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The Spirit to Serve Others

by Brandon Nicholson
USA

Brandon NicholsonBrandon Nicholson

Growing up, my local children's hospital was my second home. As a baby, I experienced the first of 22 ear infections, which required multiple surgeries. Then, aged 2, I developed seizures after my mom and I were broadsided in a car accident. For seven years I took seizure medication, which is difficult in and of itself for a child. Throughout this time, my parents always encouraged me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and often shared with me SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's guidance to never be defeated by my health problems and to do my best in school. Because I faced so many physical challenges, I learned at a young age that Mr. Ikeda was someone I could count on.

I could feel the tangible effects of my chanting when I eventually overcame my ear infections, among other obstacles. This experience laid the foundation for me to face my larger challenge with seizures.

If I went to a birthday party or spent the night at my cousin's house, I would sometimes forget to take my medication, and this would bring on another seizure. When my body began showing signs that I could no longer tolerate the medication, doctors recommended that I stop taking the medication or control the seizures through a lobotomy.

On March 14, 1993, I was among a group of children of elementary school age who were able to greet Mr. and Mrs. Ikeda on their visit to the SGI-USA San Francisco Culture Center. Mr. Ikeda's writings had been a source of inspiration and hope throughout countless struggles with illness and other difficulties, so when I met him for the first time, I felt as though I were greeting an old friend. While many adults either look down on or ignore children, Mr. Ikeda bowed deeply to each one of us and expressed how happy he was to meet us. Deeply inspired by Mr. Ikeda's visit and the guidance he shared at that time, I redoubled my efforts to win over my illness through chanting.

At 9 years old, I had understood the importance of having a clear determination, so I began chanting every morning and evening, whilst painting a vivid picture of victory in my young mind. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were popular back then, so as I chanted, I imagined walking down a hallway and fending off hundreds of ninjas, which represented my illness.

At around the same time, I was being weaned off medication. Within a month I had stopped taking it altogether and remained seizure-free. The following year, I joined some SGI-USA youth groups and, at a critical age in my life, I formed lifelong friendships. I also deepened my spirit to work for the happiness of others. I developed big dreams for my future, which started to take shape when I entered high school. I had attended local public schools until my parents enrolled me in a private high school. To get there, I got up each day at 5 a.m., chanted, and then rode two trains and a bus, and walked for a mile. It was the first time I noticed the wide disparity in resources among students. I couldn't see any justification for it, and this became my prime point in wishing to improve the lives of others through education.

I determined to become a person who could work for social justice and resolved to attend a university that would enable me to contribute to the creation of a just and peaceful society.

The following quote by Mr. Ikeda became my guidepost: "The proud mission of those who have received an education must be to serve, in seen and unseen ways, the lives of those who have not had this opportunity."

In 2001, I was accepted to Princeton University, and thanks to a series of scholarships and grants, my education was fully funded for four years. Although it was a challenging academic environment, nothing seemed as daunting as the illnesses I had faced as a child.

After earning a public policy degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, I was accepted into University of California, Berkeley's doctoral program in education policy, where I received a master's degree and PhD in 2010. Again, my tuition was fully covered.

I currently work as a social scientist at a third-party research and evaluation firm, which conducts research for organizations including government institutions, foundations and NPOs. What's more, I am now completely healthy and enjoy a wonderful life together with my wife.

Looking back, I wouldn't be who I am today without my parents' love and encouragement. I have so much appreciation for them, and I try not to lose sight of all that they have done for me.

Twenty years have passed since I encountered my mentor Mr. Ikeda on March 14, 1993. However, looking back, that encounter was not nearly as important to me as everything I have learned from his encouragement and guidance all these years.

[Adapted from the March 8, 2013, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photo courtesy of Kingmond Young]

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