July 2020 Senior Graduate Speeches

Mia Davis

Hello, my name is Mia Davis.

I am a part of the Kawazoye-Kameda clan as you all know. I just graduated from Westmont High School in Campbell this past Wednesday. I will be attending California State University, Long Beach in the fall, kind of. Long Beach will be staying online, for the most part, for the fall semester, so I will be here until at least January, but hopefully not longer. COVID-19 has really messed up a lot of my senior year activities, such as prom, my cheer season, and graduation. Although I did kind of get a graduation, it was definitely not the same and did not feel the way it would have if it was a normal graduation. My graduation was a “drive-thru” graduation, where our families came in a car, I got out, walked across a small stage, got my diploma, then I got back into the car. Although it was different, I was still happy to be able to do something. In Buddhism, we learn about mindfulness and how important it is to be mindful. In the past three months I have thought a lot about being mindful. There has been so many times where I have gotten angry or upset about things that have been canceled or limited in my life. When I found out we were not going back to school, I was upset that I was not going to see my friends or teachers. When my senior prom was canceled, I was angry at my school district for canceling. I started to become mad at the world and what was happening because I felt like my entire senior year was ruined. I wasn’t going to get to experience all the things that my older sister and her friends got to experience during their senior year. Seeing emails upon emails coming in talking about what has been canceled and I eventually had given up on hope of enjoying my senior year. Then I had a realization, that the things my school was trying to plan were the best that they can do. I started to be more mindful about the situation and how difficult it must be to plan any event for us seniors. Being more mindful about the situation has helped me stop being resentful of my school and district and become more appreciative of the efforts they were putting in to making the seniors feel more satisfied with their senior year. Now that my senior year is finally over, we are moving onto college. Three months ago, if you were to ask me how excited I was for college, I would say that I was ecstatic for college. I would get to live in a new location, meet new people, and experience new things. Now if you were to ask me if I’m excited for college, I would say eh kind of. I am still excited for the whole college experience, but that experience will not be starting until January like I said before. I will continue to be mindful about the responses to COVID-19, which will hopefully help me be more okay with the things being taken away from me. Lastly, I hope everyone is staying safe and taking this time to be healthy and connect more with your immediate family. Thank you so much!

Ryan Kawamura

In my four years of high school there is a lot I have learned not only about chemistry and math, but also about life that I believe relates to Buddhism that I wanted to share with you all today.

The COVID-19 has led us seniors to lose a lot of memorable moments such as senior prom, graduation, spring break, senior trip, and much more. I worked hard for three and a half years to get good grades to help me get into college, and this was my time for celebration, but now it is all gone. For a moment, I felt dejected. However, as the shelter in place went on, I had a lot of time to myself and I took a moment to stop and reflect on my life. I slowed down on what used to be my fast paced life and took time to appreciate the things that I normally would have overlooked. I realized that I actually have so much to be thankful for. My family is healthy in the midst of a global pandemic, my friends are also healthy, and I don’t have to get up at 7am to be on campus early in the morning everyday, so the shelter in place is not all that bad. I have also been able to spend the extra time that I have preparing for college. I've been learning from my parents how to cook and have made a variety of different dinners for my family, which is helping me diversify my cooking palette from just nutella and toast. And I also recently helped my dad build a fence in our yard.

Along with the devastation of the pandemic and the more recent incidents bringing to light the injustices of people of color that still suffer today, there have been many lessons in the past few months that have made me think about my role and the impact I can have on those around me. While senior prom and graduation would certainly have been memorable events, and I am a bit bummed that I didn’t get to do all these things I was looking forward to, in the bigger picture, I realized these are not the most important things to worry about.

Now that I am heading into the next phase of my life and am about to move away from home, I believe that I am now better prepared and much wiser than I was before. I think that I have a greater sense of awareness of the small things around me and have become a better person.

Ryan Kawamura (resume)

I will be attending UCLA in the fall and plan on studying Pre Data Theory. Ever since I was a child, the Obon was always a date on my calendar that I would count down the days until. Not only do I enjoy the festival and celebration, but I also enjoy seeing people of all ages coming together to work hard on an event and make sure that the Obon is a success.

Gabby Tirsell

Hello everyone and congratulations to my fellow seniors for graduating! I'm Gabby Tirsell, resident tall girl, decade long temple member, and hopefully a friendly face to our congregation. Since I was a kid coming to temple, the senior graduation sermons have always signified the end of another school year, and although this time circumstances have changed, I'm proud to be a graduate during such a historical year. Historical in the sense that 2020 is seeing record low carbon emissions, world-changing protests, and a severe lack of exercise.

Honestly, graduating high school doesn't even feel real right now. These past 4 years have been quite the journey for us all, an incredibly long slow journey. Just a brief recap, 2016 saw the Summer olympics, a Pokemon Go addiction worldwide, and the election of he who shall not be named. And that's just 4 years ago. A lot has happened in such a brief period of time, and with high school on top of that, it gets overwhelming.

Thankfully, I'm fortunate enough to have had our temple community supporting me through my high school experience. I'm 18 now, a legal adult who can vote, and drive, and it feels like just the other day I was an 8 year old whining about coming to temple. As an 8 year old, you don't really understand most of the words in a reverend's sermon. But as an 18 year old, I'd like to thank my parents for waking me up every Sunday, and our reverends who've given such great messages to stick with me over the years. All of that incredibly valuable information I absorbed recently helped me place 2nd in a Buddhist Trivia contest. I have the screenshot to prove it.

However, the most daunting task in becoming an adult that I have surmounted, was learning how to drive. Driving is actually a very Buddhist practice see, when you're behind the wheel you need to be mindful of your surroundings. In difficult situations, you have to know that anger is not going to bring you happiness. That one's easier said than done. Even the wheel itself is a symbol of the 8-fold noble path that despite a decade of temple-going, I have still not memorized. During my driving test, I had to make sure to keep all of this in mind in order to stay calm and be kind to the scary test proctor. I guess I wasn't reciting the nembutsu enough as I failed.

That failure was a learning experience, just as every failure is, so I took the driving test a second time after my mom had to stay on hold at the DMV for 2 hours. Thanks ma. This time, I made sure to practice sufficiently beforehand. I needed to stay calm through meditation, remain vigilant and mindful of my surroundings, all while keeping my GAS in check. GAS meaning Greed Anger and Stupidity obviously. And guess who passed?

Now, thanks to Buddhism, I can drive home any weekend I'd like and come to temple to absorb even more Buddhism. I'd like to thank everyone at the Temple for always being such a warm and accepting community, even through my awkward phases, and Reverend Koyama for every week of dharma messages. Because of you all, I know I always have a place at PABT.

Above all, I'd also like to thank my family. Without them supporting me, I would've never been exposed to Buddhism and everything that I've learned from it. Congrats to the graduating class of 2020! I hope we all stay in touch.

Samantha Wong

When I think of the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, there are memories of learning how to offer incense for the first time and making sno cones under the summer sun. While many of the teachings of Buddhism are intended to be taught during service, I found many valuable lessons outside the Hondo as well. Working at Obon and the other events taught me the value in being part of a greater community. Through events like the luncheons or Baked Potato lunch, I witnessed from a young age the community working together for both set up and clean up. Small gestures like stacking chairs and tables symbolized the importance of helping others. Bringing snack for your Dharma class or learning how to make mochi helped me connect with my Japanese heritage and feel more a part of the community.

I especially enjoyed events like Obon. Working at this fundraiser was both enjoyable and made me feel like I was contributing to the community. When making strawberry mochi with my grandma and her friends and serving sno cones to customers at the American Foods Booth, I learned the value in working together towards a common goal. The Obon festival also felt like a culmination of many parts of my life.

Often, members of my extended family would attend to eat udon and play games, or I would run into girls who I first learned to play basketball with in the Japanese Youth League, who practiced in the temple's gym. The temple grounds were an intersection point where multiple parts of my life could connect. They have also shown me the impact of generational connections--the temple is the only organization that my grandparents, my parents, and my sisters and I all have in common. I have been able to spend time and make memories with my family and experience the same valuable lessons. I am especially grateful for the connections and support I have received from my grandparents, Emily and Cal Aoyama. I understand how unique it is to have a place where three generations of a family are all welcome, and this sentiment is common for many families in the church.

From the Palo Alto community, I have learned mindfulness, respect, and consideration. The people themselves have shown me kindness and compassion and how to be a helpful and empathetic member of society. I will definitely take the lessons I have learned with me to college and beyond and can only hope that my future communities can have the depth of this one. Thank you.


My name is Samantha (Sammy) Wong. I am graduating from Castilleja School, where I was a four year varsity started for basketball, and a two year captain. I started a club at my school where we donated science kits to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, and eventually expanded our program to the Ronald McDonald House and UCSF Children's Hospital. Last June, I received a Congressional Award, Gold Medal as well as a special STEM stars award in Washington DC, and a Presidential Award for volunteering. I will be attending the University of Southern California this fall to study neuroscience in the freshman honors program.

Elena Atluri (resume)

Elena Atluri graduated from Los Altos High School, where she was known for her involvement in the environmental club, choir, and tutorial center. In her free time, Elena enjoys reading and hanging out with her friends. Next fall, Elena will be attending Stanford University.

Stacey Chow (resume)

Stacey graduates from Palo Alto Prep High School. Her graduation date has been pushed back to June 27th. She’ll attend the College of San Mateo in the fall, and has no idea what she will pursue as a major, but will continue to take photos as often as possible.