ucla awards honorary degrees to internees

Over the weekend, the University of California Los Angeles awarded honorary degrees, some posthumously, to 48 Japanese Americans who were unable to finish their schooling when they were ordered into internment camp during World War II: UCLA awards honorary degrees to Japanese Americans who were interned. It was a long time coming.
Some of Saturday's honorees, including Yamaguchi, were able to attend and donned robes, caps, flower leis and ribbons crafted by current students. Children, grandchildren and other relatives stood in for those who had died or were unable to attend.

A few were in wheelchairs. Many walked slowly, using canes and leaning on loved ones.

But all exuded pride as UCLA Chancellor Gene Block awarded them diplomas during an upbeat ceremony at Schoenberg Hall. Cheers and thunderous applause erupted as each recipient's name was read aloud.

"It's been a long time coming. I never thought it would happen," said honorary graduate Toshio Matsumoto, 87, a retired electrical engineer from Sacramento.

He traced a life arc not uncommon among this group, from UCLA to the camps to a resumption of studies in the Midwest to a stint in the Army and a successful career in private industry. He recalled how his father was forced to sell his grocery store in downtown L.A. for a paltry $500 before the family was whisked away.

"It was very traumatic," said Matsumoto, who, like others, displayed no rancor.

As you know, Executive Order 9006, signed by forced 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry into internment camps. Among those shipped to camps were about 700 University of California students from four campuses, including UCLA. Some ended up earning degrees at other universities; others never returned to college.

Last year, the UC Board of Regents voted to suspend a three-decade ban on awarding honorary degrees in order to recognize the former scholars. The governor later signed legislation directin the UC system and other post-secondary institutions to confer honorary degrees upon those obliged to abandon their studies during the war.

Congratulations to all the special honorees across the state. This is a small gesture to restore something that never should have been taken from you in the first place. And with that, the hope that younger generations would be reminded of the fight for freedoms they might otherwise take for granted.

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