Nisei Diploma Project

CSU Dominguez Hills College of Professional Studies Commencement

Keynote Address by Warren Furutani
May 21, 2010

Thank you very much Dr. Garcia.

Ladies and gentleman, it is an absolute honor to be with you this evening to share in this very special event. I want to, like the president has done already, acknowledge all of you in the audience that have done so much to help these young people—and not so young people—come to this very important day and become a successful graduate of Cal State Dominguez Hills. A round of applause for the audience, please.

When I've had the opportunity to speak at graduations, I always get asked and offered to wear one of the robes that the professors and the president wears when they come into the professional processional here to the stage. And I never wear one because I consider myself a civilian, and really what it comes from is a sense of respect for all of the professors and those of you that have achieved so much in your education. So I don't wear a cap and gown because today is the day for all of you to shine because of your academic success.

I think it's also important to acknowledge that when you look at this one special day—and I understand this is the fourth graduation for Cal State Dominguez Hills today—this is harvest day for the education world. After nurturing, after helping, after water, after pulling out a few weeds here and there, today is the day you harvest your crops. And look at this great blooming group of individuals that have come to fruition here today at their graduation.

I also have been given the distinct honor to introduce a couple of members to the graduating class. You haven't seen these individuals around campus very much. You haven't had to fight with them to get your classes, nor parking spaces when you're trying to come to school. But these two individuals that are a part of the Nisei graduating class here at Dominguez Hills should not be strange to you. I know they look a little bit older, but I'm telling you, these two people are going to be out there just like you trying to get into graduate school and to try and get a job, and I wouldn't want to compete with these two folks, believe me.

So let me introduce to you Louise Morita and also Terushi Naritoku, two individuals, who although over 90 years old—think about it—back in 1942, had the very same dreams that you have here today. Think about it. In 1942, even Louise, a woman in the 1940s, was going to college. After her older sisters and brothers worked in the fields, they provided her an opportunity to get a higher education. Think about it. In 1942, the dreams they had for their education are the very same dreams that you have here today. And then because of issues, politics and history beyond their control, Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and on that fateful day started a rolling and opening process relative to what happened to Japanese Americans. One hundred and ten thousand, the vast majority being American citizens, were incarcerated in concentration camps—10 concentration camps—throughout desolate parts of the United States, places like Rohwer, Arkansas, places like Heart Mountain, Wyoming, places like Poston, Arizona, places like Tule Lake, northern California. And the only thing that they did was be Japanese, and they were put in camps.

So what happened with the bill, AB37, is it provided us an opportunity to finish up some unfinished business, to fix dreams that were deferred and have them become a reality. So the University of California, the Cal State University system, and the community college system of the state of California all are conferring honorary degrees on those that should have graduated from their hallowed halls during World War II had they not been incarcerated in concentration camps during that very dark period of history. So what this is, ladies and gentlemen, is a fixing of a past wrong, and I want to thank particularly the graduating class here at Cal State Dominguez Hills for your generosity and warmth to let these two individuals share this very special moment with you.

But candidly, if this was merely a trip down memory lane, frankly, if this was just merely an exercise in nostalgia, I don't know what that purpose ultimately would have been other than a feel good moment. What this is in my opinion is the importance of understanding that if we don't learn from past mistakes we're very likely to do them again. So this issue before us today relative to fixing a past wrong is not an isolated phenomenon, particularly if you look at what's happened in the state of Arizona of recent times, where if you look a certain way you can be stopped at any given time and have to have on you your papers to prove that you're legal here in the United States. And all of us in this audience know that at different times in our history people have had to endure certain kinds of stereotyping and profiling, where if you were in a nice car, dressed nicely but driving in the wrong neighborhoods, police may stop you because you're driving while black. If you're in Arizona and you look like an immigrant or have an accent, the police, based upon their new law, could pull you aside and demand that you show them ID. If those of us in the Japanese American community during World War II had to endure the fact that all you had to be was one-sixteenth Japanese and you were put in a concentration camp, then you and I know that certain communities have felt this same kind of feeling that people are feeling here today.

So what we're talking about candidly are communities that know the experience of having to wear stars on their chest if they lived in Germany or other parts of Europe during World War II. Other communities have had to endure these same kind of things, but really the important lesson learned is to make sure that everybody understands that the fundamental strength of us as a nation is our diversity, and though no matter the color of skin, no matter the texture of your hair, no matter the slant of your eyes, no matter whatever the case may be—where you worship, what you think, how you feel—we're all Americans.

So I end with this, graduates. I end by saying that as a legislator we are dealing with some very tough economics times. All of you are well aware of cuts that you've had to endure while trying to finish your degree here at Cal State Dominguez Hills. I take my hat off to the classified staff, the certificated staff, the administration, everybody trying to do the most they can for your education with the little amount that they've been getting because of the budget cuts and the economic difficulties. But I'm telling you no matter those issues relative to classes offered, relative to equipment in those classrooms, or whatever the case may be, the most important thing here today is to recognize the most fundamentally valuable commodity for the state of California, for Cal State Dominguez Hills, and for the world is its people.

So look around you sisters and brothers. Look at all of the different diversity that sits on the very natural situation here as graduates in the audience. No where else in the world do we bring together the kind of human diversity that exists right here this evening on the natural. And that's the strength of America. That's the strength of California. So as we talk about difficult economic times, I'm not worried about it, because I know what we bring to bear here with the Class of 2010 at Cal State University, Dominguez Hills. It is a talented, genius group of individuals that will make a bright future for all of us.

Thank you very much and congratulations to the graduating class of 2010.