Wanjira Mathai Accepts Soka Global Citizen Award: ‘Go Forth and Shine’

June 05, 2023
Wanjira Mathai smiles with President Feasel as she accepts the Soka Global Citizen Award

“Ladies and gentlemen, the mission of Soka University of America is to foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life,” said Wanjira Mathai, the third recipient of the Soka Global Citizen award, during her keynote speech at the 2023 commencement ceremony. “Remain true to that and never compromise your values and your beliefs.”

“Stay grounded,” Mathai continued, after accepting the award from SUA President Edward Feasel. “Stay humble. Remember that success is not just achieving your goals. It’s not just about achieving your goals. But it’s also seeing the humanity in others, making a positive impact.”

The Soka Global Citizen Award, inaugurated by President Feasel in 2021, includes a $25,000 stipend to help continue Mathai’s important work. Mathai currently serves on the Board of the World Agroforestry Center, as a Leadership Council member of the Clean Cooking Alliance, and a member of the High-Level Group of the Africa-Europe Foundation. She is one of a few Six Seconds EQ Practitioners in Kenya and was named one of the 100 Most Influential African Women in 2018, 2020, and 2021. Mathai is the managing director for Africa and Global Partnerships at the World Resources Institute. She is also chair of the Wangari Maathai Foundation and the former chair of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.

During her introductory remarks, Dean of Students Hyon Moon praised Mathai’s inspiring leadership over the last 20 years, which she’s spent advocating for social and environmental change on the local and international level. “Over the years, she has also served important strategic and advocacy roles, raising the prominence and visibility of global issues such as climate change, youth leadership, sustainable energy and landscape restoration, and woman entrepreneurs and renewables.”

Earlier that morning, Mathai met with a group of student representatives, asking them questions, taking notes as they spoke, and modeling how genuine dialogue can forge real connection even during brief encounters. “You can imagine what that meant for those students who were at the discussion,” Moon said.

Mathai is the third recipient of the Soka Global Citizen Award. The previous winners are Ambassador Andrew Young, a transformational leader on the national and international stage for more than half a century, and Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, the former under-secretary-general and high representative of the United Nations, and founder of the Global Movement for the Culture of Peace.

“So now graduates, it’s your turn, to take up the cause for global citizenship that has been passed on to you by your mentors, your professors, your friends, you are absolutely ready,” Mathai said near the conclusion of her speech. “Go forth and shine. And as you step into the real world, know that the road ahead may not always be easy. But that’s not what you’re here about. You will face challenges, setbacks, and obstacles. But that won’t stop you—you are from SUA.”