Behind the Scenes: The Making of an Unforgettable Commencement Weekend

June 06, 2024
SUA graduates raise their arms in celebration during the 2024 Commencement Ceremony

More than 1,000 visitors are welcomed onto campus during commencement weekend each year, greeted by a pristine campus, delicious meals, tour guides at the ready, and a myriad of Soka faculty and staff prepared to support them.

“For the faculty and staff, we may prepare for commencement every year. But for the students and their families, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Hyon Moon, SUA’s dean of students who also serves as the university-wide chair of commencement.

Commencement is just one example of how each department and area of campus, through largely unseen efforts, work together to create an environment where students are free to develop their potential and hone their capabilities.

“There are so many moving pieces to commencement,” Moon said. That is evident as the entire campus community jumps into action to prepare for the ceremony, including Academic Affairs, the Performing Arts Center, the Office of the President, the Office of the Registrar, Facilities Management, the Soka Bistro, Security, and current students who participate in the Performance of Appreciation for Beloved Seniors group (in which the entire student body is invited to perform with either the chorus or orchestra during commencement).

Graduation planning begins a year in advance when the commencement committee debriefs on what went well and improvements for the following year. Planning continues throughout the year, with the bulk happening in January when the committee meets officially to solidify that year’s plans.

For the Performing Arts Center, preparation involves setting up video monitors in the halls for those who are unable to attend inside, monitors for the Black Box Theater overflow seating, and the multiple components that go into the live stream. Staging for commencement includes coordinating lighting, audio, video, and meticulously rehearsing cues for each. The PAC team often stays until late the night before commencement supporting the seniors’ appreciation reception, and arrives by 7 a.m. the next morning. Student employees also play a major role in ensuring the event’s success.

“Student employees are essential to commencement,” said Renee Bodie, general manager of the PAC. “We love our students and could not do what we do without them!”

For facilities, planning begins in the fall and continues throughout the school year, with final plans solidified and modified just before the weekend begins. Forty-two facilities staff work throughout the weekend to address all mechanical, electrical, and lighting services; manage the cleaning needs for all buildings used throughout the weekend; and set up and take down all tables, chairs, flags, televisions, decorations, and more. The staff implements sustainability practices, especially pertaining to waste management, throughout the weekend.

The commencement ceremony on Friday is not the only graduation-related event in the days before and after. The evening before graduation, seniors host an appreciation reception at the Black Box Theater. The event was borne out of the first class’ desire to share their appreciation for their family’s support with performances and a reception. The tradition has evolved to today, where students are able to invite two guests of their choice. The Board of Trustees also holds a meeting during graduation week, and the Sohokai Alumni Association hosts a series of events over the weekend, including the annual Sohokai Alumni Meeting, networking events, and a mixer reception.

The Big Day Arrives

Soka graduates toss their caps in the air as they celebrate during Commencement Day 2024

Students in the undergraduate Class of 2024 began their journeys at SUA at one of the most tumultuous times in modern history and met diverse challenges while pursuing their studies. Soka’s faculty and staff were supporting them each step of the way, working behind the scenes to prepare students for fresh chapters of their lives in society.

After much preparation and planning, the 20th undergraduate and ninth Master’s program graduating classes walked across the stage at Soka Performing Arts Center and received their diplomas on May 24, an extraordinary achievement not only for the graduates but for their families, friends, and the entire campus community. This year marked the first commencement ceremony since the passing of SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda. In his welcome message to the Class of 2024, in the fall of 2020, Ikeda laid out humanity’s challenges and expressed his hopes for the incoming students’ futures.

Soka education is this grand challenge: to realize this most arduous quest for what we term “human revolution” not only for oneself but for others, to better our respective societies and countries, to eventually transform even the destiny of all humanity. …
My abiding hope is that you will go forth, growing ever more capable, to become stalwart pioneers in the creation of a truly new global civilization.

Through the efforts of the entire campus community, SUA readies its students to emerge into society as contributive global citizens, an unchanging commitment that is on full display leading up to and during commencement weekend.

Enjoy these photos from Soka’s 2024 commencement weekend.