Hawaii Kai Man Receives Special Graduation Diploma

Frank Tanabe
Frank Tanabe

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON (KHNL) -- There was a special graduation ceremony in Seattle Sunday. A Hawaii man received his diploma from the University of Washington, more than 60 years after he enrolled in school!

These are the students of 1941, but class of 2008. Excitement filled the air and cameras captured every moment as these students got their college degree. Frank Tanabe was one of the honorees. "I'm honored and grateful to all the people, especially university officials."

They were at the University of Washington in 1941, but were forced to leave their studies after the war broke out and the government incarcerated 120,000 West Coast Japanese-Americans. The university is giving out 450 honorary degrees. Sixty-five of those students were here to pick them up.

Eighty-year-old Frank Tanabe flew from his home in Hawaii Kai for this event. He was a college senior in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. "We didn't know what was going on, what would happen to us, and there were rumors we'd be round up and put away."

Tanabe hid at the Japanese Club for six months, until he was sent to an internment camp. That, he says, was one of the hardest times of his life.

"I felt we were more American than Japanese. We supported everything the government did, including our evacuation."

Daughter Irene Tanabe, a Seattle resident, explains what her father won't say. "It's like something was the matter with us and that's why we were mistreated. That's where the sense of shame comes from." Frank's other daughter, Barbara Tanabe, is a Hawaii resident and former Hawaii newscaster.

Frank has put it behind him now, and accepts the degree as an apology. "It's also a tribute to my parents who sacrificed their dreams so all their children can enter mainstream America with a college degree. If they were alive today, they'd be overjoyed." A long road, to a well deserved honor.

Tanabe says he'll hang the diploma on his wall along with his childrens' and grandchildrens' UW degrees. That's three generations of Huskies!

Former KHNL reporter Julie Ogata worked for the university to publicize and help organize the event. We also found a Kona couple, Elaine and Phil Fukushima, who flew in from Hawaii Island to watch as Phil's dad, Toshiyuki Fukushima, received his degree. He was a sophomore when the war broke out.

Transportation and services provided by Hawaiian Airlines. The airlines also donated lei for the post graduation party.