Honorary Cal Poly Degrees for Japanese-American Former Students
CAL POLY - It's estimated there were 250 Japanese-American students at Cal State University campuses that were forced to relocate to internment campus at the start of World War II.
Now efforts are underway to find these former students and give them degrees they were unjustly denied.
There might not have been the traditional music playing or caps and gowns but the Monday morning commencement ceremony at the Cal Poly President's House was just as meaningful to the former students on hand.
"Real special for me", says 89 year old Frank Suzuki, one of an estimated 30 former Cal Poly students of Japanese ancestry forced to leave campus in 1942 and report to World War II internment camps.
"My feeling was my stomach just fell through", Suzuki says, "I went back to the dorm and tried to get myself composed."
Last year the Cal State University Board of Trustees voted to award honorary degrees to the Japanese-American students who had their educations cut short by the wave of hysteria and racism that swept the country in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"This was just a terrific example of a huge mistake that was made that the country is trying to right", says Cal Poly President Warren Baker who conferred the Bachelor of Humane Letters degrees on surviving former students and families members of the deceased.
"It's a very special day", says Stephen Nakano who's father died in 1996 and was one of the 30 Cal Poly students identified for an honorary degree, "I'm really happy, I only wish my dad was here because he really had fond memories of coming to college here."
For retired almond farmer Frank Suzuki, it's long overdue recognition.
"Five of my daughters all received their degrees and I was the only one in the family that didn't have a degree", Suzuki says, "I feel like I caught up with them."
Similar commencement ceremonies were held at five other Cal State campuses where records show there were Japanese-American students enrolled in 1942.
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