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August 27, 2010


Peggy Cartwright
Director of Marketing and Public Relations

For Immediate Release


(Rancho Cucamonga, CA) The Chaffey College Governing Board bestowed an honorary degree upon Mary Hirose Watanabe at the Board meeting on Thursday, August 26, 2010. Watanabe, a Chaffey College student, was close to earning her degree when in 1942 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 forcing students out colleges and universities.

Watanabe was studying business at Chaffey College in Ontario and was a semester away from graduation when she and her family were evacuated. She remembers coming home from school and finding the family store boarded up. The Watanabe family evacuated to the Pomona Assembly Center.

Watanabe was identified as a recipient of the California Nisei College Diploma Project, an initiative that awards honorary degrees to all those who were forced out of institutions of higher learning. It is estimated that more than 1,200 of the affected Nisei were community college students.

Chaffey College officials invited Watanabe to participate in the 2010 Commencement ceremony in May, but she declined. "I was afraid at first," said Watanabe. She was intimidated by the thought of being recognized in front of a group of people. Watanabe was encouraged by her family to attend the Board meeting instead.

In an emotional presentation, Governing Board President, Gary George, said it was an honor presenting this degree to Mary Watanabe. "She is an inspiration and represents commitment and desire," said George. "We are sorry that you weren't able to complete your education at Chaffey College, yet we believe you have earned more than this degree."

Watanabe's family attended the Board meeting with her. She said she was honored having her family share the recognition with her as she received her degree. Her sister-in-law Eiko Nomura, daughter-in-law, Sherry Watanabe, and grandson, Kurtis Watanabe joined the celebration.

She said that earning the honorary degree put closure on the bad part of her life. "This is an part of my old life and now all the bad things are gone," said Watanabe. She was humbled by earning the degree. Sadly, she never returned to college. She married Peter Watanabe in 1943 and shortly thereafter started a family.

The California Nisei College Diploma Project is the implementation of AB 37, a bill introduced by Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach) and signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on October 11, 2009. The bill requests that California Community Colleges, the University of California and the California State University systems confer an honorary degree upon each individual whose studies were disrupted by Executive Order 9066 and allow a representative to accept the honorary degree on behalf of individuals who are deceased.

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