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Public Affairs

The CSU to Hold Special Commencement Ceremonies to Honor Former Japanese American Students

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Erik Fallis , (562) 951-4800

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(May 13, 2010) – The California State University will hold six special commencement ceremonies in May and June to honor former Japanese American students whose college careers were forcibly disrupted during World War II when they were sent to internment camps. 

Then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942 shortly after the December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor that mandated people of Japanese descent be incarcerated in camps throughout the United States.

Between 250 and 300 of the 120,000 who were removed were Japanese American students at six California State University campuses. The CSU campuses have been able to locate and contact more than half of the former CSU students and/or their families after combing through old university files, yearbooks, student newspapers and other materials.

In honor of these former Japanese American students, the CSU Board of Trustees in September 2009 approved a resolution granting these students honorary Bachelor of Humane Letters degrees. The Trustees acted in response to California Assembly Member Warren Furutani’s (D-55) bill (AB 37) that called on the university to grant the degrees.

The six campuses and their ceremony dates are:

May 17–San Diego State University. 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. The public ceremony will be in the Aztec Athletics Center Auditorium. Approximately 43 Nisei students have been identified as formally attending the SDSU campus. Three former students will be in attendance along with representation from family members of seven other former students. Former Cal Poly Pomona President Bob Suzuki, who was incarcerated as a very young boy, will be the featured speaker.

May 20–California State University, Fresno. 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. luncheon and ceremony in the Satellite Student Union. The university identified 83 alumni qualified for honorary degrees, Six alumni and family representatives of 21 more will receive diplomas. The luncheon is private but ceremony is open to the public and anticipating up to 300. The featured speaker will be Paul Osaki, CSU Nisei Honorary Committee member and executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. The campus awarded its first degree in December 2009 to John Hiroshi Otomo.

May 21–California State University, Dominguez Hills. 7 p.m. ceremony at the Home Depot Tennis Stadium. The campus has been selected as the host campus for any former students living in the greater Los Angeles area who cannot travel to their home campuses. At this point, one former Fresno student, Louise Isako Miyake, and her family will participate. Assembly Member Furutani will be the keynote speaker for the ceremony. A reception to honor World War II-era CSU Nisei students is also planned for Wednesday, May 19, at 6 p.m. in the Library South Wing on campus. For more information, email tbushee@csudh.edu. CSUDH is looking for other former CSU students to participate.

May 21 & 22–San Francisco State University. May 21 evening ceremony for three former students during the Alumni Hall of Fame including a reception. Families of former students will take part in the university’s commencement ceremony on May 22 at which they will accept the degrees on behalf of their relatives. There will be approximately 10 participants. SF State has celebrated the Nisei as honored alumni at the 1998 commencement and at the dedication of the Garden of Remembrance in 2002. One former student’s daughter, Vivian Uwate Nelson, received the first CSU honorary degree for her mother in September 2009 following the CSU Board of Trustees’ approval of the board resolution.

May 29–San José State University. Breakfast reception and degree conferral as part of the university’s commencement ceremony in Spartan Stadium. Approximately 20 honorees. IBM Senior Vice President Jon Iwata is the commencement speaker. Local Japanese community organizations will host a luncheon following the ceremony in Japantown. SJSU had more than 100 Japanese American students in 1941-42, the largest number at any CSU campus; the campus is continuing to try to contact more of them for recognition.

June 7–California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. The university identified some 30 students to receive degrees and will present approximately 15 former students and/or their family members with degrees at a special commencement ceremony scheduled for Monday, June 7, at 11 a.m. at the University House. A private luncheon for graduates and their guests follows the ceremony. President Warren J. Baker will confer the degrees.

The campuses are continuing to search their records for additional students and are working with Japanese American organizations in their communities in the searches. Degrees will continue to be awarded to the former students when they are located. Application forms and additional information is available at www.calstate.edu/nisei or (562) 951-4723.

The CSU Chancellor’s Office has been awarded an approximate $23,000 grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program of the State Library to capture the Nisei stories on videotape and in print to create a “living memorial” to the former students. The stories will be on the CSU website, campus websites, and DVDs will be made available to community organizations for viewing and teaching purposes.

The CSU Chancellor’s Office also formed a Nisei Honorary Committee of prominent Californians to serve as advisers on any issues. They are: Assembly Member Warren Furutani; Congressman Mike Honda; Former Congressman Norm Mineta; Actor and Former Chairman of the Japanese American National Museum George Takei; CSU Trustee Emeritus Joan Otomo-Corgel; Bay Area broadcast newscaster Jan Yanehiro; Former Olympic coach and SJSU judo coach Yoshihiro Uchida;  Executive Director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California Paul Osaki; Founding curator of the Japanese American National Museum James Hirabayashi; California State Librarian Emeritus and Administrator of the CA Civil Liberties Public Education Program Kevin Starr; Author of Farewell to Manzanar Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston; Former President of Cal Poly Pomona Bob H. Suzuki; Executive Director of the Japanese American National Museum Akemi Kikumura Yano; Attorney who chaired the federal Civil Liberties Public Education Program Dale Minami; President and Chief Executive Officer, Union of Pan Asian Communities Margaret Iwanaga Penrose and Board of Governors, Japanese American National Museum and Carson City Clerk Helen Kawagoe.

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The California State University is the largest system of senior higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, approximately 433,000 students and 44,000 faculty and staff. Since the system was created in 1961, it has awarded nearly 2.5 million degrees, about 90,000 annually. Its mission is to provide high-quality, affordable education to meet the ever-changing needs of the people of California. With its commitment to excellence, diversity and innovation, the CSU is the university system that is working for California.

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