Soka University of America Welcomes Its Largest Class Ever

September 04, 2021
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Person on concert hall stage speaks to students in audience

A year of quiet on campus ended August 10 as Soka formally welcomed its newest students to Aliso Viejo. As the 140 members of the Class of 2025—Soka’s largest class yet, representing 23 countries—gathered in the Performing Arts Center, the masks they wore as a Covid precaution didn’t make a dent in their excitement.

The dim hall lit up as faces of the Soka community popped up on the big screen to extend a warm welcome to the first-year students. Following the hour-long celebration, the students enjoyed dinner outside on the campus green.

A highlight of the celebration came as Dean of Students Hyon Moon read a message from SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda. Referring to the university as, “the highest seed of learning for global citizens that cast the light of hope for all,” Mr. Ikeda thanked Soka’s administration, staff, and faculty for their work preparing for the return to campus before reminding students of the importance of their mission in an uncertain world.

“Humanity today faces an ordeal of unprecedented magnitude,” wrote Mr. Ikeda. “Now more than ever, a new vision, an alternate philosophy and the fostering of a global citizenry entrusted to realize these ends is needed to establish a global society that lives in peace and co-exist in harmony. Every one of you stands at the forefront of this grand and noble challenge, the brightest and most capable of individuals who have come here on this milestone year, the 20th anniversary of Soka’s founding.”

Overcoming Challenges on Their Path to Soka

The afternoon’s emcees, orientation leaders Moeka Ho ’23 and Randy Lindenmayer ’23, kicked off the program, followed by remarks from Soka Student Union Executive Council President Yuka Hombo ’22. Hombo reflected on her deepening understanding of Soka’s mission while studying from her home in Japan during the pandemic.

“One of the main lessons I learned in the past three years was that being able to speak some languages or having abundant knowledge doesn’t necessarily make us a global citizen who can contribute to the welfare of others,” Hombo said. “Our founder listed wisdom, courage, and compassion as the three attributes of global citizenship. I strongly believe the mission statement is about us developing these qualities during our time at SUA and beyond by constantly asking ourselves how can we develop as an individual, how can we live the contributive life, and how can we truly embody SUA’s mission?”

Representing the sometimes challenging paths students from around the world have followed to arrive at Soka, three students shared their own journeys. Julia Mayumi Miyagawa Braga ’25 described how after transferring from a Soka school to a prestigious high school in San Paolo, Brazil, her life didn’t resemble the movie, “High School Musical,” as she’d hoped. The school’s competitive environment and the anxiety and depression among her peers was dispiriting. Braga returned to her former school, where the positive reaction of friends and teachers taught her about courage and following her own path.

Paridhi Khanduri ’25 also described having different values than some of her peers while in high school in India. She’d learned from her family that education was “a lifelong endeavor to gain knowledge and learn how to use that knowledge to create value in real life,” not, as she witnessed around her, to value education only as a means to secure a job. Her commitment to those values prompted her to follow in the footsteps of her sister, Subhagya, a member of the Class of 2017.

“In today’s world facing rapid climate, digital, economic, political, and health changes, I believe that it becomes prudent to raise individuals equipped with creating value from the uncertain and individuals who know the values that drive their actions,” Khanduri said. “Soka values that the purpose of education is to develop a vast knowledge base, providing an opportunity for in-depth study in areas of interest, thus raising the intellectual quotient of students and making us capable leaders sensitive towards societal issues in a balanced environment.”

While growing up in Hawaii, Kenichi Price ’25 learned difficult but valuable lessons from his younger sister, Naomi, who suffered permanent brain damage after contracting bacterial meningitis as a baby and was unable to move or speak. After Naomi’s death in 2019, he chose to transform his grief into determination to help others. While Price originally wanted to pursue engineering, Soka’s overall mission was a stronger pull.

“Reflecting on Naomi’s life I was reminded of the courageous spirit she would constantly exemplify and how despite her circumstances she never failed to motivate and encourage me and countless others,” he said. “Gradually these reflections allowed me to transform the negative feelings I was struggling with into a newfound determination to dedicate my life to the wellbeing of others.”

The President’s Welcome

After reminding the Class of 2025 to remain vigilant against Covid-19 and follow the precautions of wearing masks, testing, and contact tracing, President Ed Feasel recalled how a quote he saw from Mr. Ikeda about following a dream remained in the back of his mind as he decided to study economics and become a professor. In 2000, he had a pivotal conversation with Mr. Ikeda in which he told him about the inspiring quote. “He said, ‘Yes, the dream is very important in life, the dream becomes our direction in life, it becomes our source of energy,’” Pres. Feasel said.

Pres. Feasel encouraged the first-year students to take their dreams seriously. “What I want is to encourage you to start developing your vision for your future,” he said, “to really start thinking about what field you want to specialize in, what career you want to pursue, what will be your life’s work, your life’s mission, because that vision will set the course for your life.”

He also urged the students to fully embrace Soka’s principles of courage, compassion, and wisdom as they learn to become global citizens.

“It’s how, you know, we serve our community,” he said. “To have courage not to deny our differences, but to learn from them. To have compassion that if any one of us is suffering, to feel like it’s our own suffering, and the wisdom to realize that we’re all interconnected, and our actions can affect each other in a positive way to help us overcome our suffering, to help us grow. And so this culture, this ethic of global citizenship, is the perfect environment to develop your contributive spirit.”

Pres. Feasel closed his remarks describing the friendship between Mr. Ikeda and Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize winning scientist for whom Linus and Ava Helen Pauling Hall was dedicated. When Pres. Feasel was a graduate student at UC Berkeley, he had the opportunity to meet Dr. Pauling when he was asked to pick him up at the airport after a dialogue that Dr. Pauling had with Mr. Ikeda at SUA’s Calabasas campus. On that drive, Dr. Pauling mentioned revisiting a challenging problem he’d put aside 10 years before and regretting he hadn’t solved it sooner.

“And I realized, in those words, the essence of the greatness of Dr. Pauling. And that work ethic to always push himself,” Pres. Feasel said. “When I think about my own experience, it was really during college that I learned that work ethic. So I really want to encourage you also, during your time here at Soka to not have any regrets, to make every effort possible to realize the goals that you set.”