By Colleen Bentley, California State University Director of Special Projects
Nearly 70 years after Executive Order 9066 forced 250 California State University students to leave their campuses without completing their degrees, several former students’ stories will be brought to light on Thursday, October 27, 2011, with the screening of the video The California State University: Sharing and Celebrating Stories from Nisei Honorary Degree Recipients at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose.
The project is a memorial dedicated to the CSU students who were removed from our campuses in 1941-42 and sent to internment camps, unable to complete their education. The CSU Board of Trustees awarded these students honorary bachelor’s degrees in 2010, and the video captures the dignity of the ceremonies as well as the celebration of the families.
The 4 p.m. screening will feature the video highlighting former San José State University students. Two recipients, local businessman and SJSU faculty member Yoshihiro (Yosh) Uchida, and Dana Ono, son of Fumi Yokoyama, shared their personal struggles and reflections on both the past and the present.
George Takei graciously lent his voice to the project. The video also will show sections of the honorary degree ceremonies at five other CSU campuses.
The production and dissemination of the stories is funded by a $23,000 grant to the CSU Chancellor’s Office from the California State Library through the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program and aims to honor the approximately 120,000 Californians of Japanese ancestry who were impacted by Executive Order 9066. It is estimated that about 2,500 Japanese American students were forced to leave California colleges and universities, and at least 250 of them were from CSU campuses in Fresno, Pomona, San Diego, San Francisco, San José and San Luis Obispo.
In the Spring of 2011, Nisei students or the families of deceased recipients were given honorary degrees under legislation (AB 37) authored by Assembly Member Warren Furutani, which called on the state’s higher education systems to award honorary degrees to these former students. The campuses searched their yearbooks, archives, library records, historical documents and other materials and were able to contact or locate more than half of the 250 former students or their families. Memorable commencement ceremonies were held at six campuses – Fresno, San Diego, San Francisco, San José, San Luis Obispo and Dominguez Hills, the latter serving as the Los Angeles area site for any elderly students who could not travel to their home campuses. Degree recipients were often attired in caps and gowns, with family members standing in for those who were deceased or too ill to travel.
Stories and videos of those ceremonies are located at the CSU Nisei Honorary Degree website. Although long overdue, the students are now recognized as alumni of their campuses.