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.

Wolrd Tribune & Living Buddhism


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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