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For She's a Jolly Good Fellow

Takemi Ueno

By Cristina V. Coletta

Takemi Ueno's junior-year tutor in History and Literature, graduate student Leslie Choquette '78, tells an interesting story about their initial meeting in September 1985. Having assigned French historian Georges LeFebrve's 600-plus page biography of Napoleon as the first week's reading, Choquette fully expected Ueno to arrive shell-shocked, as had all of her previous tutees. Not so Ueno. Although the modus vivendi of the assignment had been to encourage students "to learn how to skim, to pick and choose," Ueno walked into tutorial, obviously having read and absorbed the entire work, and inquired how she could write to the publisher in order to notify him of several translation errors she had noted.

Such a request was merely par for the course for this senior whiz kid from Williston, Long Island. Born on June 8, 1966, to Japanese parents who met as students at the University of Pennsylvania, Ueno has been wowing her teachers and fellow students since grammar school. In sixth grade she began studying French, the first of five languages she has mastered, including Latin, German, Japanese and Italian. In the tenth grade as a student at the Wheatley School in Old Westbury, N.Y., at the instigation of her history teacher, she completed, in addition to her regular course work, three long-term projects, research papers on the origins of the French-Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the writings of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.

"I really loved all of my subjects," says Ueno, "especially foreign languages." She was able to combine her love of history and languages and her affinity for science in a complex project on royal geneology she submitted to the prestigious Westinghouse science competition. Studying the phenomenon of inbreeding in mankind as evidenced by several royal houses in the 19th century, Ueno came to the conclusion that "myths about inbreeding are exaggerated." Problems arise "only if there is a bad gene to start with." Although Ueno did not advance to the finals of the competition, she made a very respectable showing by finishing in the "honors" group, the round of 300 out of the initial 1000.

She went on to score several collegiate home-runs by winning the American Friends of the London School of Economics fellowship for a year of study at that institution, Radcliffe college's Mildred Percival Sherman fellowship, whose $2000 stipend she will use to defray costs at the London school, and the two to three year Mellon fellowship for the humanities, which will enable her to pursue a Master's in Philosophy at Columbia University starting in the fall of 1988.

At the London School of Economics, she plans to enroll in the interdisciplinary International History program, to which she was lured by the "breadth and depth" of scholarly approach.

"[This year] is my chance to have fun and also learn a lot about the period between the wars," comments Ueno, who says she is relieved that, for a change, there won't be "much pressure on me."

Ueno has a more pragmatic goal for the years at Columbia. Working on a Master's Degree in European history and possibly toward a Ph.D. in that field, she will decide whether she would like to continue in academia or go on to Law School. A Magna Cum Laude degree candidate in the all-honors History and Literature concentration, she readily admits that "for me, my primary commitment was always academics," and feels a strong emotional pull in the direction of the ivory tower.

"History is really fascinating--I love it...But, do I have the necessary originality and depth of thought? Everything has been said already!"

Elizabeth McKinsey '70, president of Radcliffe College's Iota chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, to which Ueno was elected in the fall of her junior year as one of the "Junior Twelve," describes the senior as the perfect marshall for that organization "because she's already a scholar."

Tutor Choquette, however, remarks that it is precisely Ueno's "fund of knowledge and interests, [spanning] an enormous range" that make her distinctive as an academic.

"What is different about her is that she hasn't really developed her own schtick. She's more like a big sponge. It's as though she's not ready to stake out a territory, so she's unusual for someone who might be going on to a Ph.D."

Ueno herself wonders whether she might want to do something "a bit more practical, to help people," in lieu of going into academia and wonders whether a career in the law might be able to provide such an opportunity.

Her involvement in Amnesty International and in the 1987 Walk for Hunger is indicative of this penchant for social service. She cites a longstanding interest in human rights as motivation for her participation in both of these organizations. A faithful presence at Amnesty's bi-monthly letter-writing sessions, Ueno remarks that occasionally she and fellow Dunster resident Astrid Guttmann '87 were the only ones holding down the fort.

That Ueno's exploits as a student and as a human being are laudable is unquestioned. To the typical Harvardian, however, her existence might seem solitary and rather lonely.

At 12, she was confined to bed for eight months while recovering from an unexpected scoliosis operation. Immobilized by a neck-to-hip cast, she studied at home with tutors provided by the school system in her area. Isolated from the group experiences of the classroom and the schoolyard, she thrived on the one-to-one tutorials and sped through her assignments.

Attracted to Harvard's reliance on a variation of the tutorial system she had enjoyed as a child, an insistence on academics overpowered extracurricular impulses. Her activities in Amnesty, as publicity manager of the Dunster House Film Society, and as a cellist in Musica Modus Vivendi have been minimal in order to accommodate the five- to six-course load she has maintained since freshman year. Leisure time is spent reading novels, her favorites being those of the Bronte sisters and Charles Dickens, playing the piano, and occasionally attending Japanese Cultural Society events.

When it came time to choose a House in the spring of freshman year, she acted independently once again. Conscientiously attending events sponsored by all 12 of Harvard's residential Houses, she selected Dunster on the basis of its four piano practice rooms (which facilitated her daily one-hour practice sessions), its proximity to the Charles river, its flourishing film and music societies, and its "quiet, studious" atmosphere. Floating into the House alone and rooming with three seniors as a sophomore, she has for the last two years lived with Roberta Peterson '87.

According to Peterson, who rowed crew freshman year and who has been an active figure on the Harvard drama scene, the two make an interesting pair.

"She seemed incredibly organized, and I was just the lost freshman."

Introvert and extrovert, they met at the Union freshman year when Peterson spied her seated alone at a table.

"I thought she was a really unusual person, so I just sat down and had a meal with her."

Even though Peterson maintains that "it's been very smooth rooming with her," she confesses that "I think sometimes she's kind of startled [by me]."

But it is Ueno who surprises many--with her gentleness as well as her academic and scholarly prowess. Choquette describes her as "endearing," McKinsey as "poised and mature," and Peterson as the type of person who "goes out of her way to be polite and helpful." A living alarm clock who helped her roommate make it to House crew practice all through spring semester, this quiet studious soul is sure to carry her confident and insatiable inquistitiveness into whatever she endeavors.

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