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Japanese Americans Waited Sixty Years for High School Diplomas

Japanese Americans Waited Sixty Years for High School Diplomas

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Many Japanese Americans lost out on the opportunity to finish high school, and thus, never got their diplomas. While many of us can’t even find out diplomas, many Japanese Americans have waited patiently for decades for the honor of receiving one.

In 1988, an official apology came from the United States Government and monetary compensation was given to some. However, it wasn’t until Sally Lieber sponsored legislation that set up the “California Nisei High School Diploma Project” that those Japanese Americans got their diplomas .

The project hopes to locate Japanese Americans who lost out on their high school education during 1942-1945. They will then honor these individuals. Another goal of the project is to educate current high school students about the internment camp period. Many lives were interrupted by the detainments and those affect were unable to finish their educations. Many went to work after leaving camp and never went back to school. Others earned their diplomas while in the camps, but it wasn’t from the school districts they had spent their lives in.

High Schools around California are beginning to hold ceremonies for these special graduates. In August 2005, 58 Japanese Americans showed up at Los Angeles Trade Technical College just for that purpose. This was the high school graduation ceremony they never got. They walked with canes, sat in wheelchairs, and smiled proudly as they received the piece of parchment they missed out on 60 years ago.

Japanese Americans look back on the internment camp period with sadness and bitterness, so the ceremonies start a healing process that has been on hold since the 1940s. The ceremonies have been mostly symbolic. But,the honorary graduates gain a sense of pride and many share the experience with their children and grandchildren. This opens a dialogue about a period of their lives they may not have spoken about.

You can learn more about the California Nisei High School Diploma Project at: Nisei High School Diploma Project

[Photo from the www.canisei.org website press releases shows
Tom Okumura and Mary (Okumura) Kitahara, at their Mountain View High School commencement ceremony in 2004. Photo courtesy of Dan Miranda/Los Altos Town Crier.]

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