In Challenging Times, Peace Gala Exceeds Fundraising Expectations

November 09, 2020
Collage of Soka Peace Gala participants
Over its 16 year history, the Peace Gala has raised millions for the Soka student scholarship fund.

Hundreds of members of the Soka community came together online for this year’s Peace Gala, surpassing the event’s fundraising goal while celebrating the university’s mission.

The 16th annual event, “Celebrating a Vision of Peace,” was held virtually on October 10. More than $670,000 was raised for the Soka scholarship endowment, eclipsing last year’s total, despite the challenges of the pandemic and going virtual.

In an effort to make the gala available to those who have wanted to attend but been unable to, admission was not charged. More than 300 people from around the world viewed the live-stream.

The Peace Gala is Soka’s largest fundraising event. In his opening remarks, President Ed Feasel noted that about 88% of Soka students receive need-based financial aid. In the last 15 years, students have received $191 million in financial assistance.

Master of ceremonies DawnMarie Kotsonis carried the evening virtually just as dynamically as she has in person, expressing gratitude to donors for their investment not only in Soka’s students but, by extension, the future of the world.

The agenda included a performance by Grammy-winning songwriter Paul Williams, video interviews with students about Soka’s mission of global citizenship, and virtual testimonials from two SUA alumni who are doctors working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kimiko Tsuchiya ’08 and Isamu Yoshioka ’05.

Both doctors attended the university before it offered pre-med courses such as those now included in the Life Sciences concentration, yet they said the humanistic education they received at Soka prepared them to become compassionate doctors, a quality that is critical to their work today.

An interactive bidding experience was a unique feature of the evening. As attendees watched the gala on one screen, they could bid on silent auction items and make donations on other screens. Soka staff was also available to assist donors by phone.

Longtime donor and Gala committee member Judy Chow donated more than $50,000 this year.

“SUA is raising capable youth for the betterment of society and world,” Chow said. “I always feel it’s a bright beacon of light in this world of problems and conflicts.”

The online silent auction started one week before the Peace Gala, and Chow began participating ahead of time and continued throughout the event. “I got my friends to come in and bid and they were trying to outbid me so it was kind of fun,” she said. “I tried to bid on all the items, and then your friends text you that they outbid you and you have to go back in.”

New York comedian and stock market wizard Michael Young Cho, and longtime SUA donor Marylou Berk each donated matching challenges of $10,000. Berk’s donation was made in honor of her late husband, musician Allen Berk, one of SUA’s most dedicated and beloved supporters. His obituary included a request for mourners to donate to Soka.

“Allen was ever so dedicated to the cause of Soka,” Berk said. “He passed away six weeks before his 91st birthday, which was always on the weekend of the Gala, and while he couldn’t be there physically, we certainly knew he was there.”

“Allen and I were together 45 years and there wasn’t one moment he was not absolutely clear about the necessity to support and move this world forward, and move people forward,” said Berk. “When Soka opened up 20 years ago, he knew it was the perfect platform for delivering that mission. He was totally absolute in his mission of supporting Soka University for the reason of moving the world forward.”

Chow expressed the same appreciation for Soka’s mission.“There are so many universities,” she said. “SUA has a unique mission and I hope it stays eternally diligent in that mission. We tend to have grand goals as humans, but I think it’s important to have the correct perspective.”

“The core reason for Soka University to exist is value-creation around the world, the interconnectedness of all people, and the sharing and giving while each and every individual obtains a decent life and success,” Berk said. “The proof of what we see in the students who graduate and give back to society through their own successes is why it is paramount that we continue to support SUA. We like to think of ourselves as an inverted pyramid. We are at the bottom and the students are at the top.”

A video recording of the gala can be viewed online.