Celebrating 20 Years of Educating Global Citizens

May 26, 2021
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Hosts Zane Romano and Corina Giselle on a balcony overlooking campus

On an autumn day in 1950, Josei Toda shared a vision with his 22-year-old mentee, Daisaku Ikeda, of a university based on the theory of value-creating education. Fifty-one years after that conversation, a new university opened on 103 acres in the coastal hills of Southern California on May 3, 2001.

In the two decades since, SUA has graduated more than 1,500 students from 57 countries and been ranked as one of the top 30 liberal arts colleges in the country. It has opened the Soka Performing Arts Center and Marie and Pierre Curie Hall, and recently established the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Human Rights.

In recognition of SUA’s achievements and to recommit to its founding principles, more than 3,000 people gathered online May 2 for the university’s 20th anniversary celebration. Co-hosts Corina Giselle ’15 and Zane Romano ’09 led participants through a 90-minute event live from SUA’s Aliso Viejo campus, featuring SUA’s leadership, students, alumni, donors, and, in a special highlight, President Edward Feasel reading a congratulatory message from SUA’s founder.

“Thanks to the noble dedication of the honorable students, graduates, faculty and staff, and all of the supporters of Soka Education, Soka University of America is now receiving a great deal of attention and praise as a “model of education for global citizenship,” Mr. Ikeda wrote. “As a founder, there is no greater joy than this. As the world faces unprecedented trials, SUA’s mission to challenge and build a century based on the sanctity of life with an unwavering philosophy and solidarity is growing. With the next 10 years as a goal, please build a new history of value creation for SUA based on strong bonds. Together, let’s emit the eternal ‘light of hope’ in the future of our community!”

Championing Global Citizenship

After a brief video recounting the university’s history, members of the Acjachemen nation, the original inhabitants and stewards of the land on which SUA was built, shared a traditional blessing song with the community as they did at its dedication in 2001.

President Feasel opened his remarks with the news that the City of Aliso Viejo and the County of Orange declared May 3, 2021 “Soka University of America Day.” The California State Assembly, California Senate, and Congress also passed resolutions and proclamations in recognition of the historic day.

Reflecting on the current state of the world, President Feasel said SUA’s ethic of global citizenship was much needed. “Let’s set the example and share with the world that each person’s lived experience serves as an equally rich opportunity for us to expand our knowledge and love for humanity,” he said. “Through celebrating and learning from the diverse identities of the world, we can also deepen our intrinsically held value for the dignity and sanctity of every life and in this way create what our university founder Daisaku Ikeda has called ‘the brilliant glory of human harmony.’

“I believe this internal growth within each individual is critical at this time and my goal is that in the next 10 years SUA will become the acknowledged leader and champion of education for global citizenship throughout the world,” President Feasel said.

To that end, President Feasel thanked the many donors around the world for their generous support of SUA through the years and announced a $1 million matching grant from the John Stauffer Charitable Trust to provide summer research fellowships to SUA students in chemistry and biochemistry. The Nieves Family Foundation also will establish student and faculty summer research grants, President Feasel said, and SUA is launching a fundraising campaign for diversity scholarships.

Board of Trustees Chair Stephen Dunham then announced the endowment of a new Daisaku Ikeda Endowed Chair to support faculty excellence, and the naming of SUA’s undergraduate liberal arts program as Daisaku Ikeda College.

Founding Principles in Action

As Giselle introduced a video excerpt of Mr. Ikeda’s 1996 speech,“Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship,” delivered at Teachers College, she noted that members of the community repeatedly refer to it as they develop SUA’s curriculum and other aspects of campus life.

On the world stage, the Soka Global Citizen Award established earlier this year is another manifestation of Mr. Ikeda’s ideas. President Feasel bestowed the inaugural award to Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury in recognition of his life’s work and achievements for peace and women’s rights.

Accepting the honor via video, Ambassador Chowdhury recalled that his 2005 commencement speech—SUA’s first—emphasized “that the work for peace is a continuous process,” in which each of us can make a difference.

Chowdhury said teaching his SUA course, “The Culture of Peace,” for more than a decade has “wonderfully blended with the university’s mission and encouraged me to continue to share my life’s education, experience and expertise with its most admirable students,” he said. “The culture of peace and global citizenship are mutually contributive and enhancing.”

In honor of his late wife Mariam and her love for the university and its mission, Chowdury proposed using the $25,000 associated with the award to continue her legacy at SUA.

Transforming Student Lives

The 20th anniversary event continued with a presentation about the new Life Sciences concentration, with a faculty-guided tour of the new labs in the 91,000-square-foot Marie and Pierre Curie Hall. Introducing the video, Romano noted that SUA has “entered into a new era in which students interested in pursuing professions within the field of life science are able to receive their foundational education with global citizenship at the core.”

Students are the heart of the university, and to celebrate their diverse talents and backgrounds, members of the orchestra and jazz ensemble clubs performed the student-created SUA student song,“On The Path of Peace,” from their own homes. Three students from Honduras, Nepal, and Zambia reflected on their SUA experience, and Soka Student Union president Shunji Fueki announced that students are compiling a book, Dear Global Citizens, that includes Mr. Ikeda’s messages through the years and will be published this summer.

In testament to the power of Soka Education to transform individual lives as well as society, alumna Jennifer Ohrstrom ‘08 shared how its lessons and community have guided her through her journey with Lyme disease.

“Though I faced repeated setbacks, I returned again and again to the promise of Soka Education: that each of us has a profound mission for peace, infinite power, and the potential to be happy,” Ohrstrom said. “When I decided to use my life to encourage others the way they had encouraged me though my circumstances were unchanged, I began to cultivate deep joy and appreciation…I learned the value of all the immeasurable but most important things in life: the matters of the heart.”

In closing the memorable evening, Giselle said the 20th anniversary celebration has inspired her to recommit to the university’s ideals. “From today again, I will be a person who embodies wisdom, courage, and compassion—the heart of a global citizen and to be a light of hope in my community.”

Celebration hosts with campus backdrop
Video: View an edited version of the anniversary broadcast