The Road to Becoming a Humanistic Doctor: Giselle Velasquez’s 2023 Peace Gala Experience

December 20, 2023
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Giselle Velasquez ’15, wearing a pink suit jacket and speaking into a black glittery microphone addresses the gala attendees

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow alumni, and honored guests, thank you for joining us tonight at the Soka Peace Gala. It is a privilege and immense joy to stand before you and share my journey, my experience, and my gratitude for the incredible institution that is Soka University of America.

My name is Giselle Velasquez, and I am from the Class of 2015.

Every story starts with a foundation, and mine was etched in the differing dreams my parents held for me.

I was born to immigrant parents, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico after much effort and sacrifice. Working hard was valued above all else. Higher education was not necessarily an ideal, and mostly seen as reserved for those who made more money than my family. Scholarships awarded to attend college seemed like winning the lottery, only happening to a select few.

Upon completion of high school, my very practical father encouraged my siblings and I to attend trade school so that we could quickly get into the workforce. He could not afford to put us through college and feared us taking large student loans out to do so.

My mother noticed my interest in school while growing up and encouraged me to attend college, despite the financial obstacles that would arise. She had been the first in our family to attend college. We were kids when my mom was in college, so my parents experienced firsthand how challenging it could be. My father left for work before we woke up and returned home after we had gone to bed. My mom often fed us fast food and sought support from others to help raise us so she could focus on studying after a full day’s work.

Growing up, our modest home was a melting pot of ambitions and anxieties.

Throughout this challenging time, I developed an emotional relationship with food. I remember eating for comfort as young as seven. I was diagnosed with obesity at age nine. I dreaded every single visit to the doctor for the next several years, which all concluded in the same way: doctors scaring me and my mom by telling us all the negative things that could happen if I did not lose weight. They pleaded that the solution was easy: all I needed to do was eat less and exercise more.

This only contributed to habitual binge eating and believing that there was something inherently wrong with me, since I could not just lose the weight as straightforwardly as doctors suggested.

Ironically, the medical professionals who were supposed to guide me seemed more lost than I was.

I remember telling my mom that I wanted to become a doctor, one that would be nurturing and understanding of the real experiences that people were going through. I felt my doctors never considered why I was obese. Psychoemotional health was never considered or talked about. Dealing with this internal turmoil for many years fueled my passion for health and healing.

And then, the universe conspired in my favor.

I first heard about SUA the summer before my junior year of high school. I dismissed it outright because at that time there wasn’t a pathway for my interest in medicine. Luckily, shortly thereafter I met a super rad Soka alumna. She was raised in Japan, phenotypically Indian, spent time living in South America, and spoke at least four languages. At 17 years old, I had never met anyone even remotely similar in breadth of life experience, and the fact that she was also young and had already experienced so much inspired a level of hope and possibility in me like never before.

She passionately spoke about her experiences at Soka. I was intrigued. After attending the Soka Education conference, I discovered how SUA could provide a humanistic foundation that would serve me in any field or endeavor. The day my acceptance letter arrived, it was not just a personal achievement but a launchpad to an education that included the study abroad program that led me to my current career path.

My study abroad experience at SUA was transformative. I chose to learn Mandarin Chinese, mostly because it was the language I knew the least about. In my junior year, I chose a unique study abroad program in Harbin, China, which invited me to take a one-on-one course in any topic within Chinese culture. I had heard about acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and was curious about eastern medicinal philosophy. I seized the opportunity to study with a passionate 72-year-old doctor of TCM. She taught me how TCM viewed health and healing from an integrative approach; how seemingly different symptoms were often related; and how everyone is viewed as unique and should be treated as such. There was no one-size-fits-all treatment course.

Whether offering acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet, and/or lifestyle therapy, the prescriptions often vary for each patient. This made so much sense to me, especially when I thought about my younger self who felt such failure and shame while struggling with an eating disorder without anyone helping to find the right kind of medical intervention.

By the end of that course, I had a deep inner calling to practice TCM. However, I still had a lot of fear and doubt about practicing Chinese medicine as a non-Chinese person. The perspective of global citizenship instilled in me at SUA lent an awareness of caution in appropriating the culture or its people. 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 Soka graduate, I decided to continue learning.

First, I pursued topics within a Western medicine framework. I started a master’s in public health nutrition and explored a nursing assistant program. But neither piqued my interest like TCM. Finally, five years after first learning about TCM, I took the leap and decided to enroll in a four-year accelerated doctorate program in acupuncture in Chinese medicine in Los Angeles. Since I had no background in the biological sciences, I was required to take 27-30 units of classes each term—saying the program tested my limits is an understatement.

However, my experience as an SUA student gave me the strength to persevere despite how grueling life often felt throughout the program. I was determined to become a doctor for world peace, and successfully completed that rigorous program at the top of my class in December 2021.

Before graduating from my doctorate program, I knew I wanted to start my own acupuncture clinic right away, with a focus on fertility and reproductive health. Though I had no experience running a business, what I did have was a tolerance and ability to interact with and care for people from all walks of life, which I learned during my time at SUA.

While many of my colleagues struggled with patient care, I found this to be the most enjoyable aspect of my work. I approached every patient with the desire to listen and learn more about who they were and what they were going through—skills gained while learning to become a global citizen. My humanistic training allowed my business to grow organically each month. Last month, September 2023, marks one year since I began my fertility and reproductive health-focused acupuncture and TCM practice in Woodland Hills, California.

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

Without all of you, and the generous scholarships we receive as a result of your donations, my life would not have been nearly as capable to serve as a global citizen, ready to give back to the world.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!