“Today was supposed to be my graduation at Cal,” wrote Yonekazu Satoda on May 13, 1942. Two days earlier, he and his family had been yanked from their San Francisco home and funneled into the system of World War II prison camps for Japanese Americans.
Satoda, now 94, had left behind and long forgotten the diary of day-to-ay life he wrote in the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas as a young man of 22. It resurfaced recently, and is part of an exhibit of Japanese internment materials that just opened at Yale. The exhibit and Satoda’s story were written up this week in the New York Times.
Now a San Francisco resident, Satoda was a special guest at the exhibit’s opening and, the Times writes, was visibly moved as he stepped up to speak. “I’m going to try not to pull a John Boehner on you,” he is quoted as saying.
Among the estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned, more than 2,500 were students at California state colleges and universities. Satoda was among about 500 whose studies at Berkeley were interrupted.
Unlike Satoda, most of them didn’t receive their diplomas until decades later. In 2009, the University of California decided that honorary degrees would be conferred on the 700 people who were UC students when they were interned, including Berkeley’s 500.
Ceremonies were held at Berkeley in 2009 and 2010, attended by dozens of former students then in their 80s and 90s, and by family members of those who had died or were not able to be there.
Read more about Yonekazu Satoda’s diary and the Yale exhibit in the New York Times.
Read earlier Berkeley News coverage of the honorary degree program and 2009 and 2010 ceremonies:
Honorary degrees for students affected by World War II internment order (Sep. 8, 2009) with video of the December 2009 ceremony)
Japanese Americans receive honorary degrees, 67 years after WWII internment cut short their studies at Berkeley (Dec. 16, 2009, with video)
Decades late, a diploma — and tears — for Cal Nisei (May 20, 2010)
Visit UC’s honorary degree website, which has more information about interned students.