Just a couple more weeks and cherry flowers start blooming. We are so happy to hand over our baton to the next board members in this beautiful season.
Thank you everyone for reading this column and supporting us. Most of all, thank you to those who kindly contributed stories to share with us. At the final stretch, we now have our President of the Board to share her story with us. Please enjoy!
SERIES 12 Nobuko Kodama ('77)
39 years now after graduating ISSH, I truly become aware of how privileged and lucky my life has been. ISSH has given me tools, friends and vision to travel my life's journey. With the valuable experience of multinational, multicultural and multi religious environment, I was able to see things unbiased and with tolerance. We learnt to respect each other's values and was ready to learn about our peers. With it, I was able to knock on doors without preconception and take initiative without hesitation which opened doors for unexpected opportunities.
As a returnee from New York, I attended middle school and high school, and I graduated from ISSH in 1977. I then went on to study English Literature at the University of the Sacred Heart (Tokyo). After that, I worked at the Tokyo subsidiaries of Marine Midland Bank/New York and also Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago. I mainly worked as an administrative assistant of a lending department which then led to credit analysis writing Ringi. Just when I was pondering about a possibility of working up to be a credit analyst, my husband was relocated to London. I left my job and made the big move, and this was the beginning of our numerous moves to follow. Every time, I was blessed with teachers and friends who reached out and made us feel at home.
Moving from Japan to Vancouver, BC, Canada when my son was 15 and my daughter 12, was the most difficult. Having been immersed in Japan for long, not only language and culture but friends and post secondary education was a big agenda. That was when it struck me that they would have to go through the same identity crisis as myself, a returnee in Japan. It was Sr Sheehy who advised me to make the move together as a family and said to me with these exact words, "they(my children) have you." She also gave me a list of schools and gave me hands on advice. Warm pat on the back and assuring words but I was still very unsure then. Now after 15 years, I am able to truly appreciate and understand her message that my background would play a role. As I watch my children now, I believe that they will see no boundary in their paths and see good in many.
Currently, I teach English at a local elementary school and at an English Language School in Japan. Students at the language school vary from children to seniors, and businessmen to travel bound. It's an inspiring learning process for myself to see the student's needs since I learnt English differently, and I hope I can play a small role in their achievements. A shy one at ISSH once, I am surprised myself that I teach and even took over the role as the Alumnae President two years ago. I am so grateful for all the members, staff and friends who have warmly supported us. Last but not least, I would like to praise my board members for their hard work. So much debating, web surfing, preparation, muscle power, meetings and LINE conversations...who would have known that we would come together after 39 years to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Life is a wonder, who knows where it will take you...if only with an Open Heart! (Sacred Heart Logo)
Alumnae Board Members
From left: Mimy Hayashi Chang (’84), Megumi Higuchi Sano (’81), Mayling Woo Clements (’81) and Ailing Chang Kanazawa (’86)
We are proud of our Alumnae and look forward to hearing from them!
- Series #11 Mayling Clements ('81)
- Series #10 Mari Maeda Whitaker ('77)
- Series #9 Kanako Kashima ('07)
- Series #8 Yoko Hino ('87)
- Series #7 Hiroko Kuniya ('75)
- Series #6 Nana Sasaki ('02)
- Series #5 Christine Tai ('07)
- Series #4 Ayano Honda ('02)
- Series #3 Myra Sito Velasquez ('77)
- Series #2 Niloufar Pourzand ('77)
- Series #1 Yasko Mutaguchi (G)
I attended ISSH in 1967 from preschool to 3rd grade, and then returned to finish my high school from 1978 through 1981. My father was originally from Shanghai who left China to pursue his dreams of one day reaching the United States. My mother was Japanese who was willing to give up her Japanese citizenship to be with my father, despite the hardships of a mixed marriage while living in Japan in the 1960’s. Neither one of my parents enforced their own culture, tradition, religion, or nationalism upon us in the household. Thus, I always felt like I was a child not belonging to any one country or culture throughout my early childhood years.
My family moved to Hawaii in 1973 and we lived there until 1978 to get our US citizenship. As a child not feeling any strong ties to any one culture, tradition, or country, I remember feeling a natural comfort attending a school with children with over 50 nationalities. As the years go by, my memories from my early childhood days are becoming fewer and far between. However, I clearly remember the strong bonds and friendships I developed at ISSH through the years. Many of my best friends were from vastly different areas of the world such as Korea, Nigeria, Bulgaria, and the United States. I remember as a child not ever thinking about the differences in my friends, but rather learning a valuable, lifelong lesson of developing global friendships on an everyday basis. This natural feeling of being in an international atmosphere with no borders became part of my core and has stayed with me throughout my life. These invaluable experiences at ISSH has helped me in so many different situations throughout my adult personal and professional life, both personal and professional. After all, I not only learned to face people with different cultures and traditions without prejudice, but also come to feel like it is the norm.
The excellent education I received at ISSH led me to attend University of Notre Dame where I earned my BA in Economics and Computer Applications and my MBA degree. Going to South Bend, Indiana in the early 1980’s from Tokyo was definitely an eye awakening experience in a very different way. My first experience living on the mainland(i.e. Midwest), U.S.A. was not always a smooth transition. After all, I went from an international student body to a very homogeneous student body of 7,000, with the majority of the student body being Catholic and American. I was definitely the minority and was reminded of that fact by others more than I did myself. But I was able to turn any negative situation to a positive by remembering the lessons I learned from my ISSH days to learn, understand, and appreciate others. These skills and outlook helped me to not only thoroughly enjoy my college years, but my graduate school years, and even the few years I spent working in New York City.
Presently, I am CEO of a company in Japan. I became CEO when my father passed away in 1995. I was merely a 33 year old categorized as a “completely-educated-in-the-United-States” female leading a company in the automotive and industrial markets in Japan. As you can imagine, all the odds were against me. I knew I had the education and business acumen to run a business but none of my MBA courses could have prepared me for what I faced in the first few years as CEO. The resolve I needed and possessed at the time to overcome the negative forces from prejudices towards me again came from my core - my ability to understand and appreciate backgrounds of others, and to understand and appreciate their reactions towards me.
The excellent education I received at ISSH challenged me to be able to go to the college of my dreams and have a career I always wanted. I am so grateful to my parents for having the foresight not to impose their own cultures and traditions upon me and for allowing me to experience the international school environment. I am also thankful for my years at ISSH and the gift of a lifelong freedom to appreciate everything that is foreign to me. Perhaps world peace and harmony are attainable if all young children can be exposed to an ISSH-like learning environment.
OMG 38 YEARS since ISSH …
During those years, I am so grateful that I got to…
- Meet my husband, Norm. I can’t imagine a life without you, Norm!
- Raise and watch four amazingly energetic kids grow up (despite all the sports injuries, all the trouble they got into, semingly endless nagging and worries …)
- Live in some beautiful places including New England, Jersey shore, Bryn Mawr, Northern Virginia, Seattle…
- Study physics at MIT (on the topic of quantum optics which I was not interested in turning into a career) but nonetheless MIT trained me well to think and analyze problems (oh and most importantly helped me meet my husband, working on problem sets together). I say problem sets beats Tinder but our kids seem to have their own ways of finding their mates.
- Work for DARPA on a number of far-ranging technologies having national security impact from battleground information systems to biomedical research (DARPA is a small 100 person agency in the US Department of Defense, known for creating the Internet, original self-driving cars, SIRI..). And learning how to effectively motivate and manage university and corporate researchers.
- Work with deploying troops on solving problems that the Army establishment couldn’t tackle, and being able to visit Iraq and Afghanistan and to work with some amazing mission-focused teams. And to see in action truly impressive individuals in the military trying to do good and bring about needed change during a difficult war.
- Have the time to spend with my larger family including my kind in-laws, cousins, aunts. How amazing is it to be able to enjoy the company of my mom’s identical twin sister 18 years after my mom’s passing. It’s like my mom visiting me back from heaven! Just like mom, she will not stop talking! But I love every moment of it!!!
- Visit my elderly dad in Tokyo frequently and most recently, being able to take him to our temple and the family grave for ohakamairi.
- Live with and care for our dogs – Kinako, Gus, Hanako. And appreciating how they actually care for us and bring amazing amounts of love into our lives. And learning from them to appreciate each day however imperfect it may seem, to be grateful for many things that are easily taken for granted. When Charlie Brown says “Someday we will all die”, Snoopy responds “True, but on all the other days we will not”. Ahhh dogs are so wise.
- To be able to reflect back on all the teachers and friends from the Sacred Heart community that have touched our family including my two sisters Tammy and Yuri in so many ways over so many years after our graduation.
Thanks mom for choosing Sacred Heart for me when I was 14!!
Mari Maeda Whitaker ‘77
As a research assistant for comprehensive cancer control at the George Washington University Cancer Institute in Washington, DC, I create resources for local, regional and state health departments and other stakeholders across the United States. These resources, such as trainings and toolkits, are designed to initiate and elevate health departments’ efforts to decrease the occurrence and prevalence of cancer. I also provide one-on-one consulting for health departments to integrate and streamline public health efforts.
How did I get here? I can attribute my academic and professional career thus far to the eye-opening experience when I visited Thailand and got to know the children at Pattaya Orphanage. The trip was organized by Sacred Heart, and about a dozen juniors and seniors traveled to Pattaya to play with the orphans and help the caretakers. I was struck by the smiles and kindness of the orphans, despite the fact that they have so little. It made me question the absence of socio-economic and political factors and support that lead to social inequities. It made me want a career that will have positive impact on the underserved. At my current position at the Cancer Institute, I get to do just that: make an impact by translating research and disseminating evidence-based resources to increase supportive services and access to care for Americans, and decrease cancer occurrence in the United States.
I joined Sacred Heart in 9th grade and graduated in 1987. My daughter will also graduate from Sacred Heart in 2017.
Through my daughter's school days, I am able to recall my school days. Green tartan skirts and white blouse, Spirit Week, UN Day(now we have One World Day), Japan Day and selling cookies, cupcakes and rice crispy haven't changed much. This year as a mother of a junior, 11th grade, I will be one of the mothers in charge of the Ennichi, helping out to get ready for the Japanese tasty foods to the faculty and to the students.
Every beginning of the new school year, there is a mini day for the parents to meet the teachers through class visits. Since I am an alum, I always find it easy to find my way to the classes and I'll always be the first mother to arrive.
Mr. Robey had just arrived at Sacred Heart, and was my homeroom teacher who taught chemistry. When my daughter joined Sacred Heart in 9th grade, her homeroom teacher was Mr.Robey too! What a coincidence! Now he teaches biology and I heard that he was honored for 30 years of continuous dedication as a teacher. Mr. Tootell still teaches pottery and Ms. Astle, his wife, is still teaching too. You would be surprised that Mr.Tootell haven't changed a lot!
But yes, as time goes by, things do seem to change. There are more free dress days that goes with fundraising. The girls would have to pay a little in order to wear something other than the uniform. Sometimes it has a theme of what to wear. Seniors have free dress day every Friday. Senior lounge was only for the seniors at my time, but now juniors and sophomores have their own lounge with microwave to warm their lunches. Green socks and sweaters are no longer worn, but instead in dark navy. It's actually easier to find a navy one whenever you need a spare.
After graduating from Sacred Heart, I went on to study at the University of the Sacred Heart. As for my career, I first worked at Hotel Seiyo in Ginza. Later I worked as a cabin crew on British Airways. Both of my works required English skills.
Now my daughter is at a point where she needs to plan her future. Having total different personality and mindset than mine,she wishes to challenge colleges and occupations from different fields. My daughter says that she really enjoys Sacred Heart and is happy to have very supportive teachers. She feels that she is protected. She likes the way she is, which makes me feel with pride that we chose the right school. When she graduates in 2017, she shall be a member of the alumnae and we shall sit together at the annual alumnae reunion table.
Hiroko started working as an anchorwoman for "Close Up Gendai" in 1993. At the time, Japan was experiencing a decline in economic growth. It was the time of the burst of the bubble. Land prices which we believed would never go down started to decline, and as we all remember, many people lost their jobs.
It was at that time she had a wake up call and learned all over the world there was a race to promote the talent of women to improve the country's competitiveness. She realized awareness in Japan was low and Japan was far behind. Since then, she has been actively covering stories such as Womenomics, how to improve women's participation so that the country's growth rate will rise. She has learned from examples of other countries that diverse organizations are more innovative and likely to create a better working environment for both women and men.
However, Hiroko described that many women still tend to shy away from taking managerial positions. When they have children, working women seem to feel guilty for not being able to work long hours like their colleagues, and at home seem to feel guilty for not doing enough for the child/ children. In general with or without children, women, compared to men, tend to hesitate to raise their hands when opportunities for challenging projects arise.
Although there is now a law to actively promote women and leading companies are taking steps to promote women, much more has to be done to bring out the talent of women, she insisted. Women are good at communication, collaboration, and they understand the needs of consumers and can create competitive products and services. She said that her education at ISSH taught her the fun and importance of being in a diverse environment.
We all laughed when she remarked that, " it is said if it had been the "Lehman Brothers and Sisters" and not the "Lehman Brothers", then the financial crisis would have never happened!" She also mentioned a comment made by the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011,
"If your goal does not scare you, it is not big enough"
I am currently living in Hong Kong, working for an international contemporary art gallery called Galerie Perrotin. It is based in Paris, with spaces in Hong Kong and New York City, representing famous contemporary artists all over the world. At the gallery, I handle a variety of tasks including artist studio liaison, artwork stock management, client relations, shipping, PR and marketing, and project/exhibition/party management.
Art may seem specific, but it actually relates to many different industries, such as entertainment, luxury, consumer goods, real estate, food&beverage and so on. Therefore, the projects that I deal with require careful coordination with museums, other art galleries, auction houses, multinational corporations/brands, government, and celebrities from all over the world that wish to collaborate with our artist. The work cannot be done without proper communication skills with people all over the world, which I truly believe I was able to acquire and learn at ISSH.
My entrance to ISSH as a K4 student was decided way before I knew it. My mother also graduated from ISSH and so did my aunt 12 years prior to that. I am from the class of 2007, and many of the girls that I graduated with had been my classmate since day one in 1994, the K4 Dolphins or Penguins. Nothing really has changed when I look back at the photos with us in the same red smocks that the kids wear today. Graduating from ISSH was full of excitement with senior events and the freedom from all our final and AP exams, but also one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life to this day. ISSH was my home for 14 years - we had excellent teachers and the girls were the sisters that I never had. Leaving that "second home" was not easy at all. Annual events such as Family Festival, AP and SAT exams, team sports, choral festival etc are all obvious memories, but what I really want to highlight is how much I felt comfortable and valued at school. Not only that, but ISSH really pushed me to be the best that I can be. For a relatively shy girl like me (although my friends now wouldn't believe that for a second), the small size of this school was the perfect environment for me to grow, discover my creativity, and become a leader. Sure, it may seem at times that the school has created a bubble for the girls to feel safe in a closed community, but I now recognize how much the school put us out there as well. From a very young age, I remember being introduced to poverty and inequality around the world through our teachers, guest speakers at special awareness events and an opportunity in the eighth grade to volunteer at an orphanage in Pataya, Thailand. As a working woman, I can now afford to donate a monthly fee to a special charity that I believe strongly in, Room to Read. This charity uses all proceeds to help build libraries and schools in impoverished countries where children don't even have a school to go to. ISSH teaches us that education is the number one most important thing a child can be given. I also believe that it is the best solution to ending war. My ultimate dream is to start a charity and devote the latter half of my life to helping others receive the education they deserve. But for that to happen, I need lots of work experience in the real world and build my savings account!
I now work for Bloomberg Tokyo office, which is where I have been since I graduated college in 2011 from the University of Southern California. For those of you who don't know what Bloomberg does, we have two main entities - Bloomberg News and the Bloomberg Terminal. I work for the Terminal product, which provides world-class financial data with the utmost speed and accuracy. Go visit ANY financial institution in the world, and you're likely to find a Bloomberg Terminal. So I landed an internship here in Professional Development straight out of college, luckily got accepted to a full-time role in the Global Customer Support department, stayed there for two years of which the second year was devoted to my team's development as the Tokyo trainer, and now I am working in the Pricing Contributions department, where I handle sell-side client accounts that contribute their OTC prices for our buy-side clients to view and trade with. This is a rigorous environment that requires full motivation because in this culture of meritocracy, you need to sell yourself, raise your hand at every opportunity, and exceed expectations to get anywhere in the company. ISSH laid the grounds for me to succeed in this kind of environment. I distinctly recall the day a few working moms of our students came to speak to the entire Junior School. From that early on in my life, I was taught that women have the right to be out in society and work, to be treated equally as men, and have an opinion. The little girls at ISSH already know that women can be strong and that is already a huge step ahead of the rest of the world (also keep in mind that this school is in Japan, one of the most sexually unequal societies in the world).
Lastly, what is the most important asset that I was given from ISSH? My girls - my friends of a life-time, my sisters that I turn to when I am truly in trouble or want to share my happiness with. We sat next to each other in the classroom, they will stand next to me at the altar as my bridesmaids when I get married, and when we’re old and wrinkly, we’ll be leaning on each other for support (literally) and still be laughing out loud as we talk about our ISSH days. If I were to give one message to the current students, I would say: cherish your time at ISSH, absorb everything you’re taught, and keep in touch with your friends because wherever you go, they will be your rock.
After graduating in 2005, I have worked with various contemporary dance companies in the UK and toured around Europe. Being a dancer is very difficult, unstable, and many competitions. I cannot remember how many auditions I have done in the past but if you keep doing and keep believing in yourself, you will always achieve something, this is what I learned from my experience. And dance is about never-ending aspiration. When I’m on stage, I feel alive and not as watching film, everything that’s happening at the moment on stage is real and no re-take. That makes dance interesting and you always find new and ever the same.
My turning point in my dance career is when I worked with English National Opera in Madam Butterfly. My role was a dancer version of Madam Butterfly and dancing a traditional Japanese (Nihon-buyo). Even though I never studied a traditional Japanese dance, being Japanese as well, I felt this really suit me. I have performed in Madam Butterfly so many times now and always wanted to learn a traditional Japanese dance properly. So I decided to come back to Japan in 2014 and learning and performing a traditional Japanese dance and Aikido in Japan. I feel that I’m going back to my root. I will continue dancing and always searching to become a better dancer.
My husband, beloved pupster Kuma and I split our time between NYC and upstate NY, a combo I adore and am so grateful for. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, I worked in various capacities in theater such as playwright, actress, stage manager, assistant to the director and literary advisor at such organizations as American Place Theater, New Dramatists, Pan Asian Repertory among others. I then grew seriously interested in psychotherapy and graduated from The Helix Institute, a four year program in psychotherapy. The work was rich and challenging but the absence of art in my life was palpable so when the opportunity to make a film came up, that was it: I dove into indie filmmaking, writing, directing and producing my own work and garnered some happy awards along the way including Lawrence Kasdan Best Narrative Film Award, Grand Prize Chicks with Flicks, BIFF's Best of the Fest, HIFF's Gold Kahuna, Sundance Lab Finalist, BlueCat Feature Screenplay Award Winning Finalist among others. Most recently, having been re-bitten by the theater, my new play The Astonishing Journey of Mabel Li and The Mysterious Ways of Lord Ba Tha Za was part of Mu Theater's New Eyes Festival. I'm also delighted to share it has just achieved Finalist status at Eugene O' Neill Theater Conference. Sending fond regards to everyone of our one 'n only ISSH in Tokyo!
Myra Sito Velasquez
Dear ISSH friends,
Greetings with love and friendship!
I work for Unicef - the United Nations Children's Fund - and have so for more than thirty years in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Eastern Caribbean, Indonesia and now India.
I have worked in various capacities both as a sector specialist as well as a manager.
I am now Chief of the Unicef Office in Uttar Pradesh - the largest State in India with 210 million persons.
I have a PhD in Sociology which I finished in my early 40's. And a Masters in Sociology and Bachelors in History. My focus has been on child rights, women's right and gender equality, social development and humanitarian work.ISSH played a critical and positive role in many aspects of my life including academic, social and aspirational. I am so grateful for the privilege and opportunity.
I wish current and future generations of ISSH students success and joy!
My own daughters are 28 and 24 and leading meaningful lives of their own now and I hope to visit Japan with them one day.
Very best, Niloufar
The very first alum is Yasko Mutaguchi. She kindly accepted our request to share her story at ISSH during the war in Japan. Below is a brief summary of her speech given at our Reunion held in October in 2014.
Yasko joined ISSH when it was called Gogakko. The size of the school was much smaller and she only had three students in her class including herself. She said three of them got reunited a few years ago in Switzerland.
The school life was tough during the war. Foreign Mothers including Mother Britt had to leave and only a few of them, mainly Irish mothers were able to stay behind because Ireland was a neutral country. With a help of priests from Sophia University, they were able to provide the education in English. Even during the war, the school stayed open because diplomats’ kids (Italian, Irish) attended. It was the only school to teach in English. Mother Britt wasted no time returning to Japan after the war. She worked hard to reestablish the school again. The present property was purchased from the Royal Kuni Family at the time. It was the time when Gogakko was transformed into ISSH that we know of now.
Yasko said the school rule was strict at the time. There was no talking in the hallway and Mothers carried a “click” to warn students. Is this tradition still carried on at ISSH anywhere even now? If anyone knows, please let us share your story here.