Former Students Receive Honorary Degrees

June Junko Kushino receives her honorary degree from SDSU President Stephen L. Weber, Ph.D. during the May 17 Nisei Honorary Degree Ceremony at the Aztec Athletic Center Auditorium.
For the first time in almost seven decades, Carl Yoshimine was back on campus at San Diego State.  The 86-year-old Anaheim resident was one of 21 former students who received bachelor's degrees from SDSU at the May 17 Nisei Honorary Degree Ceremony in the Aztec Athletic Center Auditorium.

Yoshimine and 89-year-old June Junko Kushino, who also accepted degrees on behalf of two cousins, were the only former students present at the ceremony.   Family members also represented other degree recipients unable to attend or who received their degrees posthumously.

“Receiving my degree was wonderful because I could hardly wait to put my tassel over my head,” Yoshimine said. “That was the climax of it all because it was complete in the sense that this part of my life represents a new beginning.”


Carl Yoshimine receives his honorary degree from SDSU President Stephen L. Weber during the May 17 Nisei Honorary Degree Ceremony at the Aztec Athletic Center Auditorium.
For Yoshimine and the others, the degree ceremony brought full circle a regrettable episode that interrupted not only their educations, but their lives in the spring of 1942.  That’s when an estimated 43 San Diego State students were forced from campus by Executive Order 9066.  The presidential decree authorized the U. S. military to relocate Japanese Americans, among others, from along the Pacific coast to inland internment camps.  Entire families were uprooted.  It was a response to the attack on Pearl Harbor that had launched the United States into World War II. 

 Many of the students, like Yoshimine, eventually went on to finish their studies and earn degrees from other institutions.  Others, however, never completed their educations.

So the honorary degrees represent a “present righting of a past wrong" according to California State University’s vice chancellor for university relations and advancement, Garrett Ashley, who spoke at the ceremony.  The CSU’s effort had been prompted by a recent bill passed in the state legislature paving the way for the degrees’ bestowals.  

Honorary degree recipients Carl Yoshimine and June Junko Kushino display their diplomas and pose for photos with SDSU administrators.
Keynote speaker for the ceremony, Bob Suzuki, is a former president of California State Polytechnic University and himself a former internee.  He called for educating Americans on “not taking democracy for granted” and encouraging “taking responsibility and having a stake in preserving American freedoms and liberties for all groups in society regardless of race, religion and nationality.”

In his remarks to the more than 200 gathered in the audience, SDSU President Stephen L. Weber praised the degree awardees for “their determination and courage. Each overcame significant challenges to lead exemplary and inspiring lives,” he said.


After he was relocated, Yoshimine went on to become a pastor in the Pacific Coast Free Methodist Conference where he preached on Sundays for 43 years to congregations throughout California.  He married and had three sons, two of whom attended the ceremony along with Yoshimine’s wife, Miko.  The family had no time for a campus tour during their visit, but from what little he saw, Yoshimine was able to observe many changes that had occurred since his days on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.

Carl Yoshimine with family members and friends at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center May 17. 
“My son was driving us up College Avenue and when we approached the campus I couldn’t believe the largeness of the buildings,” he recounted. “I said, ‘Wow, is this San Diego State?!’  It just blew me over.”

At the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center where a pre-ceremony luncheon was held for the honorees and their guests, Yoshimine was ushered to a corner of the foyer from where the top of Hardy Tower can be seen.  He was able to glimpse the campus landmark across the rooftops of buildings he had never even imagined.

“I can see it,” he exclaimed. “That’s wonderful.  It brings back real good memories.”


Also conjuring campus memories more than half a century gone was Bilin Tsai.  Her recently-deceased mother, Ryo Morikawa Tsai, was one of the honorary degree recipients.  Her sister, BiHoa Caldwell, and their brother, Peter Tsai, had traveled with other family members from as far away as Seattle and Minnesota to accept their mother’s degree.

Posing with duplicates of Ryo Morikawa Tsai's honorary degree are family members (l-r) Joyce Tsai, Peter Tsai, Melyssa Tsai, Whitney Tsai, BiHoa Caldwell and Bilin Tsai.
“I was trying to think of my mom when she was 20 – 21 years old and trying to picture her classmates at that time and then the reason they all had to leave,” Bilin Tsai said. “It was very emotional and we’re very grateful to participate.”

“It was a very moving occasion,” Caldwell concurred. “Our mother was very much a proponent of social justice, so I think she would have been very pleased with the ceremony conferring the degrees.”

Each of the siblings received a commemorative diploma with an additional one for another sister who was unable to make the trip. 

“I’m not exactly sure what we’ll do with it, but I’m sure we’ll save it,” Peter Tsai said. “I think it was a real nice tribute to my mom and the kind of things she had to go through, so we really appreciated the university doing this.”

Carl Yoshimine, on the other hand, knew exactly what he would do with his SDSU diploma.

“I’ll frame it and hang it up in my study,” he said. “It will always be a constant reminder and I’ll look at it every day.”