Chancellor Block speaks at a basketball banquet; Chancellor Block, in academic attire, speaks at Commencement; Chancellor Block gestures with his hands

Japanese Students Honorary Degree Ceremony

Thank you, Tritia [Toyota] and good morning, especially to our soon-to-be graduates.

On behalf of the Academic Senate faculty, students and staff from 1941 until the present, it is my great honor to welcome our degree recipients, their families and guests to the ceremony today.

We are pleased to have with us Japanese Consul General Junichi Ihara; UC Regent and UCLA alumna Yolanda Nunn Gorman; and UCLA chancellor emeritus Albert Carnesale. Welcome.

We are joined together today as a community to make amends to a group of UCLA Nisei students who walked this campus almost 70 years ago.

In 1942, at the outset of World War II, the U.S. government forced UCLA Nisei students—young promising students—into mandatory internment camps, disrupting lives and education and uprooting entire families.

“Only what you could carry.” That directive of five short words was conveyed to over 120,000 members of the Japanese-American community, who were given less than seven days to prepare for relocation to forced internment camps.

“Only what you could carry.” We can only imagine what this phrase must have meant for you as students. You, who had more of live ahead of you then behind you, stood firm in your resolve and never lost sight of your humanity.

“Only what you could carry.” Almost seven decades later, we have glimpsed what you have carried. We now know you carried determination. You carried dignity. You carried with you the hopes and dreams of an entire community that said with a powerful voice: I am an American. And you carried with you the best wishes of friends and others who witnessed and spoke out against the social injustice that you endured.

This morning, we will confer an honorary degree on our UCLA students whose education was interrupted due to Executive Order 9066—an honorary degree for each of you. Yet all of us have come to recognize that it is you who have bestowed an honor upon us. Each of you has uplifted us by your grace and by the lives that you’ve led.

We know that there are remarkable stories represented by each of the honorees today, as well as by those who are only with us in spirit. Some of our students never returned home, including three UCLA students interned together in Heart Mountain, who served in a Bruin band of brothers in the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Head yell leader Hitoshi—Moe as he was known—Yonemura, class of 1942, was killed in Italy in April of 1945. Kei Tanahashi, UCLA class of 1939 and Yoshiharu Aoyama, class of 1942, were both killed in Italy in July of 1944. The 442nd motto, “Go for broke,” was truly emblematic of their unit. They were the liberators of Dachau and they are recognized as the most highly decorated unit in U.S. Army history.

Others went on to earn degrees elsewhere. Bob Naka, who will speak today, had completed three quarters of his sophomore year when he was removed from campus. He earned his electrical engineering degree at the University of Missouri in 1945 and went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and then a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Throughout an illustrious career, he designed aircraft and detection devices especially equipped to protect the security of our nation and served as deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office in Washington, D.C.

Another interned UCLA student, Naoyuki Takasugi, who passed away last November and is represented here today by his son Ron, went on to receive degrees from Temple University and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He later served as a California state assemblyman and mayor of the city of Oxnard. 

The students we honor here today may have had their education interrupted, but they did not allow their lives to be interrupted. They all went on to live extraordinary lives of purpose and meaning.

We in the academy pay special tribute to all that you have accomplished beyond UCLA. Your families, grandchildren, friends and your UCLA family cherish each of you. You have taught us important life lessons and we are still learning them. You have shown us that although some decisions may be beyond our control, we must persevere.

Perhaps the greatest gift you have given our campus and our community is the opportunity for redemption presented to us by today’s ceremony. On this day it is all of us who thank the legacy that you have given us. It is a true testament of courage and dignity for which we will forever be grateful.

Thank you.