The Campus Where We Studied by Magda Walsh and Valerie Silverio GS '98
Why did we go to Soka Calabasas?
When I was young and heard about the Soka Schools that were being established by our founder, Daisaku Ikeda, I was excited and waited for a Soka College to be opened in the U.S. I wanted to go there and for years, I had that dream. In the meantime, I finished school, had a family and worked several years as a bilingual elementary school teacher and parent educator. All of my experience was focused on English learners. On a visit to SUA Calabasas for a family festival, I saw a flyer about the TESOL Graduate Program. Honestly, I had waited so long to go to a Soka school that I would have studied auto mechanics if that were what had been offered. However, the program was everything I needed to combine with my experience. I knew a lot about education intuitively from learning on the job but this graduate program allowed me to step up academically, strengthen my skills and reignite my delight as a hands-on classroom teacher. There’s nothing like a Soka Education!
My journey to Soka Schools began when I was a high school student in my native Brazil. I had deep respect for the ideals of the Founder, Daisaku Ikeda. However, my dream of attending Soka University, which was only in Japan at the time, seemed impossible. I graduated from college with a business major and began a career in the finance industry. I met my future husband, an American, in 1985, and moved to the United States in 1987. When I first heard about the opening of the Soka University branch campus in Calabasas my old dream began to take on new life. But was it realistic? By then I had two daughters, my husband had a solid career in Seattle, and I was working as an assistant manager in a credit union. Still, something inside called me to be a part of an institution founded by Mr. Ikeda. I applied for the Master’s in TESOL program, not knowing what to expect. When the admissions letter arrived it all became very real. I left it up to my husband and two daughters to decide whether or not I would accept. They had a family dialogue and then told me yes, they would be supportive. My husband said it was time for me to step out of the shadows and fly high, to fulfill my dreams. We relocated to a home near Calabasas. My daughters entered new schools and had to make new friends. My husband commuted frequently back to Seattle. At times I questioned what I had done to uproot my family, but in the end, by supporting each other, each of us opened a new chapter in our lives. I felt humbled and uplifted in being part of the incredible class of 1998!
The Campus Where We Studied
Soka Calabasas was in Malibu Canyon which is one of the most beautiful spots in Southern California on a historic road, that leads right down to striking beach views. Nestled into the canyon were SUA’s pristine white buildings and beautifully kept lawns. As we drove down the entrance road, graced on both sides with huge old eucalyptus trees, and crossed the bridge that flanked a pond with sunlight glancing off its water, we were greeted by iconic white swans. What a welcome!
The campus was in the middle of real, live nature. The Oak Trees were ancient and protected elders that beckoned us to enjoy their hospitality and perhaps soak in some of their wisdom. The Eucalyptus Trees hosted nests of White Owls. We could tip our heads back in the mornings and look way up to see the bravest of furry little owlets peeking out and staring back at us and maybe listening to our good morning wishes. And on clear moonlit evenings, we heard screeches and saw the half-grown and full-grown owls, their wingspans dazzling us. Occasionally one might land on a post at the height of the car window and we could roll down the window and commune a bit with an owl that perhaps had stared out at us from the crook of its nest as a baby.
The sacred aspects of nature even invaded our classrooms. Language theory and grammar would be sidelined temporarily as we looked out the classroom windows and saw a group of eleven deer who would consistently visit to partake of the flower beds planted around the buildings. We were quiet with awe and because we didn’t want to frighten away the warm-eyed but vigilant adults watching out for the youngsters. And in the spring, the rabbits would get frisky. If someone was lucky enough to glance out the window while grappling with our rigorous study, (often one of our teachers), we would soon be watching the spectacle of flying bunnies. They were leaping higher than ever imagined possible and then back to landing in a flash.
They took turns and bested one another. There was no way we could ignore the Rabbit Olympics and they were tireless until someone couldn’t stay quiet and scared them away. And there was so much more. We remember you all! We will never forget you!
What have we taken with us into our professional and daily lives?
- The knowledge that we are capable of far more than we think we can do
The challenges were mighty at SUA and we were given the support to surprise and encourage ourselves and others with our success. Every person who was part of the Soka Mission, from the kitchen staff and groundskeepers, office personnel, our professors and administrators, to all the unnamed supporters, all of them did everything they could to make us comfortable (and uncomfortable sometimes with difficult tasks). We were surrounded by mentors who believed in us and worked hard behind us, in front of us, and at our sides. And we were encouraged and praised over and over again by Daisaku Ikeda, the Founder of such a wonderful school.
We will never lose appreciation for all the efforts made on our behalf!!!
- The conviction that our students are precious
We know that what we present, how we conduct ourselves, the words we use, and what we believe can greatly influence the human beings who spend some time with us. We want to be a positive force for the growth of our students and ourselves.
We are graduates of Soka University! Let’s not forget it!
- We believe in all-out efforts.
Contributing to the happiness of our students is not simply based on a slogan that sounds good. It is a daily reality in our preparation, in the classroom or Zoom world and in our hearts. We learned this at Soka and, although we don’t always see immediate success in our endeavors, neither of us will ever stop making efforts in this arena.
- The importance of working together with our peers, regardless of the work environments we find ourselves in
We aim to use our stronger skills to help the whole community shine and cover for one another’s difficulties. We try to bring out the strengths of our coworkers and serve as consensus building team players rather than competitors. At SUA we worked in whole group, small groups and pairs to accomplish so many tasks and goals. We struggled to get along and to understand the visions of our classmates and support them. We suffered as well as laughed and dreamed together. We carry this spirit to our workplaces. We will appreciate our classmates forever!
What are we doing now?
Magda is working at Los Angeles Valley Community College. She is currently an associate professor of English as a Second Language. Magda likens her classroom role to hosting a mini United Nations, with recent immigrants from around the world. She tries to instill the value of respect for other cultures among her students. Magda also has an additional responsibility for the colleges online education program as its Distance Education Coordinator. Since March 2020, the courses at Valley College have increased from 20% online to 100%. Magda has been instrumental in making that possible. She works closely with all professors, encouraging, training and supporting them in this stress filled time. Magda is full of heart and the spirit to exemplify what she has learned from our Founder Daisaku Ikeda.
Valerie is a teacher in the NCESL Department at Glendale Community College in Glendale CA. She is currently teaching classes online. Technology is not her favorite challenge. Nevertheless, she is determined to stay in the game because of that belief that the students are precious. They struggle with technology and a new language! So, with compassion for herself as well as for her students, she is staying calm, honoring her own pace, and learning everything she can with the goal of supporting students. Bravo everyone! We never give up!