Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, Holds Historic First Commencement
On May 22, Soka University of America (SUA), Aliso Viejo, California, held its historic first commencement ceremony. Approximately 2,300 SUA faculty and staff, parents, friends and local residents attended, including SUA President Daniel Habuki and Soka University Trustee Hiromasa Ikeda, on behalf of his father, SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda, to celebrate the departure of 100 students of the class of 2005 from 17 countries. SUA founder Ikeda sent a congratulatory video message, along with his lecture on "University in the 21st Century: Cradle of Global Citizens." Renowned jazz flutist Nestor Flores provided a musical interlude with "Piper Dance" and "Bach Partita." Over 150 SUA underclassmen sang Beethoven's Ode to Joy in honor of the Class of 2005. Attending guests included UN Under-Secretary-General Anwarul Karim Chowdhury; former University of California President Jack W. Peltason; Orange County Supervisor Tom Wilson; Aliso Viejo Mayor Karl Warkomski; and Aliso Viejo Council members Carmen Vali-Cave, Cynthia Pickett Adams and Greg Ficke. Many of the world's distinguished leaders sent congratulatory messages.
In his welcome speech, President Habuki shared with the graduates encouragement that he himself received from founder Ikeda upon his graduation as a graduate of the first entering class at Soka University in Japan 30 years ago: Ryozen ichie genzen misan, which literally means, "The assembly at Eagle Peak which continues in solemn state and has not yet dispersed." Eagle Peak is symbolic of the Buddha land, which in fact is the real world where Buddhas, or individuals awakened to their greatest potential, lead contributive lives. Dr. Habuki stated that "Although you now depart to various parts of the world, our gathering as like-minded individuals who share a noble mission to lead a contributive life 'is still in progress and has not yet dispersed.' Despite the physical distance between us, our hearts will always remain united."
Congratulating the graduates on their new departure, Dr. Chowdhury asked that they challenge to resolve and eradicate problems of poverty and human security to achieve sustainable peace, for "[t]here will be no development without peace, and no peace without development." He said though differences have historically triggered conflicts, he believed that differences should not be seen as a threat, but "as the essence of a new humanity, a new global civilization based on inner oneness and outer diversity." He also warned, "The journey that we commenced into the new millennium will demand strength, dedication and sacrifice from each of us," but that each can help create a culture of peace by making steady efforts, beginning with: respecting all life; rejecting violence; sharing with others; listening to understand; preserving the planet; and rediscovering solidarity. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Chowdhury reminded them "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
Mr. Hiromasa Ikeda said SUA was special because it was built "by a vast multitude of people, men and women from every unsung walk of life who shared a conviction in and strove to give expression to, the principles and aspirations of Soka education." In this regard, he expressed his heartfelt appreciation, on behalf of the graduates, to SUA's benefactors and all supporting the students in every aspect, from the faculty to cafeteria, security and residence hall staff. He expressed delight in the fact that some members who had entered SUA as the Class of 2005 but had transferred for various reasons, had come to celebrate the graduation of their former classmates. Mr. Ikeda said it "attest[s] to the profound bonds of friendship they created...which deserves the highest praise and admiration." Referring to words of founder Ikeda who placed great import on the founding class, Mr. Ikeda asked every class that follows the Class of 2005 "to assume the mantle as founding Class of SUA and live up to every responsibility expected of them," and establish this tradition as part of SUA lore.
In a video and written message, founder Daisaku Ikeda extended wholehearted congratulations to the graduating students on their new departure. He stated that "strong intelligence," "fluent language skills" and "philosophy that respects the dignity of life" are required for education in the 21st century. He expressed his expectations for the SUA students to develop great leadership for building a global society founded on peace and coexistence. He reminded them that, "A truly outstanding person is...one who never forgets the vows of youth and lives a life dedicated to contributing to the well-being of others." In conclusion, he called out to the graduates: "It is my fervent wish that each of you will blaze your own path of mission as a founder, pioneer and eternal comrade of Soka University of America. Please create the kind of life, leave behind you the kind of personal history, so that you can proudly say: 'Here stands a member of the first graduating class of SUA!'".
In a moving speech, Senior Student Speaker Ryo Kondo, representing SUA's first graduating class, shared how his friends and professors rallied alongside him and lent their wholehearted support when they learned his mother was dying of cancer during his last semester prior to graduation. Ryo said this comraderie was indeed the school spirit that the students had been pioneering and expressed his deep appreciation to his friends and teachers for standing by him. Ryo said participating in the "experiment" of a new university without precedent enabled them all to cultivate a solidarity that generated awesome strength. Everything the Class of 2005 underwent, through trial and error, became valuable lessons for those who will follow. He called on the junior students to carry on the work begun by their seniors and challenge to create an enriching academic culture at SUA.