Experience

The Spirit to Serve Others by Brandon Nicholson

Brandon Nicholson with his mother, Bernadette.

Brandon Nicholson with his mother, Bernadette.

Growing up, Oakland Children’s Hospital was my second home. As a baby, I experienced the first of 22 ear infections, which required multiple surgeries. At age 2, I developed seizures after my mom and I were broadsided in a car accident. I took seizure medication for seven years, which is difficult for a child. I eventually overcame my ear infections among other obstacles.

When my body began showing signs that I could no longer tolerate the medication, doctors recommended that I quit taking the medication or control the seizures through a lobotomy. My parents encouraged me to win over my illness.

Even from a young age, I challenged myself to continue my daily practice of Nichiren Buddhism, imagining myself to be one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who were popular at the time, walking down a hallway and fending off hundreds of ninjas, which represented my illness. At the same time, I was being weaned off medication. Within a month, I had stopped taking it altogether and remained seizure-free.

I developed big dreams for the future, which took shape when I entered high school. I had attended public schools in Oakland until my parents enrolled me in a private school. To get there, I got up at 5 a.m., did my daily prayers, and then rode two trains, a bus, and walked a mile. It was the first time I noticed the wide disparity in resources among students. I couldn’t see a justification for that, and it became my root interest in improving the lives of others through education.

I determined to become a person who could work for social justice, and I resolved to attend a university that would enable me to create a just and peaceful society. I have learned so much from SGI President Ikeda about the true value of education, and I owe so much to my parents for always supporting me. I wanted to show my appreciation and deep gratitude to them by receiving a great education and doing my best to help others.

In 2001, I was accepted to Princeton University. Through a series of scholarships and grants, my education was fully funded for four years. Although it was a challenging academic environment, nothing seemed as daunting as the illnesses I had faced as a child.

After earning a public policy degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, I was accepted into University of California–Berkeley’s doctoral program in education policy, where I received a master’s and a doctorate in 2010. Again, my education was fully covered.

Currently, I am working as a social scientist at a third-party research and evaluation firm, which conducts research for organizations, including government institutions, foundations, and nonprofits. What’s more, I am completely healthy and now enjoy a wonderful life with my wife, Rachel.

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World Tribune, SGI-USA’s newspaper featuring guidance and experiences in faith, Buddhist study, news and information about SGI activities around the country and the world, bundled with Living Buddhism, SGI-USA’s monthly study magazine, containing a wide variety of articles designed to help you deepen your understanding of Buddhist philosophy and its application to daily life.

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