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After 70-year wait, Japanese Americans to get USC degrees

March 16, 2012 |  8:01 am

Usc will give Japanese Americans honorary diplomas
Seventy years later, a group of former USC students who were unexpectedly yanked from their classrooms will finally get their USC degrees.

For the first time in its history, USC will award honorary bachelor's and master's degrees to the Japanese Americans who were swept up during World War II and sent to internment camps in 1942 in the middle of their college careers.

But unlike most honorary degrees handed out to celebrities, scholars and other bigwigs, Scott Mory of the USC Alumni Assn. said, the nisei students' diplomas will be "more the awarding of a degree than the awarding of an honorific."

"For no fault of their own, and to some extent out of the worst prejudice, these students were not allowed to complete the degrees," Mory said. "We're going to correct that."

The university first honored nisei -- the second generation of Japanese immigrants -– in 2008 when it granted honorary alumni status to the students at its annual Asian Pacific Alumni Assn. gala. That year, the university also launched an honorary nisei scholarship. But to some, that wasn’t enough.

Mory said that after school officials got a chance to shake hands with the nisei students four years ago, serious talks about awarding degrees began. USC is one of a number of universities that have begun recognizing Japanese Americans who were not allowed to complete degrees because of the internment.

Though USC boasts more than 300,000 alumni worldwide, Mory thinks there may be fewer than 100 nisei alumni still living. Officials are expecting a group of only about 25 to 30 nisei to come to commencement in May. But he said the school wants to make sure it does right by all members of the “Trojan family.”

“They are receiving a degree we believe they would have completed,” he said. “Now they can say they are degreed alumni, but they have always been Trojans.”

Nisei students and their families can register for an honorary degree and an invitation to commencement at www.usc.edu/commencement.


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Photo: USC will give honorary degrees to Japanese Americans who were forced to drop out of college during their forced internment during World War II. A similar ceremony, pictured above, was held at Compton Community College in 2010. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times