2021 Graduation and Commencement

Gesshin Claire Greenwood  |  May 27, 2021

On Friday, May 21, faculty, students, trustees, and friends of the Institute of Buddhist Studies gathered online to celebrate the graduating class of 2021, along with the class of 2020, who was not able to celebrate last year due to the pandemic.

This online event was also a chance to honor Rev. Seigen Yamaoka, who is retiring this year. President Matsumoto presented Rev. Yamaoka with a plaque awardeding him the title of Professor Emeritus. Dr. Leroy Morishita and Rev. CJ Dunford shared reflections on the contributions and work of Rev. Yamaoka, and how they have personally been touched by his teachings.

Rev Yamaoka shared the following dharma words in response:

I feel embarrassed for receiving this, and I feel that this recognition is not something I should be receiving. There’s a fundamental thing that’s inside me that’s very important, and it goes back to the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Shinran Shonin. I’d like to express those feelings if I may, because this is how I feel at this moment in time.

The reason I feel that this recognition is undeserving is because of the fact that it wasn’t just me, it was all the relationships and all the wonderful people who I’ve been able to come in contact with, who worked really hard to make this possible. I was like a dew drop in a vast ocean of wonderful people who made it possible for me to be me.

The Buddha and Shinran Shonin wanted us to understand something very important about life, and that is as we are born, as we come into life, we find things are very “me” centered. But it’s because of the wonderful people around me that I was able to become who I am today. As a person, I had all my faults, my problems and frustrations and faults, and that’s all normal from a personal standpoint. But the Buddha and Shinran wanted us to see that we live not only from within that one narrow segment of our being, but that we’re part of a whole wide world that they wanted us to explore. And I call that the “Dharma World.”

I feel that all the support that I’ve received, to do whatever I could do, is the power of others. Because without the power of others the self cannot accomplish anything. And that is what Shinran and the Buddha wanted us to understand about life—that the power of others incorporates relationship, it incorporates wisdom, compassion and gratitude, it incorporates all those kinds of feelings that we ourselves cannot awaken within ourselves without the help of others. That is what I call the Dharma. That is what I call Amida Buddha.

All the dharma words that we use to express the work of the truth, the dharma, that’s all part of it. That’s the whole wide world that we need to feel through our life experience, so that we can express all that gratitude towards all the people who helped us to be. So I have to extend my gratitude to all the people who crossed my path and helped me learn who I am. In the overall perspective that is enlightenment, truth, wisdom and compassion, Amida, the Vow, the name, all those wonderful words that we all hear and think about—that is all the Dharma work.

Without the dharma working in my life, I would have been a mess of a person. And whatever people say that I have accomplished, I feel embarrassed because it isn’t that I accomplished it, it was that I was given the opportunity to accomplish something. My contribution is like one drop of rain coming down from the sky to hit the earth, to nourish, support, and to help it grow. That is my life.

I am embarrassed to receive this and yet at the same time, it was awarded to me. So my idea is that it will be my reminder of how much I owe to all others that helped me to be, despite me. I can only express this in the one word that all of us all know, and that is the highest word of most supreme gratitude that we can extend to each and every one of us, to you, to all those who helped me become me. So I’m going to close very simply with my heartfelt appreciation for sharing your life with me, so that I could become me, despite me: Gassho.

Following the appreciation of Rev. Yamaoka, Dean Scott Mitchell acknowledged the 2019, 2020 and 2021 graduates, and conferred degrees and certificates to the following students:

Graduates for 2020-2021

Harumichi Fukaya— Master of Arts

Todd Tadao Tsuchiya— Master of Divinity

Ungyo Lynn Sugiyama— Master of Arts in Buddhist Studies

Jennifer Akiko Rogers— Master of Divinity and Shin Buddhist Studies Certificate

Christopher Lee Dunford, Jr.— Master of Arts and Certificate in Buddhist Chaplaincy

Susan Canning Bachman— Certificate in Theravada Buddhist Studies

Jeffrey Alan Haines— Shin Buddhist Studies Certificate

Graduates for 2019-2020:

Joseph Schuman— Master of Arts and Certificate in Buddhist Chaplaincy

Ryoze Wada— Master of Arts

Ryuki Tom Hawkins— Soto Zen Buddhist Studies Certificate

Melissa Opel— Shin Buddhist Studies Certificate

Gabrielle Haley— Certificate in Buddhist Studies

2020/2021 Graduates

Congratulations graduates!