Mary Beth Thoren
Seisen Class of 1981
Further education: US Merchant Marine Academy ’85 (Engineering); Harvard Business School ’92 (MBA); University of London (Masters in Art History).
Employment: Sea-going engineering; Management consultancy; Marketing. Working most recently for the BBC and for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in London.
After years of successfully being corporate, I recently jumped ship and landed in a nature conservation charity. Now, for the first time, my heart and head are completely aligned. What I find peculiar is the incredible sense of confidence I feel and I am struck by the power of bringing passion and intuition together with logic.
While technically I went to one year of kindergarten at Seisen, I don’t really remember anything until my family returned to Tokyo when I was in fourth grade. After that, Seisen became my world and even now when I see my classmates, over twenty years later, I feel an extraordinary sense of peace and of being known.
I left Seisen with a sense that ‘nothing was impossible’ and I could be and do whatever it was that I wanted. I didn’t realise until many years later that my Seisen classmates had this feeling too. It wasn’t something that was talked about. It’s just something that happened from being around bright motivated girls and teachers and staff who believed in them. What a gift that was!
After Seisen, I went to a free military academy in the States as my parents didn’t have much money. While I wasn’t good at math and just awful at fixing things, I became an engineer because
I believed I could do whatever I put my mind to – and I did. Life went on from there and I launched myself at everything with incredible drive.
But you can’t take the heart out of a Seisen girl.
I remember one day at Harvard Business School, walking out of class into the sun, buzzing from the intellectual challenge and I looked out to see rows of BMWs and Mercedes in the student car park. I suddenly became aware what a tiny very privileged part of the world I was in. The next day I joined the Samaritans, a charity that provides phone line help for people who are suicidal or very depressed. My life then became going to business school by day and by night talking on the phone to desperate people on the streets of Boston.
More years passed and then in 2011, I took a sabbatical and went to the South Pole to stop the killing of the whales. It was ridiculously dangerous to be on small ill-equipped boats up against the high tech whalers with their steel reinforced bows and harpoon guns. We were going through ice and being tossed about in waves so high that the bridge of the ship was constantly drenched and the ship regularly rolled to angles of 30-45%.
After coming back from the Antarctica, I couldn’t look at the issues facing our environment without burning with concern. I know it’s hard to see when you are in a city like Tokyo or London. Everything looks the same. But when you go out into nature you realise it’s being pillaged and that in the not too distant future, it’s going to collapse. 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? I don’t know but it’s still in our life time. So I quit the corporate world and joined a conservation charity.
So there you go. One Seisen alum’s story so far.
I will always be grateful to Seisen. For not tossing me out when my father was late with the school fees. For making the whole world feel as if it was my home. For making me believe I could do anything. And for nurturing the soft bit of me that cares. Because that’s the bit that allows me to use the power of all that excellent education and my own talent to do something for the world in which I live. And that, I think, is what makes me a very happy 49 year old.