Honorary degrees for students affected by World War II internment order
| 08 September 2009
BERKELEY — Approximately 500 Japanese Americans, whose education at the University of California, Berkeley, was interrupted by a 1942 executive order that confined about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry to internment camps, are eligible to receive honorary degrees at a special campus ceremony on Sunday, Dec. 13.
The University of California Office of the President announced in July the decision to present honorary degrees at four UC campuses - Los Angeles, San Francisco, Davis and Berkeley - that, combined, were attended during World War II by an estimated 700 students affected by the internment order.
Degrees will be awarded to all those who were unable to complete their studies, regardless of whether they earned degrees elsewhere after being released from the detention camps.
UC Berkeley's former students — now in their 80s and 90s — will wear official caps and gowns as they lead a 3 p.m. convocation procession into Haas Pavilion and walk down the same aisles as UC Berkeley's newly-minted winter graduates. Former students who are too frail to participate or who are deceased may be represented by close friends or by relatives.
Campus officials are asking these former students and/or their families to contact Helena Weiss-Duman in UC Berkeley University Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 643-6493 as soon as possible to receive a formal invitation to the December event.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony will be Norman Y. Mineta, a 1953 graduate of UC Berkeley and a California congressman from San Jose for 20 years. He also served as U.S. commerce secretary under President Clinton and as U.S. secretary of transportation in President George W. Bush's cabinet.
Mineta, who was just 10 years old when his family was sent initially to a camp at a Southern California racetrack and then to a camp in Wyoming, was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted $20,000 in compensation to every Japanese American interned.
President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 two months after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Fueled by wartime hysteria, a failure of political leadership and racism, the order directed the U.S. military to exclude Japanese Americans from military areas that included all of California and much of Oregon and Washington.
Japanese Americans were sent to camps set up at county fairgrounds, migrant campuses, warehouses, racetracks and stables at locations along the Pacific Coast, in California's Central San Joaquin Valley, the Sierra, the Mohave Desert and other states including Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Texas and Kansas.
In September 1991, approximately 100 Japanese Americans who had earned degrees from UC Berkeley, but missed graduation due to the war, participated in a campus graduation ceremony. It was held in conjunction with a fall semester welcoming event for students, staff and faculty. Those graduates will also be recognized at the Dec. 13 ceremony.
Serving on the campus planning committee for the award ceremony is Duncan Williams, professor of Japanese Buddhism and chair of the Center for Japanese Studies. Williams' own research, based on interviews with more than 120 former internees and on their diaries, letters and other archival records, sheds light on a previously untold part of the internment story. In his forthcoming book, "Camp Dharma," Williams recounts how the Buddhist and Christian beliefs of the internees played a critical role in their perseverance in the face of loss and incarceration.