A local woman recently saw four years of hard work and perseverance come to fruition as the University of B.C. honoured Japanese-Canadian students interned during the Second World War.
In 1942, the students were forced to leave the university before receiving their degrees. Along with many others, they were forced to leave the B.C. coast following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In the spring of 2008, sawwassen's Mary Kitagawa embarked on her crusade to see these students receive their degrees. She said she was inspired to action by accident one day after watching a similar convocation ceremony at the University of Washington.
"I was quite taken by what was happening there because all these grads were quite elderly," she said.
Kitagawa started doing some research and discovered other U.S. universities were holding similar ceremonies and she decided to contact UBC to see if anything was planned for any of its students that were forced to leave during the internment.
After initially meeting some resistance, the uni-
versity last year agreed to hold a ceremony honouring the students and granting them special degrees. Kitagawa said she thought she had achieved her goal and her job was over - she was wrong and the real work was just beginning.
A planning committee was established and asked to locate the students that qualified to be part of the ceremony.
"It was a daunting task," she said.
Kitagawa and her husband, Tosh, found a list of more than 100 potential students. With the help of an assistant registrar at the university, the couple went through the list tracking down the former students to see if they were eligible.
They spent up to six hours a day, usually starting at 6 a.m., tracking down and contacting the students.
"You had to eliminate one name after another," she said.
In the end, they came up with a list of 74 students that qualified, however, only 23 were still alive. Of those, only nine were able to travel to the university in person to receive their degrees. Many family members attended the ceremony for those too frail or who had passed away.
Kitagawa said the first reaction from many of the former students was "utter sheer joy."
"I was told that they thought that this would never, never happen in their lifetime."
Kitagawa and her husband met many of the students at the airport as they arrived in the days before the ceremony.
"The joyful faces of each of these students was just something to behold."
And on May 30, the university helped right the wrong perpetrated against these and many more Japanese-Canadians more than 70 years ago.
"I think it's been a wonderful conclusion," Kitagawa said.
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