OCEANSIDE — Few graduates face the tremendous challenges that MiraCosta College students Yukiko Nakamura Sugiyama, Johnny Yoshimura and Audrey Fujita Mizokami endured. Their studies were interrupted when they were forced into Japanese internment camps shortly after the start of World War II.
Thanks to the Nisei Diploma Project and Assembly Bill 37 signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009, MiraCosta College received support to actively seek out former students and bestow upon them their well-deserved diplomas.
“Japanese Americans defended their country while their families were held in internment camps,” speaker George Furuya Jr., president of the Vista Buddhist
Temple and a third-generation Japanese American, said. “They never complained, they were productive, patriotic Americans.”
Sugiyama, accompanied by her granddaughter Tisha Melville, was present to shake the hand of college President Francisco Rodriguez, accept her degree, and turn her tassel at the MiraCosta College graduation ceremony May 28. Four generations of her family watched her graduate.
Sugiyama was in her second year of study at MiraCosta College, then known as Oceanside Carlsbad Junior College, and close to graduation when she and her family were relocated to the Poston Camp in Arizona in 1942. Before withdrawing from school, the dean of students told Sugiyama to get course work from her professors, mail back her assignments, and complete her degree. In camp, Sugiyama finished her degree and ranked second in her class off 33 graduates.
Sugiyama and her family stayed in the internment camp for four years. “We were the first to go and last to leave,” Sugiyama said.
Once released, they had no money or resources, everything had been taken from them. Sugiyama said Japanese Americans felt understandable resentment.
“My degree didn’t do much good,” Sugiyama said. “We couldn’t find a job, no one would hire us.”
“They did the best they could to hold their heads up,” Judith Nakano, daughter of Yukiko Nakamura Sugiyama, said. “They are Americans in every sense of the word.”
Sugiyama’s husband served in the military while she was interned. They eventually saved money, bought a home and raised a family.
Sandy Gilbert, the daughter of the late Yoshimura, and Robin McNamara, the daughter of Mizokami, were present to accept the honorary degrees for their parents at the graduation ceremony.
Yoshimura stopped his education and served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, while his parents and other family members were interned at the Poston Internment Camp in Arizona.
Mizokami attended MiraCosta from 1939 to 1941. Before she had a chance to complete her studies, she and her family were sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center, then Poston Camp in Arizona, and later the Granada Camp in Colorado.