#ElonTBT: Celebrating Elon’s first Japanese student, 1920 graduate Toshio Sato

Toshio Sato attended Elon College from 1914-1920 and was an active member of the campus community.

As Elon celebrates its newest class of graduates, the university is also remembering one of its first international students to earn a degree from the institution 100 years ago.

In 1920 Toshio Sato of Utsunomiya, Japan, became Elon’s first Japanese graduate after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

Sato, who was a member of the Christian Church, began studying at Elon in 1914 after receiving a personal invitation from Alice True, secretary and member of the Board of Trustees. The two had previous met while True was performing missionary work in Japan.

Sato spent six years pursuing both a certificate of art and an art diploma and was active in the Christian Church and its foreign ministries, often speaking at events on behalf of the denomination. Sato was also an active and beloved member of the Elon community, serving as a representative of the Psisphelian Literary Society, a member of the volunteer band and a cabinet member and eventual president of the Y.W.C.A.

Sato also held campus-wide leadership roles in her time at Elon. Her senior year she was named senior class secretary and president of the Student Council, the self-governing body of the young women students of Elon College. The Student Council and Student Senate, which was designated for men, later merged and became the Student Government Association.

Sato was also dedicated to her studies, as she graduated in 1920 as valedictorian of her class and was awarded the prestigious Moffit Essayist’s Medal and Wellons Scholarship Medal. Sato spoke at the 1920 graduation exercises, giving a speech titled “Is It Nothing to You” in which she issued a charge to her classmates.

A portion of Toshio Sato’s letter to the student body, published in the Maroon and Gold, following World War II.

“Today your duty and my task is to speak and serve humanity and bring the weeping hearts and the wondering souls of the world to the throne of Grace on behalf of Him, who still is saying ‘come unto me,'” Sato said.

Sato returned to Japan following graduation and married Kameichi Kato, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She worked as a teacher in Japan and continued her missionary work on behalf of the Christian Church denomination.

Sato stayed connected to the Elon community following her graduation. After the World War II, she wrote a letter that was featured in the Maroon and Gold student newspaper about the aftermath of the war in Japan. She told the story of why she traveled to a far-away city to help U.S. soldiers do their laundry while stationed in Japan, even though other citizens were afraid of the soldiers.

“To go to this city takes me three hours, but I thought the time was here for me to do my best to show my appreciation for what you Americans did for me while at Elon College,” she wrote. “I was very happy to have the chance.”

Toshio Sato Kato died in 1968 at the age of 71.