The initial effort by California State University, Fresno’s to invite Japanese-American alumni from 1941 and ’42 to receive honorary degrees May 20 at a special commencement and luncheon, has connected with about one-third of the former students or their families.
Fresno State is participating in the California State University’s Nisei Diploma Project, which awards honorary degrees to Japanese-Americans whose college education was disrupted by the executive order in 1942 that sent thousands to internment camps.
Fresno State was the first university in the 23-campus CSU to award one of the degrees, honoring John Hiroshi Otomo of Selma in a Christmas Eve ceremony at Selma City Hall.
“We’re very pleased by the early response,” said Dr. Paul Oliaro, Fresno State’s vice president for Student Affairs and director of the university’s Nisei Project. “Of the 87 people on our original list, about 20 recipients or their families have indicated they want to join us on May 20.”
Oliaro added, “We are not stopping our search, though. We want the public to know that we still need everyone’s help finding current contact information for all of the people we have identified as eligible for these special degrees. And we hope ”
Because the students were on campus nearly 70 years ago, Fresno State enlisted help from the general public and Japanese-American community organizations to provide up-to-date contact information in the search for eligible alumni.
Oliaro said publicity about the project has brought in a few additional names of people who may qualify for the degrees at Fresno State. Under the Nisei Diploma, authorized by CSU trustees in fall 2009, degrees will be awarded in spring ceremonies at several CSU campuses, allowing recipients to go to a commencement nearest their residence.
Although most alumni or their families are eager to receive the honorary degrees, Oliaro said, some do not wish to participate or cannot do so. “We don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable through this process,” he said. “However, we are committed to recognize the sacrifices these American citizens made.”
Oliaro also said that if future ceremonies are necessary, they will be organized. “What we want to emphasize with the public is that this is our first effort,” he said. “Ideally we would be able to contact all of those alumni eligible, but we recognize our time is short and we likely won’t be able to do so, but this isn’t necessarily the only commencement our campus will host.”
Anyone can help the university contact alumni or their family for the Nisei Diploma Project is invited to contact Oliaro by calling 559.278.2541 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the online application form.