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Commencement ceremonies tend to focus on the future, but the May 15 graduation ceremony at the University of California Hastings College of the Law included a solemn nod to the past. Hastings granted honorary degrees to seven Japanese-American students who had been enrolled at the school during the early 1940s but were unable to complete their studies because they were interned or faced other hardships during World War II. “We think for a law school to do this is quite important,” Dean Frank Wu said. “It was quite touching.” The only honoree who the school was able to confirm was still alive — 92-year-old Clark Kuichi Saito — attended the commencement ceremony with his son, Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Timothy Saito. The elder Saito received a degree with the Latin inscription, “Inter silas academi restituere iustitiam” — to restore justice to the groves of the academy. According to the law school, 10 students of Japanese ancestry attended the school in 1942, the year President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order that authorized the roundup of Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Of those 10 students, three eventually completed their law degrees, but seven did not. Among the seven was Abe Megumi Fuji, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941 and was killed in action in Europe. “That was a profound demonstration of his patriotism and dedication to the United States,” Wu said. The families of three of the deceased honorees, including Fuji, attended the ceremony. Alameda County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Dennis Hayashi accepted the degrees on behalf of all the former students. The idea to grant the honorary degrees came from the current class of law students, Wu said. They took a cue from the University of California system, which granted honorary degrees last year to Japanese-Americans who were enrolled as undergraduates during the war. “The students deserve a lot of credit for this,” Wu said. “Quite a bit of legwork had to be done. They did a lot of research and helped identify the Japanese-Americans who had been enrolled here and weren’t able to finish their degrees. They provided all the documentation. It took a full year to do this.”

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