Media Advisory
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Japanese American student interned during World War II to get honorary degrees

Contact: Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations
(510) 643-5651

08 December 2009

ATTENTION: Higher education, human rights and diversity writers and editors, photographers, and weekend assignment desks


The awarding of honorary degrees at the University of California, Berkeley's Winter Convocation ceremony, to Japanese Americans whose education here was stopped in February 1942, when federal orders sent them to internment camps.

Approximately 700 University of California students were affected by the World War II directive, more than 500 of them attended UC Berkeley.


3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13


Haas Pavilion, on campus near the intersection of Bancroft Way and Dana Street. See campus map.


At least 50 of the former students, most now in their 80s and 90s, are expected to attend. Family members of another 50 former students will receive the diplomas on behalf of those unable to attend. Still others will receive diplomas by mail. Many former students are deceased.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau will welcome the ceremony participants and their families.

Chizu Iiyama of El Cerrito, a UC Berkeley senior when the war began, will speak for the honorees. Instead of attending spring graduation ceremonies, Iiyama was housed with her family in a horse stall at a relocation center set up at Santa Anita Race Track.

Norman Y. Mineta, a 1953 graduate of UC Berkeley and a California congressman from San Jose for 20 years, will be the keynote speaker. He was just 10 years old when his family was interned. As a senator, Mineta was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which led to formal apologies and financial compensation for internees.


An invitation-only luncheon for honorees in the Pauley Ballroom of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union will begin at 1 p.m. Media interested in talking to honorees at the luncheon should make advance arrangements with UC Berkeley Media Relations at (510) 643-5651.

The honorees will wear traditional graduation caps and gowns, as well as leis of origami cranes constructed by a community coalition of school children, teachers and members of the Japanese American community. The folded paper cranes are a traditional Japanese American symbol of courage and strength.

The UC Board of Regents voted in July to suspend its moratorium on honorary degrees, in order to recognize the students forced from UC classrooms in 1942.