Conferral of USC Nisei degrees

April 1, 2022
Remarks at the USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association Gala Dinner

Thank you, Frank [Buckley], and good evening, everyone!

This is such a special evening! I am honored to be here. 

I’ll start with my congratulations to all the inspiring award recipients!

And congratulations to this remarkable organization – 40 years young!

You’ve accomplished so much for our students and community – for generations, you’ve nurtured hopes, supported dreams, and helped to launch so many promising futures.

And what I love the most is that here you are tonight – not resting on your laurels, but looking ahead to the next 40 years – asking how we can expand opportunities for our APASS students even further, create a greater sense of safety, belonging and excitement, and help them and our university meet the new challenges of our contemporary world. 

As I said, forever young!

Tonight also is for gratitude. I’d like to thank some folks. Please stand when I call your name and everyone else, please hold your applause until all have been recognized.  

I’d like to start by thanking the organizers and especially the APAA Board of Directors and the Gala Committee who have outdone themselves this evening – I’m told you even had to increase the table sizes to accommodate the long waiting list.

Many thanks also to APAA President Ada Yeh and Executive Director Grace Shiba, and the Gala Committee chair and vice chair Phillip Lee and Timothy Wong, and your hard-working teams!

I’d also like to thank two special guests with us – founding members of this organization: Allen Kumamoto and Frank Kwan.

And a huge to shout out two USC trustees Jaime Lee and Rod Nakamoto here tonight. Both were former presidents of this organization.

And finally, many thanks to Patrick Auerbach and his team and our fabulous events team.

In addition to celebration and gratitude, we also are here tonight for another reason, a reason deeply personal to so many, and long overdue for our university – the conferring of posthumous degrees to USC’s Nisei students.  

Being part of a great American university usually provides a path to the great American dream, and in our case, a path to becoming part of the legendary Trojan Family.

But that dream was abruptly, unfairly and painfully stopped for so many – 80 years ago – in 1942, with the passage of the infamous Presidential Executive Order 9066 signed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Executive Order 9066 led to the forced relocation of 120,000 Japanese Americans (mostly on the west coast), to desolate internment camps around the country, including the notorious Manzanar facility, just about 200 miles from here.

My own grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Albania during World War I. Thinking of them and my mother and aunts, I find it impossible to imagine what that would have felt like if it happened to them. Put on trains carrying a single suitcase, forced to live in rough, poorly constructed and cramped spaces, some even horse stalls, their children and families pulled from their lives on a day’s notice. The violation and betrayal, being made to feel unwelcome, their citizenship, their personal identity, denied.

The more I learn about the individuals and the families and communities torn apart, the more unthinkable it becomes. And the more I learn about the strength, resilience and continued love of nation and university, of the Nisei and their families, the more in awe I am.

As you all know, universities, including USC, participated actively in this shocking injustice. Nisei students in the west were expelled from their universities and many forced immediately into the camps.

Yet in spite of it all, they and their descendants and their descendants’ descendants – many of whom are with us here tonight – are shining examples of hope and perseverance.

Many resumed their studies after the Executive Order was rescinded and the war ended.

Unlike most universities, USC under then-President von KleinSmid, denied more than 100 Nisei students from USC access to their transcripts, and blocked them from graduating or even transferring their credits to other schools.

This betrayal was made even more painful and incomprehensible by the fact that USC already had a long and storied history of diversity and contributions by its APAA students and alumni on campus and in their communities.  

Presidential Executive Order 9066 was formally rescinded, and apologies issued by President Ford 34 years later in 1976.

But it was still another 36 years, in 2012, when USC degrees were given to the 12 remaining living Nisei students.

As important as this gesture was, it was not enough – there was more to do.

I first learned of this painful history in October 2021, when it was brought to my attention by John Kaji, who had been trying valiantly to change this for years.

And I then learned that many people – many of you here today – had been trying to make this change for a long time, and all but given up on its ever happening.

Please know, it was my great privilege to be able to be in the position to make a simple exception to a university policy in order to allow Nisei students — more than 100 – to receive their degrees posthumously.

My simple act, doing the right thing, is just a tiny pebble in the beautiful rolling river of this story, but it is an important moment in my life, binding me to all of you, for which I will ever be grateful.

And so here we are tonight – bringing some closure, perhaps healing – more than 80 years after this injustice began.

And even tonight tells a story of hope and perseverance. It took an extensive search and outreach effort led by the staff of the APAA, with help of our alumni, the registrar, old yearbooks, social media and more to find the families of so many of our Nisei generation Trojans. 

We even located one former student, Frank Chuman, age 105, still living in Thailand. Frank was a member of the Japanese Trojan Club and while Frank can’t be with us tonight, in February, with the help of his family, I was able to confer his degree by video.

Despite racism and discrimination, Nisei across America kept alive their fervent belief in the guiding principles of this country – in liberty and justice for all.

Shortly you will hear from the families of some of these remarkable people. I can’t express how grateful we are for your gift of sharing these precious stories with us.

Our promise in receiving these gifts is that we will remember these stories – our Nisei community is owed justice and recognition, and memory serves as a steadfast guard against injustice repeated.

As the writer Lois McMaster Bujold tells us, “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them.”  

When I look around this room – I see talent, history, achievement, and passion for life – and I see a community thriving at the heart of our Trojan Family. It makes me humbled, inspired, and hopeful for our future.

To all those who have been advocating for this moment and for making amends – your cry for justice led to action and will have a lasting impact for generations to come.

And it will live on, for all to contemplate, in the new USC Nisei Rock Garden, tucked into a gorgeous grove right next to the University Club, that we dedicated this morning.

And now, Provost Zukoski, Trustee Rod Nakamoto, and I, with gratitude and admiration, will confer posthumous USC degrees on our Nisei Trojans.

These degrees will be accepted by their family members. Next month, at USC’s 2022 Commencement, I will recognize and salute these degree recipients before the entire University community.

Provost Zukoski, Trustee Nakamoto, please step forward and join me for the conferral of degrees.

[Provost Zukoski’s remarks]

Good evening, everyone.

This is a humbling and moving moment for all of us, and an honor to gather with the families of our Nisei students who did not get the opportunity to complete their USC educations.

It is now my privilege to formally present these students as candidates for degrees.

In a moment, Trustee Nakamoto and I will read the names of each Nisei student receiving their USC degree tonight, as well as the names of the loved ones accepting on their behalf. I would ask these family members please make their way to the stage as their names are announced.

We’ll start with…

  • Ryuichi Fujii
    • Accepting the degree are Lynn Miyamoto and Grant Miyamoto
  • John Masao Fujioka
    • Accepting the degree are Robert Fujioka and Caroline Fujioka
  • Floyd Kaoru Fujiu
    • Accepting the degree are Lauren Fujiu and Ron Fujiu
  • Kiyoshi Fujiwara
    • Accepting the degree are Lloyd Fujiwara and Calvin Fujiwara
  • Harry Fukayama
    • Accepting the degree are Gayle Fukayama Rowe and Joan Fukayama Cistone
  • Toshio Furukawa
    • Accepting the degree are Meg Furukawa and Ann Rees
  • George John Furutani
    • Accepting the degree are Jan Furutani and Stephen Polechronis
  • Toru Thomas Haga
    • Accepting the degree are Randy Haga and Ryan Haga
  • Kameko Hatanaka
    • Accepting the degree are Herb Hatanaka and Gail Ogawa
  • Kei Hori
    • Accepting the degree are Patricia Velasco and Susan Miyagi
  • Victor Nobuyuki Ito
    • Accepting the degree are Susan Ito and Julie Ito
  • Shigeru Kanemaki
    • Accepting the degree are James Kanemaki and Stewart Kanemaki
  • Sidney Isao Kashiwabara
    • Accepting the degree are Ross Kashiwabara and Grant Kashiwabara
  • Wayne Masato Kato
    • Accepting the degree are Winfield Kato and Deanne Kato
  • Nelson Yuji Kitsuse
    • Accepting the degree are Alan Kitsuse and Mari Kitsuse
  • Henry Kondo
    • Accepting the degree are Debbie Fagen and Annabelle Kondo
  • Alice Yemiko Kurata
    • Accepting the degree are Douglas Nakajima and Mary Nakajima
  • Raymond Kaname Nimura
    • Accepting the degree are Alison Nimura and Clarissa Steinbeck
  • Fred Fukui Nishi
    • Accepting the degree are Marian Nishi and Martin Nishi
  • Tadashi Ochiai
    • Accepting the degree are Kent Ochiai and Ruth Kawakami
  • Jiro Oishi
    • Accepting the degree are Joanne Kumamoto and Kim Oishi
  • Masao Oki
    • Accepting the degree are Brian Oki and Lisa Noriye Oki
  • Kenneth Shoichi Ozaki
    • Accepting the degree are Terri Gedo and Ian Nash
  • James Shigeo Sasaki
    • Accepting the degree are Lisa Sodetani and Lauren Sodetani-Yoshida
  • Midori Sato
    • Accepting the degree are Lani Nichols and Patricia Nichols
  • Kunihiko Seki
    • Accepting the degree are Elanor Sakamoto and Kathy Sakamoto
  • Tomio Sugano
    • Accepting the degree are Douglas Sugano and Linda Sugano
  • Francis Sueo Sugiyama
    • Accepting the degree are Albrecht Classen and Carolyn Sugiyama Classen
  • Ichiro Takahashi
    • Accepting the degree are Louise Takahashi and Patrick Takahashi
  • George Tanbara
    • Accepting the degree are George Alexander and Diane Taniguchi
  • Roy Hideo Yamamoto
    • Accepting the degree are Allan Yamamoto and Audrey Yamamoto
  • Yoneo Yamamoto
    • Accepting the degree are Brent Yamamoto and Kara Yamamoto
  • Isami Sam Yamashita
    • Accepting the degree are Cheryl Yamashita and Dennis-Duke Yamashita

We thank all the Nisei families — including those who could not be with us tonight — for helping us honor their loved ones.

The Nisei students whose educations were disrupted during World War II are exemplars of resilience and courage. By exhibiting exceptional perseverance, these extraordinary individuals touched countless lives through their many academic, professional, and creative achievements. We warmly salute them and their families.

President Folt, I’m honored to present our candidates for posthumous USC degrees. They are recommended for their respective degrees by the faculty of their schools.

[President Folt returns for remarks.]

Thank you, Provost Zukoski.

By the authority vested in me by the USC Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon each of these candidates the degree or certificate for which they have been recommended by the faculty, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities appertaining thereto.

As evidence of these degrees and certificates, an appropriate diploma of the University of Southern California has been presented to their families – signed by USC’s officers and embossed with the university seal.

On behalf of our entire community, I’m truly delighted to salute our new Nisei alumni!