July 2019 Senior Graduate Speeches

Carly Jespersen

Carly Jespersen is a senior graduating from Menlo Atherton High School. She will be attending the University of Maryland, College Park this upcoming fall and will be majoring in Psychology with a minor in Computer Science. She is excited to explore more of the east coast and meet new people from different backgrounds.

In her free time, Carly loves to dance. She has been dancing for 15 years and has been on her high school dance team all four years. During those four years, she received the “Most Inspirational Dancer” award 2 years in a row and assumed a leadership role as “Officer” of the JV team her sophomore year. Carly plans to continue her passion for dance in college.

My Journey with Buddhism

Before I attended the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, I went to the Mountain View Buddhist Temple where Reverend Koyama used to serve. But one reason was because it was further away, it was hard for us to wake up early enough to make it over in time or come to all the events so we decided to switch temples.

Since I was younger, I don’t remember much about the Mountain View Buddhist Temple other than when Reverend Koyama pulled out the easel pad of paper for his dharma talks or the Obon festivals. But the first thing I remember about coming to the new temple was how welcoming the members were. Right away I felt a strong sense of community that I had never felt before. Everyone was so supportive and encouraging and I felt like I was truly included in all the events that were happening. I also met some amazing people like Conner and the rest of Jr. YBA that have influenced who I am today. The volleyball tournaments and Obons and luncheons all brought us closer together and I learned what it means to be part of a community as well as how much I can learn from other’s experiences.

Some of my strongest personality traits I attribute to what Buddhism has taught me. My optimism and forgiveness comes from the teaching that all life is impermanent and we must not dwell on the past, only looking ahead to the good that is to come. And my empathy and compassion comes from learning to be selfless and giving. I decided to put what I have learned into helping others and my interest in community service began as I discovered service learning. For those of you who don’t know, service learning is the idea that service is a two way street and we can learn just as much from the people we are helping as they can benefit from us.

To further this interest, I started a student run service learning organization called Step Up Club with a few of my peers from school. In doing this, we paired up with the Boys and Girls Club to connect students from our school to tutor underprivileged kids who weren’t as fortunate to have received such a rich education. We also held fundraisers to raise money for the schools that were under funded and organized bake sales and other events to raise nearly $5,000 last year. Working with these students and seeing them anxious to learn makes me think of how I was as a little kid in dharma school or now, as I listen to dharma talks.

I am fortunate enough to have received an amazing education, both in terms of academics and through Buddhist teachings. As a person who loves to help others and learn more about how to contribute to society, I have decided to further my education at the University of Maryland, College Park as a psychology major with a minor in computer science. Being so close to Washington DC and attending a large public university, there will be so many opportunities for me to learn and be involved in social causes. I believe I will be able to learn from the community as well as help teach others what I have learned through my experiences. I am eager to continue my journey as a Buddhist and embrace my culture to the fullest extent.

Conner Burns

Conner Burns is a senior graduating from Prospect High School in Saratoga. He will be attending the University of California, Riverside in the fall and majoring in Pre-Business.

Conner played all four years on the Varsity volleyball team and was Captain for two of those years. He says that he has been coming to the temple for as long as he can remember. He is also the only boy of the Kawazoye clan and the favorite grandchild of Sherri Kawazoye. For fun, he spends times with his friends and girlfriend, watches anime and plays video games and sports.

Good Morning Everyone! My name is Conner Burns and I am graduating from Prospect High School in San Jose. In the fall I will be studying Pre-Business at UC Riverside and I cannot wait to get started. When Reverend Koyama messaged Carly and I and asked us to speak today, it really wasn’t hard for me to think of what I wanted to say. As many of you know, I’ve been coming to this church as long as I can remember, and similarly to other kids... I can’t say that I was ecstatic to wake up at 9 every single week and a common question that my parents had to answer on the way to church was “What is the point of going to church?” Every time I can remember, their answer, as they rolled their eyes, was always “It builds character”, and while this made me scoff and just ignore my parents every time I heard this, now I look back and I really do see there was truth in those answers.

I’ve found that When my friends ask me “Like what even is Buddhism?”, I always answer with something along the lines of, “well honestly Buddhism is all about becoming a better person, following sets of morals to build character.” and if you think this is oversimplifying an entire religion, then you'd be exactly correct! I'm sorry Reverend Koyama, this may be due to how I don't pay attention nearly as much as I should to the specifics of Buddhism. However, I really do think that this is a good way to describe Buddhism, especially to someone who has no experience with it. I honestly do think that Buddhism has made me a better person. It has helped me to be more conscientious of other people and to really be mindful of why someone makes the choices they do, and to try not to judge people for the actions they make, even though I will confess that I can struggle with that at times. Millennials have some negative stereotypes that are attached to them, such as sometimes being too entitled or being disrespectful and honestly I think there is some backing behind some of those labels. It is because of those stereotypes that I am so happy that I am Buddhist because I am reminded every week on how I can come closer to behaving like someone my parents can be proud of, someone they don’t have to label with those negative attributes.

I was talking with my mom last night... yes, of course, I wrote this last night... and one of the traits I really respect her for is how she is able to be so empathetic to anyone she speaks to. When I was asking her how she’s carried Buddhism into her life when thinking of things to say for this talk, she was telling me how she tries to be really understanding and empathetic of where people are coming from. She told me that there are people at work who are just mean and crappy people and she tries to consider their feelings and where they are coming from before she can judge how someone acts. We all meet people who make us think, “ wow how can you be this horrible of a person?”, but my mom is one of the only people I know who actively try to consider that question before deciding that they hate them. Both of my parents are so understanding and I love them for it, because when I make certain poor decisions and they still welcome me with the same love they have been giving me for the past 17 years, sometimes I turn to my dad and wonder if when he was growing up in Wisconsin, if he secretly practiced Buddhism or something because that’s the only way that I can think of how he could’ve dealt with me for this long.

My entire life, I have been coming to church and learning about the ideals of Buddhism and these morals are what I want to take with me to college the most. I want to continue to become the type of person that my parents are, that the rest of the people in this church are. There isn't anyone at this temple that I would say is a mean person. Except for you, Bachan. I'm just kidding of course, but in all seriousness, Buddhism has made a huge impact on the person I am today. To a child, it truly is hard to justify a reason for why you're waking them up so early on a day with no school, but I honestly think that building character is a perfect reason to give, and even though they may not fully appreciate that answer at the time, I know from first-hand experience that they will come to understand it eventually. I am so proud to have been involved with this community all my life, and I know that no matter what I do in college, I will continue to make use of the lessons and standards that I have learned in this building. Thank you.