Last updated: June 1, 2012 3:38 pm
70 years later, interned Japanese-Canadian students get honorary degrees from UBC
VANCOUVER (CUP) — After an injustice that occurred 70 years ago, the Japanese-Canadian UBC students of 1942 finally received their honorary degrees in a ceremony on Wednesday.
Of the 76 who were honoured, only 22 were still alive and only 10 were able to attend the ceremony. Many of the degrees were accepted by children or grandchildren.
The room erupted into thunderous applause and cheers each time one of the bright gold-and-scarlet sashes was draped across one of the 10 who were present to receive the degree. The honourees, all of whom were in their 80s or 90s, grinned broadly as they were each recognized.
“When I go to get my degree, I think I’m going to go berserk,” reflected honorary degree recipient Roy Oshiro on the morning of the ceremony. “I don’t think I’ll be able to contain myself.”
But Oshiro was calmly joyful as he crossed the stage, raising his hands in acknowledgment and warmly smiling to all in attendance.
Oshiro, who went on to become a missionary after he was interned, was moved by UBC’s long-overdue gesture. “For UBC to say, ‘Here’s the rightful degree you should’ve had … We kicked you out, I’m sorry, come and get your degree’ — what greater thing is there? I can’t think of one,” said Oshiro.
Honorary degree recipient Geri Shiozaki initially wasn’t sure how to feel when she first heard that she would finally be receiving a UBC degree. “It’s a mixture of excitement and nostalgia, I suppose,” said Shiozaki. “It’s a little overwhelming.”
Shiozaki recalled the astonishment she felt when she was forced to leave UBC in 1942. “Those days were so full of uncertainty and rumours. We never expected what did happen,” she said. “I was devastated. I didn’t think my country, which is a democracy, could do this to me and others. It was very unsettling.”
UBC president Stephen Toope wasn’t shy in acknowledging that UBC should have done more to protest the forcible removal of its Japanese-Canadian students. “They were really committed students who were working very hard and had done nothing to justify this action,” said Toope in a video produced to introduce the ceremony. “The sad thing for this university is that no one stood up in their defence.”
Toope acknowledged the work of Mary Kitagawa of the Greater Vancouver Japanese-Canadian Citizens’ Association, who initially began the push for the degrees in 2008 and was rebuffed until last November.
As UBC chancellor Sarah Morgan-Silvester made her final speech after conferring the degrees, her voice wavered with emotion. “It has been my great pleasure, privilege, and honour to meet and congratulate each member of today’s graduating class,” said Silvester. “Above all, please know that UBC is, and will forever be, your university.