One woman's 69-year journey to earn her degree at Seattle University

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by LORI MATSUKAWA / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on February 18, 2011 at 11:47 PM

SEATTLE -- When the taiko drums sound this Sunday at Seattle University, they will be celebrating news that just arrived at Uri Satow Matsuda's doorstep. She will be one of 15 former students getting honorary degrees after they were forced out of school and into incarceration camps by the U.S. government during World War II.

"If you wanted to stay in the United States, you had to go east of Spokane," recalled Uri. She was a first year nursing student in 1942 "even though I wanted to be a doctor," she confides.  With her parents and siblings trapped in Japan, Uri lived with another Nikkei family, the Kinoshitas, while attending Seattle University.  They all had to go to Minidoka Camp in Idaho. She volunteered as a nurse at the camp infirmary.

"I had good training that way," she says. "Hardship training, but it was good." She left camp within a year to complete nursing school at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria, Illinois.  She married and the couple moved to Chicago where she eventually became Head Nurse at Chicago Wesley Memorial Hospital.

Stacy Howard, communications specialist at Seattle University, says the school's decision to award the honorary degrees was to honor the former students and recognize the injustice they suffered during the internment.  "It's really important for the University to honor the courage that all these former Seattle U students had close to 70 years ago. A lot of us can't even imagine what they went through," said Howard.

In a news release, Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, S.J. said, 'These individuals, who were our students, were required by federal order to leave our community as a result of the fear, racial hatred and hostility that prevailed in the wake of Pearl Harbor. We honor these former students to recognize their courage and sacrifice, to address the injustice that occurred, and with hope that this recognition contributes to the healing process."

How is Uri reacting to all this? "Surprised. Shocked. But I was very very grateful," she says. "I missed finishing school, I really did. I'm glad that somebody's going to recognize that I did try."

Of the 15 students being recognized, only two are alive. All will be recognized during Seattle University's commencement ceremony later this spring. 

Some of the other former students being recognized: Thomas T. Yamauchi, John Fujiwara, Ben Kayji Hara, Shigeko Iseri Hirai, Dr. May Shiga Hornback, June Koto Sakaguchi, Mitsu Shoyama, Joanne Oyabe Watanabe.

Seattle University will observe the 69th anniversary of the internment order with a taiko drum festival this Sunday at 2 at Piggott Auditorium.   

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