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When members of the class of 1942 at the...

By
DION NISSENBAUM

BERKELEY, Calif. -- When members of the class of 1942 at the University of California, Berkeley, donned caps and gowns and celebrated their graduation that spring, they did so without their valedictorian, Harvey Itano.

Itano, like hundreds of other Japanese American students at the university, was unable to attend the graduation because he had been forced into an internment camp during World War II.

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Itano and more than 110,000 other first- and second-generation Japanese were held in the camps after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942. The order authorized the establishment of military areas to prevent sabotage and espionage.

Instead of accepting his diploma and the gold medal awarded to the university valedictorian at a posh ceremony with friends, Itano received the items while held at a drab detention center in Sacramento with his family.

Now, 50 years after missing the crowning event of his educational career, Itano is returning to Berkeley to participate in an honorary ceremony next Tuesday to honor the Japanese Americans from the class of '42 who missed their graduation.

Sporting the black caps and gowns they were unable to don in 1942, the Japanese Americans will lead the procession at the university's annual convocation held to welcome new students.

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'Our graduation was something we all looked forward to,' said Chizu Iiyama, another member of the class who plans to attend the event. 'We were quite disappointed to miss the ceremony.'

While the wartime order prevented Iiyama and Itano from completing their education on campus, administrators and faculty at UC-Berkeley took steps to help many of the Japanese American students.

UC Berkeley Provost Monroe Deutsch encouraged students to remain on campus as long as possible, helped students transfer to colleges outside the West Coast evacuation zone and allowed professors leeway to work out alternatives for completing courses, such as giving exams early.

Gene Kono, a member of the class of '42 who organized next week's event, said one professor allowed him to substitute a highly technical laboratory report with a personal dissertation on conditions of his internment camp in a Fresno fairgrounds, where internees crowded into narrow, poorly built barracks.

Credit for that report allowed Kono to receive his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering that spring.

'It was quite extraordinary,' Kono said. 'The university administration didn't have to do this.'

Valedictorian Itano said he is returning to Berkeley, in part, 'to acknowledge the assistance and help of the faculty' who helped him on his way to a successful career with the National Institutes of Health.

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Even though students like Itano, Iiyama and Kono were able to complete their studies, other Japanese Americans from that class were forced by current events and the relocation order to leave Berkeley without obtaining their degrees. The ceremony will honor all of the approximately 100 Japanese Americans from the class forced into internment camps. Kono said he had sent invitations and hoped that a quarter of the former students would participate in the event.

Kono originally had wanted the class to participate in a graduation ceremony, but UC-Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien and other administrators informed Kono that there was no longer one large university graduation. Instead, the university suggested using the convocation to honor the students.

Typically, all members of the 50-year class lead the convocation procession, but this year only the Japanese American students from the class will head the ceremonial walk in their caps and gowns.

Iiyama, who went on to teach early childhood education at Contra Costa College, said she wants the event to be more than a recognition of the Japanese American alumni.

'It is a time for us to be reflective,' Iiyama said. 'People should know what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II and, by letting people know, we want to make sure it never happens again.'

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