Graduation of the First Cohort of Peace Studies: Powerfully Ring in a New Renaissance

    Graduation of the First Cohort of Peace Studies: Powerfully Ring in a New Renaissance

    Graduating is a great achievement under any circumstances, but graduating during the coronavirus pandemic is something the class of 2020 never envisioned.

    The year 2018 marked the dawn of the Graduate School of International Peace Studies (SIPS) in the educational history of Soka University. With a vision and purpose to cultivate creative global citizens who will lead international society in the direction of peace and sustainability, the first class of SIPS was engaged in building a rich reservoir of knowledge on varied topics related to peace, international relations, global citizenship, human rights, gender studies, and many others. With this, they were well equipped to conduct original research during their masters, thereby contributing to the existing literature of peace studies and society at large.


    Armed with a dream, resilience, and determination, the first 13 students of SIPS overcame many challenges in their pursuit to complete a master’s degree at Soka University. To celebrate their victory together, all 13 of them were looking forward to the commencement ceremony to be held on March 18th, 2020.


    It is called commencement because it is meant to mark a new beginning. A new start that brings hope, joy, excitement, gratitude, opportunities, and a sense of accomplishment. Graduating is a great achievement under any circumstances, but graduating during the coronavirus pandemic is something the class of 2020 never envisioned.


    Thousands of graduates, faculty members, parents, siblings, and grandparents had planned to gather from around the world at the campus on March 18th for the traditional commencement ceremony. The University took all necessary security measures in the wake of the Covid-19 virus and decided to hold a simpler ceremony. What could be viewed as a disappointing fact by SIPS students, eventually became a defining moment in the lives of all.


    The dean of the SIPS program, Prof. Minoru Koide, encouraged the 13 students the night before the commencement ceremony through a heart-warming message. He said, "I appreciate each one of you for choosing SIPS for your master’s degree course and for completing the program without a single student dropping out. Soka University Founder Daisaku Ikeda would surely be happy to see the friendship developed among SIPS students as a signature of Soka University being the highest learning institute for global citizens." His words ringing like a clarion bell uplifted the students’ spirits and reminded them of their unique mission to create a culture of peace in society.

    Emily Taguchi, from Indonesia, preparing to go to Thailand for an internship, said it had never crossed her mind that she would be graduating during a pandemic. "Therefore, it was unexpected and surprising, yet at the same time, I think that’s what made this ceremony so special. It was a moment that will be forever etched in my heart," said Emily.

    Meng Jia, from China, a few minutes after the graduation ceremony, besides Soka University President, Yoshihisa Baba.
    "All these pandemic issues made my two years of study even more relevant," said Meng Jia

    The 18th of March was a bright sunny day as if willing to embrace the students and praise them for their concentrated effort during their two years master's degree studies. "I still remember that bright morning when dressed in a suit and tie, I met strangers on the road who said “omedetou” (congratulations) to me. It felt unique," said Meng Jia, a Chinese who is planning to return to China this June. "As the first group of SIPS students, who were also the first group of graduates who had to graduate in a hurry, all these pandemic issues made my two years of study even more relevant. I liked it actually because it protected us from mass gathering but also enabled us to meet and interact with each other," comments Meng Jia.

    Another student from Indonesia, Raissa Valentine felt happy and high spirited on receiving the message from the founder of Soka University. "I am deeply touched and grateful that despite the condition and limitations caused by the pandemic, we still were able to have a graduation ceremony. I also could feel how caring and loving our peace studies academic staff was - the dean, the professors, the staff, and our university founder towards the peace studies first class," said Raissa.


    Born in Hong Kong, Choi Kit Yan also believes the pandemic was an extra factor that made the graduation ceremony even more special. "It was a meaningful ceremony for us all since our course is all about developing a globalized vision. Despite the isolation measures, I am so fortunate that all of us, including professors, are very well interconnected. That was not the end but a new beginning for us," she said.

    The first row, in the middle, Esther Garret, from the UK: "Studying in SIPS helped me understand the bonds we share being global citizens. "Around her, Emily, Meng Jia, Swati Vohra, and Monica Thomas

    The SIPS program fosters the heart of a global citizen, and Esther Garret from the UK, said, "Studying in SIPS helped me understand the bonds we share being global citizens and growing alongside my peers has drawn out my potential." Her journey at Soka has truly made her identify herself as a ‘global citizen’.

    Swati Vohra, from India, said it was disappointing not having her family present during the graduation ceremony. "However," said Swati, "the feeling was soon replaced with immense gratitude for having studied at this premier university." She still fondly remembers the encouragement received by the founder at the inauguration, asking students to study hard on behalf of those who could not attend the university. "I don't feel I have graduated. My heart will always be with my Alma Mater, always striving to give my best wherever I am," said Swati.

    Also from India, Deepti Singh shared that she waited for ‘this’ day in great anticipation to celebrate with her entire family. Her family’s visit was planned, but they had to cancel their trip due to the onset of the pandemic. The pandemic’s plan was to take away joy and gratitude from her life, Singh said, but the founder’s message and the efforts made by the International Affairs office of Soka restored it all in her life. In high spirits, Deepti said, “This crisis has confirmed to me about the interconnectedness of life and living and makes me even more determined to work towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals through my sweat and toil."

    Ankita Sehgal, from India as well, participated in an important conference about nuclear weapons in Nagasaki in February. "I was fortunate enough to go to Nagasaki just before the coronavirus problem became serious. When I attended the ceremony in that way, I realized how isolated people must have felt after the war. Nevertheless, I still had a ceremony whereas the hibakushas never had one. So, my experience was relatable to how people must have felt post-war and I have no regrets," said Sehgal.


    Jeoung Jiyun, from Korea, said it was disheartening that the students could not meet all of the professors, except for the dean and other friends. She smilingly said, "Irrespective of the situation, however, our memories of studying together, celebrating everyone’s birthday, and participating in diverse conferences are more precious than anything.”  She was very impressed by the available technology that made her connect to her family and friends from around the world who couldn’t travel to attend the graduation ceremony.

    To see students with their faces covered with a mask, proudly carrying their graduation certificate, bursting with joy, capturing the pictures with their friends and faculty, congratulating each other, and making calls to their family was a sight to be forever cherished. That day the campus of Soka University joined in the celebration with the cherry trees going in full bloom.


    Alesse Nunes, a Brazilian who is now enrolled in a Doctoral program at the Faculty of Education at Soka University, said, "It was a day of reflection and a new departure. The reason I came to SIPS was its focus on global citizenship; participating in this unusual graduation only increased my sense of responsibility for the future of the planet: if there are problems to solve, if there is peace to be accomplished, if there are SDGs to be achieved, we from SIPS will work even harder towards these goal," said Nunes.


    In the book titled ‘Choose Peace’: A Dialogue between Johan Galtung - father of peace studies, and Daisaku Ikeda - founder of Soka University; Dr. Daisaku Ikeda commented, “Peace is not something given to us; it is something we choose.” The first class of peace studies is living proof of this principle through their responses to the pandemic! Congratulations once again to the pioneering class of peace studies.