My UBC Convocation
By Mits Sumiya
My convocation started on Monday, May 28, 2012 when I landed at Vancouver airport at about noon. As I reached the end of the narrow passage from the plane to the airport, I saw Mary Kitagawa and her husband Tosh, along with Alden from UBC and Jennifer Leask from CBC.
Mary was carrying a big sign “UBC WELCOMES MITS SUMIYA.” I had never seen these people before but suddenly they were my extended family welcoming me home. A warm euphoria coursed through my veins and we hugged and we laughed and I felt home at last! This euphoria stayed with me throughout the week I was in Vancouver. They helped retrieve our luggage, waited for the completion of the rental car transaction, and ensured the luggage was stowed in the trunk before leaving. What a welcome!
Tuesday the 29th was reserved for an interview with CBC-TV. I was staying at the Holiday Inn on Broadway and Mr. Chris Brown of CBC came with his photographer for an interview in the hotel room. While his photographer was setting up his camera, I talked of my childhood, of being born on Bowen Island, of the fact that the hotel was but a few blocks from the bowling alley where I worked during those school years.
We discussed the impact of Pearl Harbor on our lives. The “black-out order” brought home to us that the war was no longer over there, it was here! The curfew restricted our mobility but I had decided to break it in order get to my classes on time. The professors were very sympathetic and helpful. I manage to complete my term papers and save the year. This was not true of the COTC which struck us off the roster and ordered us to turn in our uniforms! From the hotel window we tried to locate Bowen Island and decided that the bump on the west side of Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver must be where I was born. We parted, saying we’d talk some more at the “Media Op,” but this was not to be.
Wednesday the 30th was convocation day. At the 10:00 am “Media Op” I was able to meet reporters from Metro (Vancouver), Vancouver Shimpo, etc., which was rather interesting as I was unaware of them. This was followed by an excellent buffet lunch consisting of both western and Japanese cuisine. The presentation included a declaration by the City of Vancouver apologizing for their lack of support for the students of ’42. This completed the spectrum of apologies from the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia, the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia. Bravo!!!
In preparation for the Honorary Degree Ceremony, we assembled in the back room of the stage to receive our gown and find our place in the column. In the meanwhile, those of us who were here “in person” had our photos taken with the chancellor, Sarah Morgan-Silvester, to our left and the president, Stephen J. Toope, to our right.
We marched onto the stage lead by those who were unable to collect their diplomas due to evacuation, followed by representatives of the students of ’42 and finally students of ’42 attending “in person.” There were
ten of us—two in wheelchairs, one with a walker, three assisted by canes and the balance unassisted.
The two front rows on the stage were reserved for faculty and officials. They marched down the aisle in their colourful gowns to fill the two front rows but the stream kept coming and filling the front rows of the orchestra seats. I heard there were more than a hundred members who turned out to support and join in the celebration. This has never happened before—only once in a lifetime and hopefully never again.
Presentations were made in the order we marched in and when the first “present-in-person” was called, the whole audience rose to its feet and applauded and stayed on their feet to the last person. I was the second from last person and when my name was called, the applause, to me, seemed louder. When the president put the hood around my shoulders and the applause reached a crescendo, my feet must have been at least six inches above the floor and stayed there while I was presented with the Honorary Diploma and Membership in the Alumni Association! Three score years and ten and finally home at last! I floated to my seat.
After the ceremony, we socialized in the lobby. I met so many friends whom I had not seen in years, all congratulating me. Strangers who recognised my face also stopped with words of congratulation. The euphoria I carried from that welcome had reached its apogee.
I received a copy of RETURN a compendium of the Japanese Canadian students of ’42. On its cover was a picture of a young cadet in uniform. I thought “wow,” for I was that cadet who wore that uniform with the greatest of pride and dignity in the service of my country. In the dark, deep recess of my mind there was a twitch which I refused to acknowledge, lest it detract, even in the slightest from the wonder of the day!
Mary and Tosh Kitagawa along with the Committee had meticulously planned and superbly executed this once-in-a-thousand-year celebration and I revelled in its wonder with boundless joy.
My flight to Toronto was booked for Friday, June 1st at 11:00 pm. We had arranged for a lunch with Bishop Ikuta of Steveston Buddhist Temple who had been so happy for me when he found I was to get an honorary degree. Fortunately his wife, Noriko, was able to join us and we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at one of the more popular Japanese restaurants. It was the best chirashi I had ever tasted.
I could not leave Vancouver without dropping in on Mary and Tosh Kitagawa who had done so much for us. I realized it may be an imposition but managed a date for 3:00 pm. I had intended to stay but an hour or so but once we got talking, it was like old friend catching up. I wanted a photo of myself in hood and gown besides Mary and Tosh and then thought “who but Mary deserved a hood and gown more” so I convinced her to try my gown and hood and have a photo taken beside me. It is a photo I shall treasure for whatever years I have left. They insisted we have dinner together and went to a restaurant near the airport owned by Tosh’s friend. Seasonal prawns were available so we indulged ourselves. When it was time to go, Tosh led me to a service station where I could gas up my rented car in order to avoid gas charges. Then he pointed to the bridge and said that bridge will take you to the airport. What a thoughtful friend—I could not ask for more. Perhaps that is why the convocation was such a success.