Tsawwassen’s Mary Kitagawa is a recipient of an honorary degree from the University of British Columbia.
Kitagawa raised awareness of the injustices suffered by Japanese-Canadian students during the Second World War.
A tireless social justice and anti-racism leader and activist, her work was perhaps best highlighted in 2008 when she initiated a process at UBC to retroactively grant university degrees to 76 Japanese Canadian students who had not been able to complete their education due to forced removal and incarceration in 1942, ultimately leading to the conferral of honorary undergraduate degrees in 2012.
She said she was surprised, yet honoured when she learned the news.
“It was like every other award I have been given – really surprised,” she said. “My husband and I don’t do anything for accolades or awards. We do it because it is the right thing to do.”
Her grandson Joshua is a graduate this year from UBC. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she was slated to walk across the convocation stage with Josh.
“It’s too bad because that would have been really nice,” she said. “There is still looking into how this will be done. It might be later in the year or maybe next year.”
According to the UBC website, the Vancouver Senate Tributes Committee and the Okanagan Senate Learning and Research Committee attempt, through their respective recommendations of nominees, to reflect the cultural diversity of Canada and the international character and diversity of the University itself.
Honorary degrees are intended to recognize individuals who have made substantial contributions to society at the provincial, national and/or international levels, such as:
· Leading academics in all disciplines and creative minds in arts and performance
· Public intellectuals and opinion makers
· Visionary leaders and exemplary public figures
· Community builders and philanthropists.
Honorary degrees are conferred honoris causa, "for the sake of honour," and are awarded as one of three types: Doctor of Laws, honoris causa; Doctor of Letters, honoris causa; and Doctor of Science, honoris causa.