James Holyfield

Hello, my fellow graduates, Laurus faculty and staff.

My name is James Holyfield, and it is my honor to be here and speak at today’s graduation.

Today, as we wear our caps and gowns, each of us has a story of the many challenges, as well as the many opportunities, that marked our path as we made the journey to arrive here, to this day, to this moment, where very shortly, we will have accomplished our goal of earning our degrees.

My story, too, has had many twists and turns, but as I look back now, I see that my life is one of great fortune. At the age of 69, I have succeeded in getting my Bachelor of Science degree in Business Systems Management, a success that I attribute to my forty-year practice in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism with the Soka Gaki International here in the United States and in spite of the many obstacles that I have faced in my lifetime, it is this philosophy that has yielded outstanding benefits to me, one of the many is in giving me the perseverance and persistence to complete my bachelor’s degree at Laurus College.

We are shaped not only by the people who we encounter in our lifetime, but by our experiences. My mother and my father were two of the greatest human beings on earth who not only left an indelible impression on me but taught me to go fearlessly into the world and to live an incredible life.

To that, I owe a debt of gratitude to JohnRandolphtheactor and his wife Sarah Cunningham for my theatre education and to the John Barker School of Classical Dance Education in New York City, where I was trained in classical ballet. Both of those experiences led to my next accomplishment, which was when I became a graduate of the prestigious Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Clown College. Theatre, dance, and my work as a clown were only part of my story, as I also served ten years in the United States Navy as a Hospital (Nurse) Corpsman. In retrospect, for twenty years I maintained daily lessons in classical dance education for performers on Broadway, Operas, Dance Companies, and the U.S. Navy. I had gotten to that life through hard work and perseverance, by meeting obstacles and learning to move through them. And I will tell you, a good sense of humor helped, too.

One day, I decided to change careers and practice in the nursing vocation. I started as a certified nursing assistant, psychiatric technician, and finally the LVN – RN nursing programs. Anatomy and Physiology were my strong points. I learned that the interrelatedness of everything in the human body and the mind has purpose because each human being has within their beings the support of 77 trillion cells that work harmoniously for our health and wellness.

I threw myself into my studies with gusto and completed the entire course with a 4.0 average and then, with two months left before graduation, my life forever changed. I was diagnosed with kidney disease, prostate cancer, and chronic myeloid leukemia at the same time. Hell, hunger, animality, anger and rapture were my negative emotions. I felt like I had lost everything.

Fortunately, my life was not over. While I was hospitalized, I remember thinking how strange it was to have a sense of joy upon facing my diagnosis. I could not change the diagnosis, but since I have been practicing NAM- MYOHO – RENGE- KYO consistently since 1972, I immediately put into action a positive mind set of Faith, Study, Practice. I made a commitment to life-long learning. I visualized in my mind that I was going to win through these obstacles and in that moment, I decided that I would live to be 100 years of age, that I would live healthily and as an to inspire others to work for the peace and happiness of all mankind.

This has been my chief aim, my mission for my life.

My first steps led me to enroll in Laurus college’s business associates’ program and when I began the program, I was also doing dialysis three times a week. It may have slowed me down, but it didn’t stop me and after finishing the business associates, I enrolled in the medical billing associates’ program, while keeping my appointments for prostate cancer and leukemia.

I was also teaching classical dance education and singing in the San Luis Opera and the Master Chorale.

Finally, I enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Business Systems Management and today, along with my fellow graduates, I will receive my degree (Magna Cum Laude).

There are many obstacles in life, but there are many opportunities, too. These days, I still do two days a week on dialysis while waiting for a kidney transplant or an artificial kidney. But I am happy to say that I am cured of prostate cancer and that my leukemia is in remission.

My journey at Laurus College has given me the courage, the commitment, and the confidence to keep moving forward, to keep learning, to keep living life fully. I am in training to work in Forex the foreign exchange market as a day trader and I beyond that, the prospect of getting my master’s degree.

No matter the twists and turns or the obstacles along the way, today and every day, I feel happiness in being alive. I live my life in gratitude everyday no matter what.

In conclusion, I’d like to share this with you. One of my favorite Argentine poets, the great educator Almafuerte (1854-1917) wrote: “To the weak, the difficulty is a closed door. To the strong, however, it is a door waiting to be opened.”

Difficulties impede the progress of those who are weak. For the strong, however, they are opportunities to open wide the doors to a great bright future.

Everything is determined by our resolution. Our heart is what matters most. So I say to you, open that door!

Thank you.

Ikeda, D. (1999). For Today & Tomorrow Daily Encouragement. Santa Monica, California: World Tribune Press.

Almafuerte (1854–1917) | Encyclopedia.com


Almafuerte (1854–1917) Almafuerte (b. 13 May 1854; d. 28 February 1917), pseudonym of Pedro Bonifacio Palacios, Argentine poet and journalist. Born in San Justo in Buenos Aires province, Almafuerte was self-taught. Raised by an aunt in Buenos Aires, he remained in the capital, living in poverty and solitude.