This past summer, the University of California announced it would award diplomas to Japanese Americans who had been students at one of the school’s four campuses at the time, but had their education disrupted by World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.
About 700 students of Japanese ancestry were enrolled at the University of California at the time of internment, when they and their families were uprooted and sent to concentration camps scattered within barren parts of the American interior. Some graduated that year, in 1942, with the aid of sympathetic faculty and administrators. Some returned to graduate after the War. And some eventually obtained degrees at other universities.
But many never completed their educations.
So the Cal system did the right thing and decided to award these students honorary diplomas. Out of the 700, about 400 are set to receive honorary degrees this winter and next spring. The Associated Press sent out a perfunctory, four-paragraph news article about the diplomas over its wire service, which no doubt many news outlets picked up and published. But the real story that needs to be shared is the human one, and some news outlets have been tracking down former students and capturing their quotes. I was particularly moved by one story where the student is no longer able to give a quote.
At UC-Berkeley last weekend, 42 former students received their degrees, and the event was captured in an eloquent and moving article, “Emotional day as UC-Berkeley awards honorary degrees to former internees,” written by Sharon Noguchi, a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News. Her story does what few newspaper journalists can accomplish: It balances accurate, unbiased reporting with a poignant personal narrative.
It turns out that her father, Yoshiaki Noguchi (photo at top as a track athlete at Polytechnic High School in 1940, courtesy of the Noguchi family), was one of those students who never got to graduate from UC-Berkeley. His degree was accepted by her mother, because he passed away more than 20 years ago, without even hearing the U.S. government’s official apology for internment which was passed by Congress in 1988. Continue reading