Founder's Message - Ninth Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony

Aliso Viejo, California | May 24, 2013

student walking under the exterior library columns

I will be following your progress with the keenest interest, for my belief in your success in life is absolute.

Message from SUA Founder Daisaku Ikeda
To the Ninth Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony, Soka University of America

To the undergraduate class of 2013 of Soka University of America, I offer my heartfelt congratulations on your graduation, a day of unsurpassed glory, joy and pride! You are a treasure among treasures, for me and for all of us.

Over the past four years, the diligence with which you pursued your studies and the progress you have achieved as individuals has been extraordinary. While urging each other onward, you and your fellow classmates, with whom you have come to share incomparable friendships, have concurrently demanded the utmost from one another. In doing so, you have collectively enriched the traditions of SUA even further, contributing to its overall development.

I thus applaud you for the efforts you have made in crowning in triumph the great drama of youth, and why I issue this ringing proclamation for all the world to heed: Behold the class of 2013, my pride and joy!

At the same time, I wholeheartedly share in the profound joy of your families and friends. I express my abiding gratitude to the SUA faculty and administration for the care and counsel you have rendered our students, cherishing them as though they were your own children.

To the guests and benefactors gathered here today, I extend my warmest greetings and gratitude. As for all of you whose contributions have proven so vital for SUA yet have gone largely unacknowledged, I remain forever indebted to you for your goodwill and generosity.

I also thank our alumni, whom I hold in the highest esteem, many of you having traveled a great distance to be here for the class of 2013. My appreciation extends equally to the undergraduate students who join us today, the men and women who have been entrusted by those who preceded them to usher SUA into a new era.

By way of honoring our graduates and their departure into a world caught in the throes of great change, I would like to raise three points, the first being this: Create opportunities for yourself through the illuminating power of learning that you have acquired at Soka.

Among those who longed to see the impressive advances achieved today by SUA was the unforgettable Dr. John D. Montgomery, Ford Foundation Professor of International Studies, Emeritus, at Harvard University who later served as the first director of SUA’s Pacific Basin Research Center. I can imagine his delight if he knew that the Learning Cluster Program adopted by our university that he proposed, has achieved remarkable success.

In order to resolve the manifold problems besetting our world today, Dr. Montgomery astutely understood the need for two capabilities: The first is the cognitive capacity to perceive matters as they truly are; and second, the ability to move the hearts and minds of people. A university, he explained, serves in developing both.

These very capabilities are thriving at SUA. Impelled by this dynamism, I ask the class of 2013 to wield the light of learning you kindled here as you set out upon the grand stage of your individual lives so that you may fulfill the august purpose with which you were born. Strive even more so to amplify its radiance over time and deepen its luster.

Whenever I think of Dr. Montgomery, I am led to recall his personal maxim: Never allow an opportunity go to waste. Do not wait for a favorable moment to arise; go out and grab it. Opportunities, in my opinion, can only be created through bold, unbridled initiative.

What is this light of learning that we kindle here? It is hope, the kind that not merely illuminates but ultimately banishes the darkness, no matter how deep, that can debilitate our lives or paralyze society, the kind of hope that creates opportunities for you to blaze new pathways to success.

As a disciple of my mentor, Josei Toda, I have also followed this path to this day, every act of inquiry an act of creation.

And so I call on you and your fellow classmates to join me in the unwavering pursuit of learning, enabling peace and harmonious coexistence to flourish like the blossoming rays of dawn; that we do so to fulfill our mission in life and for the sake of advancing peace and happiness for all.

Next, I would like to point out the value of winning through sincerity, integrity, and perseverance, which I see as a resounding paean to a life of victory that should serve you for the rest of your lives.

The United States has been endowed with an immense spiritual heritage, drawn from the likes of the educational theories of John Dewey; the literary works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and other great figures of the American Renaissance; the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr.; and the musical genre of jazz.

I had the privilege of engaging in multiple conversations with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, two friends I have long held in the highest esteem and with whom I recently partnered in a work on the appeal and creative genius of jazz. I am delighted that Herbie, in fact, is here today to celebrate this occasion with all of you.

In our work, Soul Freedom: Jazz, Life and Buddhism, Herbie offers the following insight: “Every piece of jazz music is, in a sense, in an unfinished state. Every time a jazz number is performed, it is an endless challenge to pursue it to a state of completion. That’s why people are so irresistibly drawn to this art form.”

You could say daily life is similar in that it, too, is a never-ending battle to consummate the unfinished. What is vital when performing the song of life that is uniquely yours with those who share profound and mystic bonds with you? Let me share a lesson Herbie learned from his musical mentor, Miles Davis, which he introduced in our book—that is, the importance of remaining unaffected by the approval or disapproval of others and to simply focus on achieving what must be done.

There is nothing more moving or powerful than a young person who is exerting the utmost to reach a goal, devoting copious effort and creative energy to achieve it. I believe you need only to stay your course in a manner that is true to yourself, regardless of what others may say or think. There will be times when matters are seemingly at an impasse, but I urge you to develop the fortitude to carry on, no matter what happens, following the path in life that you choose to the very end.

Those who do so ultimately triumph; they alone can lead lives unencumbered by regret, which is truly a resounding paean to a triumphant life.

My third and final point is to develop indomitable optimism as you engage in the task of broadening the solidarity of global citizens and the “goodness” they represent.

I recently had the great honor of being conferred an honorary doctorate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, a city where Mahatma Gandhi resolved to fight against social injustice and launched his historic movement of nonviolence. I am pleased to report that I was presented this citation together with Mahatma’s granddaughter, Dr. Ela Gandhi, the sister of Dr. Arun Gandhi who donated the bust of Gandhi at SUA.

Gandhi was firm in his belief that there was but one condition to leadership—that “only he can be a leader who never loses hope.” Indeed, Gandhi was never without a warm smile and an inspiring sense of humor as he went about encouraging his people during the long and arduous struggle for Indian independence.

Despite the veritable mountain of difficulties that humankind confronts, I believe that the key to unlocking a better future is indomitable optimism, an outlook founded on unwavering faith not only in our potential for good but in the dignity of life for others as well as ourselves.

Mikhail Gorbachev, my precious friend and principal agent in ending the Cold War, shares a similar view, citing optimism as being essential to righting the world’s wrongs. In an address delivered to the students of Soka University in Japan, he explained: “My belief is that no matter how challenging the situation may be, there is always a solution. But that solution will only be found when you continue to seek, think and act, never giving up.”

You are the ones who must bear the great weight of the 21st century and its outcome, having come to learn at this exceptional institution established on behalf of all ordinary citizens to realize the long-sought dreams and aspirations of all global citizens.

Always remain confident in your ability to prevail over any difficulty. No matter how insurmountable a situation may seem, I urge you to hold your head high and remind yourself that nothing can hinder the advance of a person with a sublime mission in life. Strive doggedly forward, step after step, as you and your fellow classmates encourage and support one another.

You are all my most prized treasures, gifts to the future of global civilization. Please know that I will always be praying for you, whatever the circumstances; I will be following your progress with the keenest interest, for my belief in your success in life is absolute.

In closing, I would like to dedicate these lines from a poem by Walt Whitman, whose works I remain fond of since my youth:

Flaunt out O sea your separate flags of nations! Flaunt our visible as ever the various ship-signals!
But do you reserve especially for yourself and for the soul of man one flag above all the rest,
A spiritual woven signal for all nations, emblem of man elate above death.

My plaudits and felicitations again to the class of 2013! May you enjoy the best of health and your lives be filled with enduring happiness and prosperity.

Daisaku Ikeda