Hawaii Kai Grandfather Hopes To Earn College Degree

Frank Tanabe
Frank Tanabe
Irene Tanabe
Irene Tanabe

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON (KHNL) -- A Hawaii Kai man may be close to getting his college degree this summer- 70 years after he started this quest! The University of Washington awarded him an honorary degree on May 18. But he believes he's earned the real thing.

After 88 year old Frank Tanabe received his honorary degree from University of Washington regents, I asked him, "You're a college graduate. What are you going to do now?" Laughing at me, he replied, "Nothing."

UW gave honorary degrees to 450 Japanese Americans whose studies were interrupted in 1941 by the war, when they were incarcerated in internment camps. Tanabe accepts the degree as an apology. "It does attempt to right a mistake the government made in World War II," conceded Tanabe. In 1941, Tanabe was just one semester away from graduation.

Daughter Irene explained what happened to her father after he was incarcerated. "After the evacuation, my father served in the military in India, Burma, and Japan. While there he studied at Sophia University and had credits from military language school and the University of Wisconsin."

Frank Tanabe saved his transcripts all these years, hoping to get a real degree. Five years ago his daughter Irene took over the effort. What would a real diploma mean to him? "A diploma represents hard work, perseverance, and midnight oil, and all of that," explained Frank.

"He can say, 'Yeah, I took these classes. I got the credits,'" continued Irene, of the difference between a real and an honorary degree. Irene hopes to give the diploma to him this summer, for his 89th birthday.

"I won't be submitting my resume any time soon," her dad warned.

Tanabe's four children say he instilled the value of education in them. They all financed their way through school and they are a lawyer, a physician, a business owner, and a public affairs consultant. The Tanabes emphasize, they are grateful to the university for the honorary degree as well.

Transportation provided by Hawaiian Airlines.