PHYLICIA TORREVILLAS/FOR METRO Mits Sumiya, one of the 76 Japanese-Canadian students who received an honorary degree from UBC Wednesday after being forced to leave their studies when they were interned during the Second World War, looks through a yearbook with his wife, Gloria, before the awarding ceremony at UBC.

For Mits Sumiya, Roy Oshiro and Jack Kobayashi, getting an honorary degree from UBC means so much more than getting a piece of paper. It’s about getting closure that was 70 years in the making.

They are three of 76 Japanese-Canadian students, whose studies were derailed when they were interned in 1942 during the Second World War.

Oshiro, 90, who travelled all the way from Okinawa, Japan to Vancouver with his family for the special ceremony, said the degree itself does nothing for him, but the gesture means the world to him and his family.

“For the university to owe up and say, ‘I’m sorry we kicked you out of UBC.’ That’s big,” Oshiro said. “This is something that happens once in a 1,000 years.”

Mits Sumiya, who was born on Bowen Island, had written his final, first-year exam at UBC in 1942 before being ordered to leave Vancouver the next day with his family.

He had been a member of the Canadian Officer Training Corps and swore his allegiance to the Crown. But he was struck out of the roster, ordered to turn in his uniform and sent to a “prisoner-of-war camp” in Ontario, where he spent four years of his life.

Getting the degree feels like that he is really a part of UBC, he said.

“It’s like they’re putting an arm around you and saying, ‘Welcome back,’” said Sumiya, 89.

Kobayashi’s niece Vivian Rygnestad said his uncle, who came all the way from Toronto, is just happy about the recognition and catching up with the other students who he hasn’t seen for years.

“He said ‘I’m going to walk across the stage. I’m going to have a cap and gown.’ He’s just thrilled, but I think it goes beyond that. It’s a recognition for our elders,” she said.

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