The Spring 2019 semester brought an esteemed visitor to campus, and an opportunity to think more deeply about Japan’s nuclear history and its unique role in shaping our global nuclear future. Setsuko Thurlow is a hibakusha–a survivor of the 1945 atom bombs. She was a 13-year-old schoolgirl living in Hiroshima when that city was destroyed, at the end of World War II. She has spent the seven decades since testifying to the horror of nuclear weapons and campaigning for a world free of them. Ms. Thurlow has recounted her experience of that day to countless groups of children and adults. She has also spoken powerfully in support of nuclear disarmament to world leaders and diplomats at global conferences, the UN, and other venues. This activism resulted in the passage, in 2017, of the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Ms. Thurlow has been honored by many groups for her tireless work in the advancement of peace. The City of Hiroshima named her a peace ambassador in 2014. the Arms Control Association named her “arms control person of the year” for 2015. And, in December 2017, together with two other hibakusha, Ms. Thurlow accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). She visited campus as one of the featured visitors for the Spring 2019 on-campus COLL 300, which addressed the theme of “Ceremony.” Ms. Thurlow visited several COLL 300 classes and gave a major address at the Sadler Center, where she spoke about her lifetime of testimony, the role of ceremony in her life and work, and her hopes for younger generations.
Ms. Thurlow’s visit was a kind of homecoming. In 1954, after graduating from Hiroshima Jogakuin University, she came to Virginia to study sociology at Lynchburg College, before moving to Canada, where she obtained her master’s degree in social work at the University of Toronto.
The Japanese Program was honored to host a dinner for Ms. Thurlow, where faculty and students had the opportunity to speak with her more informally, and to hear more about her remarkable life and her important work. Thanks to all who helped to make her visit possible and, in particular, to the Center for Liberal Arts for inviting Mrs. Thurlow.