Commencement Speech by Ryo Kondo '05

Graduation Commencement Student Speech

Congratulations to the class of 2005 and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak for all of you.  As a representative of this graduating class, I am very honored to welcome all of you to Soka University of America’s first ever graduation commencement. I would especially like to welcome the friends and family of the graduating students who have encouraged us through these years and also the donors who have sacrificed so much to make the building of this school possible. The class of 2005 has finally realized a dream that’s been in progress for four long years, but this would not have been possible had it not been for all of you who also shared this dream with us. We deeply appreciate all of you.

For me, there was one person in particular who encouraged me to come to this school and continued to support me as I was attending SUA. That person was my mom. She had complete faith that this school would totally transform me and my perspective on life.

She was totally right. My mother wasn’t able to make it to this graduation today. She actually passed away recently due to a cancer that she only found out about this semester. I wanted to tell all of you about my last semester here because I think it will paint a clear picture of what it means to be a student here at SUA.

During my last semester at SUA, I returned home to Chicago twice while my mother was fighting this cancer. Watching her struggle with this life-threatening disease was one of the most difficult hardships I have gone through as a young adult. However, throughout this whole time, I always felt that my Soka brothers and sisters were by my side.  All this was occurring during the busiest time of the school year at SUA: students were preparing for final exams, the international festival was rapidly approaching, and for seniors their fourth year capstone projects were proving to be a tremendous drain on their mental, physical, and emotional well being. Despite all this, they, along with professors and staff members, still devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to help me through my personal struggle. They stayed up late at night with me to pray, gave me words of encouragement, cried with me, and shared with me how they had overcome their past struggles. When my mother passed away in the end, several students were even willing to fly to Chicago to attend her funeral. Although I would have appreciated them being there, I told them it would be better for them to stay and concentrate on their studies.

However, my closest professor and an SUA staff member did not even bother to ask; they just called me one day to tell me they’ll be in Chicago and might need directions to the funeral home. This is the kind of environment that’s been created at SUA, the part of SUA that I will cherish the most. And as I stand in front of all of you today, I wanted to say thank you for taking on my hardships as your own and giving me strength when I needed it the most. Thank you so much.

Although each and every one of us has had to go through personal struggles, there are some things that we actually did face together as a class. They nicknamed our class the “Guinea Pig” class because at times it felt like the school was conducting cruel and unusual experiments on us. For example, we took our first class together called Core I, where we would spend all night every night reading upwards to 200 pages of philosophy
and political theory among other things. We would later find out that next year’s readings for the class of 2006 would be dramatically reduced. And lastly, as seniors working on our mandatory capstone projects, we would hear rumors that capstone will be optional next year or that it will be eliminated all together. I think the fact that we can laugh at our struggles now is evidence of the fortitude we have both individually and as a class. And it also shows that we felt our struggles were worth it because the school has advanced so quickly in these four years and because we helped pave the way for the classmates who would come after us to build upon what we built.

Today, after so many struggles and milestones, we’ll be leaving this campus to go out  into our own endeavors. Some of us will be working; others will continue their education while others have chosen yet another path. As alumni, we may still feel a great expectation from all those who have helped contribute to this school: faculty, staff, donors, and especially the founder. As a fellow graduate, I would like to tell you to just do what will make you happy and do it to the best of your capability. The purpose of the Soka education we received here was for the happiness of the student. As long as you keep that in mind, I have no doubt that you’ll be fulfilling the expectations of everybody. Thank you for four incredible years.

My last message is to the class of ’06, ’07, and ’08. The school belongs to all of you now. I hope you make it a priority to enrich the Soka culture that we have created, the culture that I mentioned earlier. I know the administration and faculty will work with you to ensure that you receive an amazing education here, but the culture of SUA is something totally dependent on the student body. Please take care of each individual student. We all have faith in you, and the class of 2005 will be waiting eagerly to greet you as fellow alumni.

May 22, 2005