Tuesday, December 18, 2007

USF Honors Burmese Buddhist Monks During Commencement

USF Honors Burmese Buddhist Monks During Commencement

Buddhist monks

Sayadaw U Kovida (center) accepts an honorary doctorate on behalf of the Buddhist monks of Burma during a Dec. 14 commencement ceremony.

Expressing his heartfelt appreciation in accepting an honorary doctorate on behalf of the Buddhist monks of Burma, Sayadaw U Kovida said the University of San Francisco's Dec. 14 tribute was proof that people care about the suffering of the voiceless at the hands of brutal military regimes around the world.

In September, thousands of Burmese Buddhist monks demonstrated peacefully and nonviolently against their country's repressive military regime, prompting a brutal response from the government. During and after the demonstrations, according to international media, thousands of monks were arrested, and many were beaten and killed.

"This honor gives all of us inside and outside Burma much needed encouragement to carry on with conviction," said Sayadaw U Kovida at the commencement ceremony. He promised to relay to the Burmese monks the message of support from USF, which awarded them collectively with an honorary degree.

Sayadaw U Kovida, a distinguished exiled Burmese monk now living in a New York monastery, was himself imprisoned by the Burmese military dictatorship for his participation in the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations against the government.

"We honor the monks of Burma to help keep the Burmese struggle for democracy in the minds and hearts of those of us who enjoy the freedoms they are struggling to achieve," said USF President Stephen A. Privett, S.J. before the ceremony "These are extraordinary, modern-day heroes and persons of faith committed to building a better world, even at the risk of arrest, beatings, and death. We celebrate and support their courageous, nonviolent demonstrations, their continuing struggle for a fair and representative government, and the selfless leadership that is giving an entire nation a taste of freedom. These are the kind of people we hope our graduates will be."

The monks exemplify USF's moral commitment to educate minds and hearts to change the world, according to the honorary degree citation. The citation also draws a comparison to the six Jesuits killed in El Salvador (along with their housekeeper and her daughter) 18 years ago for their outspoken criticisms of an equally repressive government.

"As we have honored our Jesuit brothers, this Jesuit university now honors the Burmese monks of Burma for their courage, compassion, and commitment to seeking to protect the human and democratic rights of the Burmese people in the face of a harshly brutal military dictatorship," the citation states. "The Buddhist monks of Burma serve as an inspiring role model for our students, and they embody the ideals that guide our educational efforts. The chant of 'Do-aye' ('It is our task'), a statement of determination heard on audio recordings from Burma during the protests, evokes the passion we hope will catalyze our students to accept their responsibility for righting the world's wrongs."

Sayadaw U Kovida's history of standing up against the military junta and being jailed for doing so made him an ideal representative of the monks being honored.

"I am thrilled and honored to accept this honorary degree on [their] behalf," Sayadaw U Kovida said during the ceremony. He recognized USF for its tradition of honoring those who work for peace and justice, including the Jesuits killed in El Salvador in 1989 and the Dali Lama, who received an honorary doctorate from USF in 2003.

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