Students at Elmhurst Public School 13 in Queens learn a name – Fumio Kishida, not because he’s the new prime minister of a country 6,700 miles away, but because they have something in common with it. He attended PS 13.
Evelyn Velez, the principal, emailed teachers last week after learning that Kishida – a former foreign minister who is widely regarded as an uncontroversial moderate in Japan – is virtually guaranteed to become prime minister. She said Kishida would become a subject in social studies classes at PS 13, a “Leader in Me” school that adapts ideas from the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.
âOne of the things I tell kids at the start of the year is that they are definitely all leaders,â she said.
Kishida gives Velez another famous alumnus to nominate. As a principal since 2013, she has spoken to students on several occasions about former Deputy Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an A-level student at PS 13 in the 1940s. Scalia was born in New Jersey, but his family moved to Elmhurst when he was 3, and he defined himself as someone from Queens. That’s what Joan Biskupic, the author of a biography on Scalia, told me in 2010.
“He liked this neighborhood,” she told me then. (Scalia died in 2016.)
As for Kishida, he wrote that he had just turned 6 when his father, a Department of Commerce official, was posted to New York. He said his language skills were “insufficient” when the family arrived. But after a year, he wrote in political memoirs “Kishida Vision”, “I came to make myself understood in English”.
He was suspicious of the United States at first – the United States bombed Hiroshima during World War II. âBut I was young,â he wrote, âand to me the United States was nothing but a country with a generous heart and filled with diversity. I think it does. no doubt that such an experience influenced my political attitude and my ideology, âwhich he described asâ pro-American. â(As Foreign Minister, he helped organize President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in 2016.)
He immersed himself in American culture, traveled to Manhattan to see “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music”, which came out during the years he attended PS 13.