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3 Generations of Phi Beta Kappa: A Family Where Only 1 Generation Was Able to March at Commencement

Recently, my daughter Emily was invited to join the esteemed membership of Phi Beta Kappa. Among PBK families, it may not be so unusual to have three consecutive generations become PBK members from one academic institution. However, it is probably unusual that I was the only one who was able to march at commencement.

My father, Kiyoshi Yamashita, a Nisei (2nd-generation Japanese American), was born and raised in Auburn, Washington, just south of Seattle. He excelled at school and graduated as salutatorian of Auburn High School. Among his 6 siblings, he was the first and only one to go on to college. He continued to excel at the University of Washington and was initiated into PBK as one of only 4 Japanese Americans inducted. As a token of appreciation for his family’s support, he dreamed of marching proudly at commencement in front of his parents and siblings to receive his BA diploma in business and economics in June 1942. However, in May, his dream disappeared as he, along with all other students of Japanese ancestry and their families (a total of 110,000 Japanese Americans) were rounded up and forcibly removed from their homes and “evacuated” into barbed-wire internment camps, because of the issuance of Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt. Within a week, Dad and his family were moved in a blacked-out locomotive to the desolate town of Tule Lake, in northern California. A few months later, in September, Dad was crushed when he unceremoniously received a plain manila envelope from the University of Washington mailed to him at Tule Lake Internment Camp, containing his coveted diploma.

My daughter Emily entered the UW in 2016. At that time, I held a quiet hope that she would do well through a rigorous academic regimen of balanced liberal education and be invited into PBK and become a 3rd-generation PBK Husky in our family. That hope became reality when she was just initiated into PBK in June 2020. However, like her grandfather, she too was unable to march at commencement; this time not due to discriminatory governmental action but due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the 3 generations of PBK, I alone was able to physically march in the commencement exercises at the University of Washington. While my Dad was prevented from experiencing any pomp or circumstance, at least my daughter was able to take part in a virtual commencement exercise via live streaming on the internet. Though we were not all able to physically march at our commencement, our 3-generation membership in the PBK will remain a proud chapter in our family history.

Dennis J. Yamashita

Seattle, Washington

June 2020

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