May 31, 2013 at 2:54 am

At the spring convocation of UBC, 76 Japanese Canadian Students Class of ‘42 received honorary degrees at a special ceremony. Of these, 61 were students whose university days were cut short by WWII and the enactment of the War Measures Act, followed by their expulsion from the west coast of British Columbia. Of the remaining students, 15 completed their studies and obtained their degrees in spite of the hardships they endured and were re-conferred at the same ceremony. The “students” are now in their 80s and 90s.

Among the students who completed their studies were Akira Namba, 92, of Pickering, and Fred Sasaki, 94, who resides in Toronto. Unfortunately, they were not able to attend the honorary degree ceremony and celebrations at UBC. A request from Fred to receive his BCom hood helped spur the presentation in Toronto almost a year later when Dean Robert Helsley, Sauder School of Business, UBC, requested that during his April trip to Toronto he wanted to deliver the graduation hoods and letters to Aki and Fred in a re-conferral ceremony.

On April 16, 2013, the Dean arrived at the Seniors Lounge at Momiji where Aki and Fred’s families and invited guests had gathered. Addie Kobayashi welcomed the guests and introduced Birgitte Robertson, Executive Director of Momiji, and Ken Noma, president of the Greater Toronto Chapter NAJC and national president, who brought greetings and congratulations to Aki and Fred on their achievements.

Dr. Helsley spoke about the unjust treatment of Japanese Canadians and said the courage and perseverance the students had shown in overcoming their hardships had inspired him to personally present Aki and Fred with their hoods. He continued by quoting from the President’s remarks made at the ceremony on May 30, 2012.

“I want to honour all of these students, by acknowledging UBC’s part in this dark episode. At the time, too few in our community stood up in your defense. And this is what makes those who did, stand out all the more. Henry Angus, and E.H. Morrow were among those who spoke up, and provided support to students.

Seventy years later, these Japanese Canadian students of 1942 gained a new advocate: Mary Kitagawa. We hope the actions we are taking – to learn from our mistakes by preserving the historical record, and to develop educational initiatives for future students – provides an enduring, meaningful response.”

Dean Helsley continued: Mr. Namba and Mr. Sasaki, on behalf of The University of British Columbia and the Sauder School of Business I am honoured to be here today to present you both with a BCom hood, with our congratulations on your academic achievements despite the challenges and injustices you and your fellow students had to endure in 1942.

The hoods were then presented and placed over their shoulders by the Dean.

The occasion concluded with a dinner hosted by Fred Sasaki, in Zero Sun Restaurant in Momiji. The occasion was sponsored by the Greater Toronto Chapter NAJC.