Celebrating AAPI Heritage

40 Japanese American High School Students to Get Diploma After 80 Years

NBC Universal, Inc.

Mt. Diablo High School's Class of 2022 will be a little larger than planned as 40 Japanese American students, who were denied their diploma eight decades ago, will be honored along with this year's graduates.

“Having to be pulled away from high school and pack up everything into suitcases … and be hauled into a camp,” said Karen Leong, describing what her uncle Tatasuki Kanada endured at just 17 years old, ripped from Mt. Diablo High School and sent to an internment camp with his family during World War II.

“I was shocked knowing that people who actually attended my school had to go through something so bad,” said student Stephanie Patino. “It was just shocking.”

When the school’s ethnic studies students learned the Japanese American students never got their diplomas, they set out to change that.

“Innocent students that go here that wanted an education were stripped away from their education and sent to these camps,” said student Brandon Dominguez.

It took the students two years, writing letters and making speeches and in March, they learned their efforts paid off. Those diplomas will be issued in the names of each of the 40 students.

“I think it’s important because it gives them a chance to experience something they didn’t experience before,” said student James Hutalla.

“It’s just a small gesture really. We understand this is 80 years too late but we just wanted to tell them they matter to us and they’re part of our community,” said Ethnic Studies teacher Laura Valdez. 

Kanada’s niece and nephew will accept the diploma on their uncle’s behalf. The army veteran died in 2007.

“If he was still alive today he’d be humbled and overjoyed,” said Leong.

He and his three brothers all fought in World War II. One of them died in combat earning the Purple Heart.

“They were faithful to the country that’s why they served in the war to prove their worth as an American,” said Leong.

They say they’re grateful to kids who fought to right a wrong, getting Kanada’s diploma means everything to their family.

“I just wish he was here to get it himself,” said Leong.

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