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Graduation heals World War II internment wounds

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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. >>A California man who missed his 1942 graduation because he was locked in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans finally walked in a cap and gown last week, more than seven decades after he was pulled out of class just a month shy of his big day.

Don Miyada, now 89, joined Newport Harbor High School’s 2014 graduating class on stage and received a standing ovation when he was hailed as an inaugural member of the school’s hall of fame, the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday.

Miyada was 17 when he was sent with his family and more than 17,000 other detainees to a patch of desert land near Poston, Arizona shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor during World War II. A teacher later sent him a letter expressing shock that he couldn’t finish high school and included a diploma — but Miyada always regretted that he missed the celebration.

In May, Miyada met Newport Harbor’s principal, Sean Boulton, during a Memorial Day service at the high school and Boulton invited him to walk with the 560 seniors who would be graduating. Boulton even found a copy of the program from what would have been Miyada’s graduation day in 1942.

"My name was on there," Miyada said. "I wasn’t able to attend, of course, but my name was there anyway. It was very emotional."

After two years in the camp, Miyada moved to Michigan, where he was drafted. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army in Europe and then earned a doctorate in chemistry from Michigan State University. He eventually became a professor at the University of California, Irvine.

During last week’s graduation ceremonies, Miyada returned the letter he had received from his teacher and thanked the teenagers who were crossing the stage with him.

"It’s their time to graduate and their time of honor," he said. "I’m happy they invited me to be one of them."

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