Ken Matsumoto '58
Never give up. Never, never, never!" This has been my motto ever since my college days. I learned this lesson of perseverance at Swarthmore through my struggle with the almost insurmountable volume of assigned reading and papers I had to contend with. Since I could not read English fast enough, I could barely complete assignments for the classes, but I continued to work hard enough to graduate. In fact, I stayed up so late, "hitting the books," that I became notorious for cooking spaghetti at 2 a.m. in the dormitory hall, where a hot plate was available.
Coming from Japan, I had expected to encounter cultural differences, but when I became a part of the College community, I was grateful for the tolerant attitude and patience of my fellow students. And I was impressed by the diversity of their views and their willingness to express them freely at any time and in any place-classrooms, dining hall, dormitory, anywhere. As I listened to them, I found myself becoming more open-minded and accepting of other people's opinions and positions. And now, later in life, I cannot imagine that I would have developed my deep appreciation of the values of people of different cultural, ethnic, and national backgrounds without the experiences I had at Swarthmore.
I came to know many students who were really gifted. Because I felt almost overwhelmed by their potential, the career I envisaged for myself was not as a scholar or a researcher but rather as a coordinator of such talented people. And that is the way it has worked out. At the Fair Trade Center, a research NGO (nongovernmental organization associated with the World Trade Organization), I am responsible for the coordination of programs that bring together people of different nationalities-law professors, international bureaucrats, and specialists in the fields of international trade and economic law-and facilitate communication among them.
At Swarthmore, I acquired analytical abilities and research skills and learned how to deal with new situations. Spending four years in such an intellectual atmosphere prepared me to view things more critically and from a broader perspective. More important, I received encouragement and developed the confidence to face challenging new tasks. In my years at the College, I became more tenacious. And what I learned about the processes of learning itself has served me throughout my lifetime.
I must admit, however, that it was not until some 20 years after my graduation that I really began to appreciate the value of my Swarthmore experiences. That's when the Fair Trade Center was established. At this research institution, we analyze legal issues of trade and work to promote trade liberalization under the aegis of the GATT Treaty and the World Trade Organization. Although I had little knowledge of the field previously, I found that I could handle the new tasks better than I had expected. I came to the realization that Swarthmore had provided me with the ability to cope with this unfamiliar and demanding new situation-not through any specific courses, but through its academic demands, and the dynamic and flexible spirit of its community.
A few years ago, with the cooperation of several college professors and interested businessmen, I organized a small study group to address the problems of liberal arts education in Tokyo. Even though the task is formidable, I want to make an effort to share with Japanese colleagues the benefits that I received at Swarthmore. The situation of Japanese undergraduate education is critical, and I hope we can make a modest contribution.
For me, the unique aspects of Swarthmore are its combination of liberal intellectuality, concerns about all kinds of people, and the pursuit of justice in the Quaker tradition. There were times when I spent an hour in the silence of the Quaker meeting on campus on Sundays. I was impressed with the Quakers' pacifist beliefs and actions, including declaring themselves conscientious objectors during the period of conscription for military service. I was left with a deep respect for Quakerism. Many years later, in 1979, when I decided to be baptized, I know I was influenced by my exposure to the Quakers and their tradition. I have been active in my church, which has a Presbyterian tradition, and perhaps I have been instrumental in a modest way in advancing the religious beliefs of others.
There were many occasions during my four years at Swarthmore when I felt truly desperate. I thought I would never be able to keep up with the classes and seminars. But there were always people like the late Professor Paul Beik of the History Department who kept encouraging me to keep going and not give up. As my course adviser throughout the four years, he helped and supported me in so many ways. Without his caring and his invaluable advice, I would not have made it. There were several other members of the faculty, as well as my roommates in Wharton Hall and other fellow students, who supported me in immeasurable ways. And outside the campus, there were American families who treated me as part of their family. I owe so much to those people. What they taught me has helped me to become a helpful person to others.
For 10 years, at the request of the College's Admissions Office, I have been interviewing Japanese applicants. This task has prompted me to read College publications carefully, as well as relevant books about liberal arts education. I feel so strongly about the superiority of a Swarthmore education, in comparison with what is available elsewhere in the United States, I try to persuade the best students to choose Swarthmore, even though other institutions may offer larger scholarships or more familiar names. I am pleased that the students who have chosen Swarthmore, even though they had other options, have invariably been happy with their decision.
I was moved by the inaugural address of President Alfred H. Bloom in 1992, in which he emphasized the importance of ethical concerns in intellectual life. I have received invaluable encouragement from him and from faculty members and students whenever I return to the College campus. They make me feel that I am truly a member of the campus community. All of us alumni should feel-and can feel-that we continue to be a part of this exceptional community throughout our lives.
I now serve on the board of trustees of the Grew Foundation, which grants scholarships to Japanese high school graduates. They usually go to colleges in the United States, and I am deeply grateful that Swarthmore has, so far, accepted six Grew Scholars. One of those fortunate young people was me. As a result, Swarthmore has been, along with my religious beliefs, the most vital factor in my life.
Ken Matsumoto, who lives in Tokyo, is an adviser and trustee of the Fair Trade Center, which he directed for 10 years.