Soka’s 2023 Commencement: Emerging Victorious

June 05, 2023
Soka's Class of 2023 throws their graduation caps in the air in celebration

SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda perfectly captured the spirit of the 19th Commencement Ceremony in his message to the Class of 2023, calling the day a “song of epic triumph.”

The cool and cloudy afternoon didn’t dim the smiles inside the Soka Performing Arts Center as a capacity crowd of guests, faculty, staff, and commencement speaker Wanjira Mathai came together May 26 to celebrate. President Edward Feasel, joined by Professor Tomoko T. Takahashi, dean of the graduate school and vice president for institutional research and assessment; Professor Michael Weiner, executive vice president for academic affairs; and Professor M. Robert Hamersley, dean of faculty, conferred the Master of Arts degree in Educational Leadership and Societal Change to four graduate candidates and the Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts to 98 undergraduate candidates.

“I am so proud and honored to congratulate you on your graduation from Soka today,” Pres. Feasel said. “You have traversed the difficult path of the last several years as a student at SUA through the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic with the rise of the virtual world of online education. And you have emerged victorious on this stage of your fully in-person commencement ceremony today.

“You have ingrained the ideal of SUA, of value creation, as part of your spiritual DNA,” Pres. Feasel continued. “As Mr. Ikeda has shared, value creation, simply put, is the ability to find meaning to enhance one’s own life and contribute to the lives of others under any circumstances.”

Dean of Students Hyon J. Moon then read Mr. Ikeda’s full message, which expressed his “heartfelt felicitations” to the graduates and his profound gratitude to their families and friends for their support. “To be young is to sow the seeds for the future,” Mr. Ikeda wrote. “The seeds sown by youth can overcome any and all hardship; they are able to flower and proliferate transcending the bounds of time and space. Immeasurable potential lies dormant within the great earth of every individual’s sublime life.”

Mr. Ikeda’s message also referred to his 2005 meeting with Mathai and her mother, Dr. Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement. During their conversation, Dr. Maathai shared her belief “that the difference between victory and failure in life is often no more than the willingness to get up when you are down.”

“That belief is no less evident here at SUA,” Mr. Ikeda wrote, “where you draw together like members of a deeply caring family, encouraging one another as you battle to get back up, come what may, constantly honing and strengthening your Soka spirit to make it truly invincible.”

Prepared for Opportunity and Action

Wanjira Mathai speaks at 2023 Commencement

After accepting the Soka Global Citizen Award from Pres. Feasel for her influential advocacy for social and environmental change in Africa and worldwide, Mathai also referred to that meeting with Mr. Ikeda. Mathai, managing director of Africa and Global Partnerships at World Resources Institute and chair of the Wangari Maathai Foundation, noted that they shared the conviction that peace and the environment are inextricably linked. She also praised Mr. Ikeda’s foresight in educating global citizens to address the world’s problems.

Referring to climate change as the most significant challenge in the world, Mathai called on graduates to act but also sounded a note of hope. The damage from climate change “is the most significant hindrance to achieving sustainable development,” she said. “And it really threatens to drag millions of people back into poverty. And we are not okay if so many people are in poverty.

“At the same time, we have never had better knowledge, better solutions, and better prepared talent to address these issues available to prevent the crisis and the opportunities for a better life for people around the world,” Mathai said. “If we are to survive the worst impacts of climate change, it will take all of us and the sort of education you’ve had.”

Closing her remarks, Mathai shared with graduates three nuggets of wisdom that have guided her through the years. She advised students to take every single opportunity that arises; to sustain their global perspective; and to remember, among the many distractions in life, that “the dignity of human life will always be the currency that matters.”

Living with Hope and Heart

Kentaro Shintaku bows at President Feasel when he accepts the Founders Award

Hamza Ibrahim ’23, who came to SUA from Accra, Ghana, was the first of the three undergraduate students selected by graduates to speak on their behalf. After asking for a moment of silence in honor of those suffering around the world, Ibrahim said the university had given him the opportunity to connect with many communities of people, and develop greater empathy and a sense of responsibility for others. “It is commendable to look beyond our privileges and assume the pain and suffering of others elsewhere,” Ibrahim said. “And this idea of global empathy is one of the crucial elements of global citizenship.”

Erica Koyama ’23, from Irvine, Calif., said she arrived on campus ready to take part in the new Life Sciences concentration and quickly engraved SUA’s ethos of caring for others in her heart. As the Class of 2023 navigated the pandemic, Koyama said students “actively created spaces to transform our differences into opportunities to learn from one another.”

“With every challenge we faced, we arose stronger and more united,” Koyama said. “As the toughest yet most joyous four years in my life reach closure, I can now fully perceive the beauty of a Soka education. Soka education has taught me that the heart is the most valuable possession in our lives.”

The final student speaker, Kentaro Shintaku ’23, recounted his journey from Hokkaido, Japan, to SUA and the obstacles he encountered. “My family is not wealthy,” he said. “At times, we couldn’t even pay for gas, water, or electricity.” After learning about Soka, Shintaku began reading Mr. Ikeda’s works and “learning how he struggled in his youth to protect and empower people, which was profoundly inspiring.”

Shintaku—known for his cheerful hello around campus—said at SUA he “went from shy and reserved to someone now brimming with confidence and the desire to connect to all people.” During the pandemic, he “called out from my computer to my friends around the world. I was determined to create value in a time of unbelievable adversity.” That effort led to connecting with students worldwide and launching an online youth summit to discuss how they could work together to build a better world.

Shintaku was then called back to the podium to receive the Founder’s Award, which honors the graduating undergraduate who exemplifies the university’s ideals through service and academic excellence. As he accepted the award from Pres. Feasel, Shintaku, who plans to attend Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education next fall, proved how deeply he believes in connection by thanking his amazing classmates for helping him succeed.