Meet Me At The Miraikan: Alumna Welcomes President Obama to Japan

Meet Me At The Miraikan: Alumna Welcomes President Obama to Japan

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Kristin Simonetti
May 16, 2014

When Sumireko Tomita enrolled in The Washington Center’s "Building the TOMODACHI Generation" program last winter, she never dreamed that just a few months later she would meet the President of the United States. Only a month after returning home to Japan, Tomita joined six other TOMODACHI program alumni and several other Japanese students to welcome President Barack Obama to Tokyo’s Miraikan Science and Youth Expo. (You might recall the U.S. media covered the event, notable for the president’s brief soccer match with a robot). Tomita shared a glimpse of what it was like to meet President Obama and an update of what she is doing to support TWC's TOMODACHI program as an alumna.


TWC Interview with Tomita


How did you get the chance to attend the event with President Obama?


Tomita: It was a result of taking part in "Building the TOMODACHI Generation" program in February in Washington. There were 16 Japanese university students invited to attend the program with the president, including myself, to represent the program. I got a phone call from the staff of the TOMODACHI initiative who told me I was going to attend the ceremony.


What went through your mind when you got that phone call?


Tomita: I was literally jumping – that’s how excited I was! I couldn’t believe what was happening. Meeting the president isn’t an experience everyone can have, and I’m very fortunate. I truly appreciate the people who supported me and made this happen.


What was the coolest thing about meeting President Obama?


Tomita: He was so kind – he shook every single student’s hand and talked to us. He even said, “Let’s take a picture all together!” – even though it wasn’t part of the plan and his schedule was very tight. When he spoke to each of us, he asked what our dreams are. I answered, “I want to be a journalist.” I can’t lie to the president, so now I have to make 200 percent effort to make that dream come true.


What are you doing now that you’re back in Japan?


Tomita: I’m organizing a student conference between Japan and Myanmar that’s similar to the experience I had in Washington. The TWC program was already organized for us, but this time, with Myanmar, we, the college students, are creating the conference from scratch. I want to build a conference that’s just like what we had in Washington.


What were the most important things you learned from your TWC program?


Tomita: To believe in yourself and your dream, and to make connections with people and not miss opportunities to do so. Applying for the TOMODACHI program helped me connect with so many amazing people – even the president!


How has your work with TWC and TOMODACHI helped you think differently about your career plans?


Tomita: I see myself creating the future and my career – not having the future and my career lead me. I’m going to be the one who will design my own future, and for that, I need to work very hard. I also see myself working hard as a person in the world – not just a person in Japan.


I’m actually in the middle of recruiting students for next year’s TOMODACHI program, and I've shared with them that it has been a life-changing experience. Not only do you work with Japanese and American students to solve social problems of the present, it helps you think about where your career can go in the future. You realize you can do far more than you think, and that only you can design your future – to “be the change you wish to see in the world!”

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