After 80 long years, 40 Japanese Americans who were denied their chance to graduate high school during World War II finally got their diplomas.
In 1942, Japanese American students in California were forced to drop out of school as they joined their families inside the concentration camps set up for all people of Japanese descent.
At Mt. Diablo High School, the only high school in Concord, California, at the time, 40 graduating students were robbed of their opportunity to receive their diplomas.
When the current students from the history and ethnic studies class in Mt. Diablo High School learned about this unfortunate history, they went out of their way to correct it.
For two years, the students wrote letters to the school district and made speeches to educate others on the plight of the former students — most of whom are no longer alive.
According to their teacher Laura Valdez, the students “flooded” the district officials’ emails.
A daily dose of Asian America's essential stories, in under 5 minutes.
Get our collection of Asian America's most essential stories to your inbox daily for free.
Unsure? Check out our Newsletter Archive.
“They said there wasn’t a day that went by that they didn’t get another email at the top of their email list,” she was quoted as saying.
On May 24, the formerly interned students joined Mt. Diablo High School’s Class of 2022 as honorary members and were ceremoniously granted their diplomas. ‘Kimi Tahira Dowell, who graduated Mt. Diabo in 1958, read the names of the individual Japanese graduates during the ceremony. “It’s just a small gesture really. We understand this is 80 years too late but we just wanted to tell them they matter to us and they’re part of our community,” Valdez said.
Among them was Tatsuki “Tats” Kanada, a former Mt. Diablo football player who went on to fight in World War II along with his three brothers. Kanada died in 2007.
Kanada’s niece Karen Leong and nephew Gordon Kanada received the diploma on his behalf during the ceremony at the Concord Pavilion.
“If he was still alive today he’d be humbled and overjoyed,” said Kanada.
“They were faithful to the country; that’s why they served in the war to prove their worth as an American,” said Leong. “I just wish he was here to get it himself.”