Spartan StadiumMay 29, 2010
President Jon Whitmore:
We now come to a part of today's program that is particularly unique and special in our Commencement ceremony. The California State University Board of Trustees approved an exception to its honorary degree guidelines and is granting the Special Honorary Bachelor of Humane Letters degree to all Japanese Americans students, living or deceased, whose college studies were interrupted in 1942 following the outbreak of World War II. Many of these students and their families were sent to incarceration camps across the country for up to four years.
To locate these students and their families, San José State University has been collaborating with the California State University Chancellor's Office, other campuses of the CSU system, as well as with the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and the San Jose Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.
Approximately 125 San José State students were forced to leave school. Today we recognize the determination and courage of these students who overcame this injustice to lead exemplary and inspiring lives.
I would now like to invite to the podium California State University Trustee, Dr. Peter Mehas, who will say a few words. Dr. Mehas...
CSU Trustee Peter Mehas:
Thank you President Whitmore. I can think of no better way to participate in the commencement season than to be here today honoring former San José State University students, as well as several students who attended other CSU campuses. These individuals succeeded despite having their lives uprooted and dreams disrupted as a result of dramatic events that affected them through no fault of their own. It is an honor to represent the California State University Trustees on this historic occasion as we honor our students who were forced to give up their education so long ago.
In Spring 1942, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States' sudden involvement in World War II, the United States government decided that Japanese Americans could not be trusted. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law Executive Order 9066, which led the government to round up roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were American-born citizens, known as Nisei (knee-say).
These citizens, some of whom we are honoring here today, were incarcerated without trials or even hearings, sometimes with as little as 48 hours notice. Allowed to take only what they could carry, they were held initially in temporary holding facilities, called Assembly Centers, such as the Santa Anita Race Track in Los Angeles County and the Tanforan Race Track in Northern California. Uchida Hall, here on our own San José State campus, served as a local registration center. After several months in the Assembly Centers, internees were transported to one of ten camps consisting of tarpaper-covered barracks that were hastily built in some of the most desolate areas of the country, where they were incarcerated for up to four years.
Several thousand Nisei volunteered for military service—maybe including some of those here today—and were placed in a segregated, all-Japanese American Army unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They joined several thousand Nisei volunteers from Hawaii, where more Japanese Americans lived than on the mainland. In addition, several hundred Nisei women also volunteered for the Women's Army Corps and served this country honorably during the war.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was sent to Italy to fight the Germans in some of the bloodiest battles of the war. Many of the Nisei soldiers felt they literally had to prove their loyalty in blood, as signified by the unit's motto, "Go for Broke." The unit suffered enormous casualty rates and is recognized as the most highly decorated unit for its size and length of service in United States Army history. In 2000, over fifty years later, the medals of 20 of the soldiers in this unit were upgraded to Congressional Medals of Honor, after a study concluded that their original medals had been downgraded due to discrimination.
Following their release from the camps, Nisei followed many varied life paths, with San José developing into a prominent area for Japanese Americans to settle and raise their families. As children of Japanese American immigrants, some returned to farming, cultivating the fields and orchards that made Santa Clara Valley the Valley of Heart's Delight. Many embarked on professional careers, while still others returned to school to complete their degrees. Over time, the Nisei helped form the backbone of our community, serving as business leaders and public officials across the following decades that saw the region transform into the world-famous Silicon Valley. Most importantly for many Nisei families, it was a point of pride to see their children graduate from high school, college, and, in many instances, graduate school. Nisei and their descendents have made significant, life-long contributions to our university and to our broader community for generations.
This brings us to today's ceremony. In October 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 37, directing post-secondary institutions to confer honorary degrees upon those students who were forced to leave their studies as a result of Executive Order 9066. The CSU Board of Trustees, in turn, asked the Chancellor's Office and our campuses to locate about 250 students eligible for honorary degrees under the California Nisei College Diploma Project. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said it best when we began this project: the internment of Japanese American citizens "represents the worst of a nation driven by fear and prejudice. By issuing honorary degrees, we hope to achieve a small right in the face of such grave wrongs."
This is a momentous day for the California State University. San José State is one of six CSU campuses holding commencement ceremonies this semester to award honorary Bachelor of Humane Letters degrees to our former Japanese American students or their families. It is a particularly momentous day here at San José State because about half of the 250 or so eligible former students throughout the state were enrolled at San José State University.
Though long overdue, these honorary degrees represent a righting of a past wrong. The California State University and San José State University are honored to bestow them to our Nisei students or their representatives here today.
And, now, it is my pleasure to invite back to the podium today's commencement speaker, Mr. Jon Iwata. He has graciously agreed to participate in this ceremony by introducing each of the Special Honorary Bachelor of Humane Letters recipients. President Whitmore will join the recipients in the center of the field down in front of the band, where he will personally present them with their California State University diplomas. Mr. Iwata...
(President Whitmore and Associate Vice President Larry Carr step down the stage to award the degrees)
Commencement Speaker Jon Iwata:
Thank you Trustee Mehas. It is an honor for me to join this special honorary degree ceremony. As I name each honorary degree recipient or family member accepting the degree on behalf of their loved one, please join President Whitmore in the center of the field, where he will bestow your honorary degree.
Our first degree recipient is Mary Agawa. Ms. Agawa is unable to join us here today, and accepting the honorary degree on her behalf are her grandsons Griffen Agawa and Logan Agawa.
Noboru Ando. Accepting the honorary degree in honor of her late father is Barbara Ando.
Albert Kazuke Mineta. Accepting the honorary degree on behalf of her husband is Mrs. Joyce Mineta, their daughter Mari Mineta Clapp, and their granddaughter Marissa Clapp.
Helen Mineta. Accepting the honorary degree in honor of the late Ms. Mineta is her sister-in-law, Joyce Mineta, her niece Mari Mineta Clapp, and her grandniece Marissa Clapp.
Ellen Kuyama Masumoto. Ms. Kuyama Masumoto was a student at San Diego State University. Accepting the honorary degree on behalf of her mother is Beverly DiDomenico.
Shigeki Matsumoto. Mr. Matsumoto was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Accepting the honorary degree in honor of her late father is Beverly DiDomenico.
Koichi Ishizaki. Accepting the honorary degree in honor of her late husband is Mrs. Takako Ishizaki.
David Masao Sakai. Accepting the honorary degree on behalf of her father is Patricia Sakai Kawabata.
Kazuo Takasuka. Accepting the honorary degree in honor of their late father are his sons Bradley Takasuka and Vernon Takasuka.
In addition to his own honorary degree, Mr. Uchida is also accepting the honorary degree for his late brother-in-law, Shigelu Hiraki.
May Meiko Yoshino Horio. Ms. Yoshino Horio was a student at San Francisco State University. Accepting the honorary degree in honor of his late aunt is Milo Yoshino.
Aiko Nishi Uwate. Ms. Uwate also was a student at San Francisco State University. Accepting the honorary degree in honor of his late mother is Walter Uwate.
This Nisei Diploma Project is an on-going effort, and San José State and the CSU will continue to award honorary degrees as additional eligible Nisei are located. Though unable to join us today, several former students have been located and will be conferred degrees following today's ceremony. They are:
George Katsuji Kubota.
Roy Shimizu. It is a pleasure to note that Mr. Shimizu's daughter, Kathy Dixon, is sitting among our other graduates this morning, as she will be receiving her Master's degree in just a few minutes.
Thomas Takashi Tomihiro.
Beyond those students named here today, there are still many more who are eligible for honorary degrees. The CSU and San José State University welcomes the opportunity to confer them over the coming months.
In closing... to our honorees, representatives, and guests, I congratulate you and am honored to have participated in this distinguished ceremony. We are excited to have you join us here today and welcome you as alumni of the California State University and of your respective campuses.
Now, I would like to ask the audience to please rise and remain standing for the formal recessional of our California State University Nisei Diploma Project honorary degree recipients.
(All Rise, Standing Ovation)
(Cue the Band for the Recessional)