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Righting a past wrong San Diego State confers honorary degrees upon Japanese-American students interned during World War II

By Lorena Nava Ruggero

Carl Yoshimine last stepped on campus 68 years ago. Forced to leave San Diego State in 1942 because of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, his freshman year of college ended all too quickly.
Along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, the U.S. government sent Yoshimine to an internment camp. His first time back on campus was Monday, May 17, when he, along with 20 others, received an honorary bachelor’s degree from SDSU during the Nisei Honorary Degree Ceremony at the Aztec Athletic Center Auditorium.

Righting a wrong
As noted by CSU Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Advancement Garrett Ashley during the ceremony, the degrees are a “present righting of a past wrong,” the wrong being that they never received their degrees.
Part of a California State University effort inspired by Assembly Bill 37, the ceremony recognized those students who had to put their education on hold as a result of this great injustice.
June Junko Kushino, 89, also received a degree, as well as degrees for her cousins, Helen Kirako Kushino and posthumously for Kenji Kushino. With their families watching, volunteer student escorts from the SDSU Japanese Student Association escorted both Kushino and Yoshimine as they entered the auditorium and accepted their degrees.
Family members, some coming from as far as Duluth, Minn., and Seattle, Wash., represented other degree recipients unable to attend or who received their degrees posthumously.

A small token
“We honor these individuals in recognition of their determination and courage,” said SDSU President Stephen L. Weber. “Each overcame significant challenges to lead exemplary and inspiring lives. The internment camps are one of the worst moments in America’s history. While there is no way to erase this wrongdoing, we offer this degree as a small token in recognition of their sacrifice.”
The keynote address was given by Bob Suzuki, professor emeritus and former president of Cal Poly Pomona and a member of the CSU Nisei Honorary Committee.

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