Orientation Gathering 2022: A True Gathering at Last
In-person events became a scarce occurrence for the WMU Sasakawa Fellowship Program after a certain virus embarked on a worldwide rampage. Even as WMU resumed normal operations, the Japan side – the Friends of WMU, Japan Secretariat side - preferred to err on the side of caution, settling for onscreen appearances in lieu of traditional annual events. On September 23, 2022, however, these digital get-togethers would finally come to a happy end. On this day, Sasakawa Fellowship students from the Classes of 2022 and 2023 convened at the Sasakawa Auditorium for the first face-to-face Gathering Orientation since 2019.
Ko Taguchi (Japan, 2022) served as the honorable MC for the affair. After welcoming the audience, he yielded the floor to Keiichiro Yamada, a Program Director of SPF, for the welcome address. The speech went into the important role of the Gathering Orientation: to act as a catalyst for building relationships between the two graduating classes. Some knew of each other’s faces. Some of them have already been acquainted. However, many of them haven’t met, and considering the short two months of overlap within the respective academic years, this was a precious opportunity to get to know one another.
The Gathering Orientation also serves a different purpose. As the first official Sasakawa Fellowship Program event of the year, the entering class learns about the program itself and what it means to be a part of the Sasakawa Fellows family. Kana Matsuda from the Secretariat gave a PowerPoint crash course on the background leading up to the creation of the scholarship, as well as the differences between the Nippon Foundation and SPF. (A refresher for those who don’t remember: one is the sponsor, one is the operator.) The presentation also featured a recent video of Chairman Yohei Sasakawa who, at the ripe age of 83, climbed Mt. Fuji as part of a campaign to bring increased awareness to leprosy. Upon reaching the peak, he unveiled a banner emblazoned with the message “Don’t Forget Leprosy,” a moment that received warm applause from the audience.
The formal portion of the event ended with each of the students giving a brief self-introduction. And brief they were: there was still extra time remaining before the reception portion was scheduled to begin! That being said, the capable World Bistro was already prepared to welcome the students, as well as special guests including WMU staff and faculty. With a glass in one hand, and likely a smartphone in the other, everyone listened attentively to opening remarks from Kwadwo Forson-Adaboh (Ghana, 2022) and Daiki Maeno (Japan, 2023), who volunteered as representatives from each class. Then, it was time to dig into the eclectic spread of hors d’oeuvres and mingle.
The atmosphere of the reception was lively and contagious. The air was buzzing with spirited talk and movement of nearly 80 people convening outside and inside. It was fun getting to know everyone, learning about WMU and Sweden, and hearing about their families and work. As the operator of the program, it was an honor being able to take part in conversations personally with the students and guests.
Soon the backdrop transitioned from dusk to night. People were still eating and talking, but it was time to end the program. After a final toast, students and guests bid farewell, having enjoyed a very satisfying Gathering Orientation.
There were several great memories of this day, but what really struck me was the friendly and supportive atmosphere at WMU, staff and students included. It’s never easy planning an event from overseas, but we were very, very happy with how things went that day. From handling communications to guiding participants to the venue, their cooperation ensured that the event would be a success even after the pandemic-induced hiatus. It is the Secretariat’s hope that this day marks the first of many collaborative in-person events to come - and hopefully, one of the final times that there is any mention of COVID-19 on the front cover of the Newsletter.
- Kanako Matsuda
Friends of WMU, Japan Secretariat