UCSF Japanese students to be honored

December 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A well-deserved and long-delayed honor will come on Friday at UCSF. When Americans of Japanese ancestry were sent to internment camps in World War II, some of them had their academic careers interrupted. UCSF is giving honorary degrees to students forced to cut short their education 67 years ago.

Edith Oto was born in Napa in 1919. In 1942, she was a nursing student at UCSF with a year and a half to go, when she and her family were sent to the Amache Internment Camp in Colorado.

Friday is Edith's 90th birthday. One of her gifts will be an honorary degree from the UCSF School of Nursing.

"I'm surprised, really, that they're even working on this," said Edith.

Edith is one of 68 Japanese-American students forced to leave UCSF's schools of nursing, pharmacy, dentistry and medicine in 1942.

The university is bestowing honorary degrees on all of them, but only eight are still living. Four will receive their degrees in a ceremony on Friday.

"It was the right thing to do. These students deserve to be acknowledged as graduates and it's long overdue," said UCSF vice provost Joe Castro.

There is a new state law requiring colleges and universities to do the same, but UC had its plan in place before then.

"I view this as something that needed to happen," said Castro.

Edith didn't let the setback derail her dreams. Even without her degree, she was the Amache camp nurse.

"Since they didn't have any nurses, they worked your butt off. I'm not kidding you," said Edith.

And because of a wartime nursing shortage, she was recruited by the University Of Colorado to attend its nursing program. She left camp to study there.

Carrie Oto says her mom never looks back, but knows how much the UCSF degree will mean to her.

"She was very proud to be at UC, very proud," said Carrie. "Yeah, we're going to frame it and it's going to be a beautiful frame. I'm thinking, I'm just so happy."

UC was not able to locate 13 of the 68 students or their families.


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