92-year-old former internee receives high school diploma

72 years after internment, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald finally graduates from Vashon High School.

(Photo Credit: Aileen Imperial/KCTS 9)

Over the weekend in Washington, a 92-year-old Japanese American woman received her high school diploma -- with honors -- alongside the graduating class of Vashon High School -- 74 years after her education at the school was interrupted when her family was forced into an internment camp during World War II.

92-year-old woman receives high school diploma 74 years after internment

Mary Matsuda Gruenewald was 17, in the middle of her junior year in 1942, when her family was forcibly removed from Vashon Island and incarcerated in a dusty California concentration camp, like thousands of other innocent Japanese Americans on the west coast. She was a good student, a member of the honor society and served on the student council. But she missed the opportunity to graduate with her classmates.

On Saturday, she finally graduated from Vashon High School. Receiving a standing ovation, she was presented with her diploma, along with a copy of the 1943 yearbook and the 2017 yearbook signed by students and staff. The ceremony was streamed live on YouTube (Gruenewald is first acknowledged in the principal's remarks at the 51:46 mark, and receives her diploma at 1:48:02):

Despite the injustice of internment, Gruenewald did eventually graduate from a makeshift high school inside Tule Lake Relocation Center, where she and her family spent three years. She went on to graduate from Seattle Pacific University and became a registered nurse. She also penned and published a memoir, Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps, in 2005.

But the fact that she was never able to participate in her school's graduation bothered her for 74 years. But when the possibility arose for her to walk with this year's graduating class at Vashon High, she took it.

"As soon as somebody suggested she might be able to get her diploma from Vashon High School, then it came out that she had always been wanting it," her son Ray Gruenewald told KOMO. "But she never actually said that until it became a possibility."

It took 74 years, but that possibility finally became a reality. A small but significant gesture to right a past wrong.

Congratulations to the Class of 2017. And congratulations to the Class of 1943.

More here: 92-year-old woman to finally receive diploma from Vashon Island High School

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