OAKLAND — Akira “Ike” Nakamura took 60 years to graduate from Castlemont High School. And when he did, he got two diplomas: one for 2002, one for 1944.
For 1944 was the year he would have graduated had the U.S. government not sent him along with tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans into desert internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
On Thursday night, a 75-year-old Nakamura led the processional at Castlemont High and then sat, stage right, in a purple cap and gown.
It was supposed to be a low-key moment, not listed in the program. Nakamura said he did not expect the teenagers to grasp the significance.
But once Principal Debbra Lindo explained, “Tonight, we’re going to set it right,” the 205 graduates rose in an ovation of whoops.
“I thank you very much for this honor,” said Nakamura, with a slight bow. His wife of 53 years, Rurie, was in the audience.
They met behind barbed wire at a camp in Utah. More than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were deemed a security threat and put in such internment camps during World War II.
Last week, Nakamura learned of an unusual offer in a local English-language newspaper for Japanese Americans. In part to honor Fred Korematsu, a 1937 Castlemont graduate who unsuccessfully challenged the internment to the Supreme Court, the Oakland school district said it would give a diploma to anyone who had been wrenched from school and sent to a camp.
So far, four men have responded — three in Northern California and one in Richmond, Va.