how to grow from them.

This attitude toward mistakes carried over to the rest of my life. It taught me that life will have its detours and difficulties, but it’s about how we overcome them.

Through these experiences, I realized my love for medical research. It combines my interests in science and people, and it allows me to help people on a bigger scale.

There are many cures and treatments out there, but they’re not always accessible. Soka has taught me the importance of making these things apply equally to all people. So, my goal is to make medical research more accessible and discover treatments that are more affordable to the public.

June 14, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 6–8


  1. <accessed on June 5, 2024>. ↩︎

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