Sharing and Celebrating Stories
December 24, 2009John Hiroshi Otomo Receives an Honorary Degree from CSU Fresno
Otomo with President Welty
Today, John Hiroshi Otomo, 87, became the first living recipient of a Nisei honorary degree conferred by the California State University.
"It's an honor," Otomo told Fresno State News. "Having a degree after 67 years is something."
CSU Fresno president John Welty presented the degree to Otomo during a ceremony at the city hall in Selma, Calif., Otomo's hometown.
"Today, we recognize his determination and courage, and the courage of people like Mr. Otomo who overcame their challenges to lead exemplary, inspiring lives," Welty said in his remarks. Watch video of the ceremony.
During spring 1942, Otomo was studying agronomy at CSU Fresno when he and his family were ordered to relocate to the Gila River internment camp in Arizona. He is one of about 80 Fresno students who were interned during World War II.
Otomo, right, while stationed in Japan
After his release, Otomo moved to Minnesota and enlisted in the Army as part of the Military Intelligence Language School.
"I wanted to show my loyalty," Otomo told the Selma Enterprise.
"The Japanese were the enemy. [And] I was as American as the next person."
Otomo served in Japan and the Philippines as a Japanese translator, and was honorably discharged in 1946.
He then returned to Selma where, three years later, he became an auto mechanic and married Elaine Uyemura, whom he had met while at CSU Fresno. In 1957, Otomo bought Selma Motor Sales and ran the dealership until his retirement in 1984.
All the while, Otomo and his wife instilled the importance of a college education in their three children.
"There was never a question if we were going to college. The only question was, 'Where are you going to college?'" his daughter Joan Otomo-Corgel told Fresno State News.
Otomo's children and 16 nieces and nephews all have college degrees (six from CSU Fresno). And two of his three grandchildren are currently in college.
September 23, 2009San Francisco State Alumna Aiko Nishi Uwate is Posthumously Awarded a Honorary Degree
Aiko Nishi Uwate
The California State University conferred its first honorary Nisei degree to Aiko Nishi Uwate during the September 2009 CSU Board of Trustees meeting.
Uwate's daughter, Vivian Uwate Nelson, accepted the diploma on her late mother's behalf.
After the ceremony, Nelson told Rafu Shimpo News that her mother, who passed away in 1998, would have been thrilled by the honor:
"She remembered [SFSU] fondly; she loved being there."
In 1942, Uwate was studying music at San Francisco State when she was forced to relocate to an internment camp in Arizona.
She later completed her education at Capital University, graduating with a degree in biology in 1946. Two years later, she married Matao Uwate and the young couple settled in Los Angeles where they raised three children. In 1982, Uwate published the book, "Japanese Names for Babies."
Uwate's name is among the 19 former San Francisco State Japanese American students whose names are memorialized at the university's Garden of Remembrance, which was dedicated in 2002.