Peace Gala Sets New Fundraising Record to Advance SUA’s Mission

October 24, 2023
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Giselle Velasquez ’15, wearing a pink suit jacket and speaking into a black glittery microphone addresses the gala attendees
Giselle Velasquez ’15 speaks at the 19th annual gala

Less than a week after war erupted in the Middle East and in the midst of ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Soka University of America community gathered to support the university’s vital mission of educating future peacemakers.

Taking the stage at “Celebrating a Vision of Peace,” SUA President Edward M. Feasel noted that the 19th annual gala was being held beneath a “dark cloud.”

“Unfortunately, as is always true of war, innocent individuals suffer the most,” he said. “Let us utilize our gathering tonight to reaffirm our commitment to fostering peace in the world. Toward this end, we all believe in the power of education, to transform lives and indeed, society.”

The 384 people attending the Oct. 14 event on campus and online responded by raising over $1.5 million—an amount that broke last year’s record-breaking total—to help ensure admitted students can receive an SUA education regardless of financial or economic circumstances.

Calling the university a “beacon of hope,” Pres. Feasel emphasized the importance of SUA’s mission of educating global citizens instilled with the values of wisdom, courage, and compassion to address the world’s injustices. “We firmly believe that education is the most potent tool we have to build a more just, equitable, and peaceful world,” he said.

“While we celebrate our achievements tonight of sending educated global citizens to every corner of the world, we also acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead as the world continues to grapple with complex, seemingly intractable, issues,” Pres. Feasel said. “These challenges require compassionate, visionary leaders, and our university is committed to producing graduates who will rise to these challenges.”

SUA’s generous donors play a crucial role in making the university accessible to more students who aspire to make positive change. “Your contributions make dreams come true and you enable students to embark on a journey of discovery, self-realization, and transformation,” Pres. Feasel said. “Our scholarship recipients are the embodiment of the change we want to see. And they inspire us every day with their dedication and passion.”

That sentiment was echoed by SUA Board Chair Steve Dunham, who reminded the guests that SUA could not fulfill its goals without them. “In a very real sense, you all are an absolutely essential part of the mission of the institution,” Dunham said.

Following an enthusiastic auction led by DawnMarie Kotsonis, alumni speaker Giselle Velasquez ’15 recounted her journey from the child of immigrant parents who lacked the resources to send her to college to the owner of a thriving healthcare practice in Woodland Hills, Calif.

As a child, Velasquez sought comfort from the stresses of family life in food and was diagnosed with obesity when she was 9 years old. Though the doctors who suggested she eat less and exercise more while overlooking the root cause of her binge eating couldn’t help her, they inadvertently planted the seed of her future career.

“I remember telling my mom that I wanted to become a doctor one day, one that would be nurturing and understanding of the real experiences that people were going through,” she said.

When she first heard of SUA, she dismissed it as an option because at the time, before the introduction of the Life Sciences concentration in 2020, it didn’t offer a clear pathway to a career in medicine. A passionate alumnus she met changed her mind. “I discovered how SUA could provide me with the humanistic foundation that would serve me in any field or endeavor,” she said.

At SUA, Velasquez studied Mandarin Chinese and learned about traditional Chinese medicine while studying abroad in Harbin, China. Its integrative approach to addressing an individual’s health resonated with her. Still, she had fear and doubt about practicing Chinese medicine as a non-Chinese person.

“My global citizenship perspective instilled in me an awareness of caution and appropriating the culture or its people,” she said. “As a result, initially, I had a hard time believing that I could contribute to the profession in a valuable way. But with the confidence I gained as a graduate at Soka, I decided to continue learning.”

After SUA, she enrolled in an accelerated doctorate program in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, graduating at the top of her class. Last year, Velasquez opened her own acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine practice focusing on fertility and reproductive health.

“Today, I stand before you not just as a graduate but as a testament to the power of perseverance and self-belief that is instilled in each of us who attends Soka and experiences the kind of education that cultivates wisdom, courage, and compassion to serve,” she said.

That education, as she concluded, is only possible through the generosity of SUA’s donors.