SANTA ANA — After a 69-year wait, Margaret Funakoshi Masuoka will finally achieve her lifelong dream of being awarded her associate degree from Santa Ana College in Santa Ana.
Masuoka, an 89-year-old San Francisco resident, will be among the 1,800 graduates receiving a degree or a certificate from Santa Ana College this spring.
Attending Santa Ana College was an easy choice for Masuoka because her family owned the Flower View Nursery and Flower Shop, located very close to the campus. Likewise, her choice of studying botany was a natural. She was so committed to her studies that when she learned that her family was going to be sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center, she quickly spoke with her professors and got them to agree for her to complete her studies by correspondence while in the Poston internment camp in Arizona. She mentions taking more books than clothing with her when she went to the camp.
Masuoka vividly recalls her favorite professor coming to visit her at the Santa Anita center. She was on the inside of the barbed-wire fence and her professor was on the outside. He said to her, “How sad. [There's a] fence between us.” He then handed a small gift to her through the fence — a magnifying glass to help her identify the plant species she was studying.
The war ended. She married her husband, David, had a daughter, Susan, and a son, James. She worked as a Kelly Girl and enjoyed travels. She proudly proclaims that she climbed Mt. Whitney and Mt. Fuji, but she never got her college diploma.
“Every time I heard a graduation march, I would get goose bumps because I couldn’t walk and get my diploma,” she said.
On Friday, May 20, her entire family will be there to applaud her as she gets to make that walk.
After an extensive search for former Santa Ana College students eligible for honorary degrees under the California Nisei College Diploma Project, the college will also present honorary degrees to 20 individuals in the 6:30 p.m. ceremony. Three former students are expected to attend to be publicly honored. They are 88-year-old Tom Tamio Furukawa of Monrovia, 93-year-old Masao Frank Masuda of Fountain Valley, and 89-year-old Kazuo Sato of Tustin. Another seven will be represented by family members who will receive posthumous diplomas honoring their loved ones. Ten honorary degrees will be sent to former students or their family members who are unable to attend.
AB 37, which became law on Oct. 11, 2009, requires California’s public college and university systems — University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges — to retroactively grant an honorary degree to any student of Japanese descent, living or deceased, who was forcibly removed and incarcerated during World War II.
“The high point of every academic year is seeing the joy of achievement on the faces of our graduates,” said Erlinda J. Martinez, Ed.D., Santa Ana College president. “These honorary degrees are our college’s opportunity to honor our former students who didn’t have the chance to finish what they started so long ago at Santa Ana College. We recognize their sacrifice and look forward to welcoming them to what will always be their college.”
More than 5,000 people, including 500 graduates, friends and family members, are expected to attend the commencement ceremony at Eddie West Field in Santa Ana. Among the graduates will be 16 Middle College High School graduates who will receive both their high school diplomas and associate degrees this spring, paving their way to transfer to universities.
For more information on the college, including a campus map, visit www.sac.edu.