War-interned Japanese Students Receive Honorary Degrees

April 3, 2009

On Sunday, May 17, University of Puget Sound will extend a belated honor to the students whose studies were disrupted by the U.S. government's internment of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans during World War II. "Japanese American Students at the College of Puget Sound in 1941-42" will receive the degree Bachelor of Arts, Honoris Causa, Nunc pro Tunc (meaning: "a thing is done at one time which ought to have been performed at another") at the 2009 Commencement Ceremony, starting at 2 p.m. The 36 students were sent to relocation camps 67 years earlier in the spring of 1942, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the implementation of new U.S. government policies in response to concerns about security.

"Each loyal student removed from campus at that time represented a life and an education suddenly interrupted," said President Ronald R. Thomas. "By granting these degrees now, we complete a circle, welcoming these individuals into the ranks of alumni and returning them to full inclusion in the Puget Sound community." Puget Sound is in the process of trying to contact the students affected. Those still living are scattered across the country.

Two other individuals will be honored at Commencement. Philip Mangano, executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness in Washington, D.C., will be presented with the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa. In addition Harold Moss, civil rights leader and former mayor of Tacoma, will receive the degree Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa.

Puget Sound has regularly honored students who were interned during the war. Each spring plaques displaying the students' names are set under the 12 cherry trees near Wheelock Student Center, some of which were planted by the Japanese students before their evacuation. Additional trees were planted in a 1989 ceremony organized by students when the surviving interned students and their families were invited back to campus to be honored. Origami cranes of many colors decorate the trees each spring celebrating that event. The college also regularly hosts speakers commemorating the Feb. 19, 1942 Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt, which authorized the forced evacuation from the American western coastal regions. An article in the spring 2006 issue of the Puget Sound alumni magazine Arches recalls the following wartime experience:

"On Dec. 8 [1941], students listened to Roosevelt's radio broadcast in the auditorium. Waichi Oyanagi, the only Issei (first-generation immigrant) student at UPS, recalled being in a state of shock that day. He said, ‘Members of the Japanese Students Club went off by ourselves and cried.' Then came the order for evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry. On the West Coast alone, 110,000-including 70,000 Nisei (born outside of Japan) who were U.S. citizens-had to dispose of all their property and businesses ... [Student] Jack Hata wrote to the college's newspaper, The Trail ... ‘I had the strong feeling that I would never leave the camp again.'"

In June of 1942, the Pinedale Assembly Center in California conducted an informal "graduation ceremony" for Nisei seniors who had been taken from schools including Lincoln and Stadium high schools, and what was then known as the College of Puget Sound. Official diplomas were sent from the schools to Pinedale for those students.

"It is past time that all those students, regardless of their class year, receive recognition here on their own campus, where they belong," Thomas said. The nomination of the students for the honorary degree came from a Puget Sound trustee and was supported by faculty, staff, and, ultimately, the board of trustees.

Honoree Philip Mangano will give the 2009 Commencement Address during the graduation ceremony, starting 2 p.m., Sunday, May 17, at Baker Stadium. The presidential appointee charged with coordinating a strategic approach to ending homelessness is a compelling figure and an engaging speaker. His life's work, as an active and educated citizen, evidences the liberal arts mission of Puget Sound. Puget Sound was recently honored by the Pierce County Coalition for the Homeless with "The Road Home Leadership Team Award."

"Honoring Mr. Mangano with this degree is a fitting recognition of the passion and intelligence he brings to his admirable life's work, and it echoes our students' and faculty's contributions to addressing the chronic public tragedy of homelessness in our nation," Thomas said. "With an abolitionist's zeal and a businessman's acumen, Mangano has revolutionized the debate by offering solutions to eliminate homelessness rather than services to temper it."

Harold Moss, a lifelong leader in the civil rights movement, was the first African American mayor of Tacoma. He was also the first to serve on the Tacoma City Council and Pierce County Council. Moss served as president of the local branch of the NAACP and on Tacoma's first Human Rights Commission. In 1968 he helped create the Tacoma Urban League. Moss taught at Puget Sound in the business administration and social science departments from 1969 to 1971. Members of Puget Sound's faculty are active contributors to the Tacoma Civil Rights Project and to the Washington State History Museum exhibit Tacoma's Civil Rights Struggle, in which Moss' story plays a prominent role.

"Mayor Moss has been a major force in civic leadership and the civil rights movement locally and nationally. Our recognition of him reinforces the connection and mutual support between the campus and our wider community, and acknowledges the contributions of our faculty and students to civic scholarship and engagement," Thomas said.

Members of the public and the press are welcome to attend Commencement. Graduate lineup in Karlen Quadrangle will begin at 1 p.m., Sunday, May 17. The ceremony runs 2-4:30 p.m. in Baker Stadium.

For directions and a map of the campus: www.ups.edu/directions.xml.