Six Decades Later, Japanese American WWII Internees Finally Get Their Degrees

Jeff Chiu Associated PressImagine receiving your college degree...six decades later. Not cool at all. But for these hundreds of Japanese American WWII internees, it's still better late than never. In 1942, about 700 Japanese Americans enrolled in the University of California system had to abandon their studies as they were sent to internment camps. Now, 67 years later, the UC Board of Regents has agreed to grant honorary degrees to all of these Japanese American students. Finally!

So far only about a dozen of the former students have been found, but the reaction has been nothing but excitement. For instance, Grace Obata Amemiya, who was a pre-nursing student at UC Berkeley in 1942, returned there this past Thursday to be named a graduate, now at 88 years old. As she describes, “I felt so honored. I’ve been floating way up there and my two feet have now come down yet.”

About 120,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly forced into internment camps during World War II. As it was a deeply regretful time for the American government, it's good to know that efforts are still being made to restore the prejudice from the wartime hysteria. Eddie Island of the UC Board of Regents explains, “Fear is a powerful thing. And when it is put to an evil purpose as it was in this case, we owe a sense of profound regret, profound sorrow, that our country was off track. Today, we can rectify that in some very small way."

Just by looking at this photo of Amemiya holding her UC Berkeley shirt, it’s quite clear just how long she's been waiting for this priceless moment. At long last, these former students will receive the recognition and closure they’ve wanted for the past six decades.  Congrats, graduates! It’s about time.

Photo by Jeff Chiu, Associated Press