By Heidi Kimiko Tolentino
This year was the 75th Annual Japanese American Community Graduation Banquet and was held for the first time in three years. Graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 were also invited as they missed the opportunity to be honored during their graduation years.
The banquet was held at the Monarch Hotel on May 1st and Emceed by Brian Hochhalter, the current President of the Henjyoji Shingon Buddhist temple and he was accompanied by his wife, Debby. The words before and after the meal were given by Reverend Yuki Sugahara of the Oregon Buddhist Temple, who accompanied by his wife, Namiko.
Consul General of Japan, Misaki Shiga, who was accompanied by his wife, Hiroe, spoke to the attendees. The Consul General thanked the community for inviting him to take part in an event that had such a long history and congratulated the graduates on all of their accomplishments. He said that he could see how hard they had worked and how hard their families had worked to help them be successful and hoped they would continue to stay connected to their Japanese roots and their roots in Portland as they moved on to college.
Many graduates were recognized at the banquet, including two past graduates. Matt Aizawa, class of 2021 and the Henjyoji Art Award winner, joined the 2022 graduates and Emily Kiyoko Jackson, class of 2020, and the Veleda Club/Nikkei Fujinkai Scholarship winner, was also in attendance.
The 2022 graduates are a multi-talented group of seniors who have endured great obstacles during their four years of high school. Despite all of the roadblocks in front of them, they have excelled both academically and in their extracurricular activities. The donors were proud to present the students with their awards and scholarships.
Mrs. Mark Sumida Awards and Alice Sumida Scholarships
The Mrs. Mark Sumida Awards and Alice Sumida Scholarships are presented in memory of Alice Sumida. Alice Sumida was a long-time supporter of the Japanese American community and a generous donor to the graduation banquet. Alice Sumida passed away in August of 2018 at the age of 104. Mrs. Sumida wanted to award students in the community so that they would know their community was proud of them. This year, the awards were presented by Mr. Mike Irinaga of the Japanese Ancestral Society. This year’s recipients were Toshi Kondo of Tualatin High School, Hiroshi Kondo of Tualatin High School, Kaiya Yasui of Barlow High School and Bryan Yanase of Benson High School. Congratulations Toshi, Hiroshi, Kaiya and Bryan!
Oregon Nisei Veterans: Iwasaki/Okamoto Scholarship
The Oregon Nisei Veterans began in 1948 with the purpose of raising money to build a monument to honor the Nisei soldiers killed in action during WW II. The Oregon Nisei Veterans awards the Athletic Award and the Iwasaki/Okamoto Scholarship each year. The award and scholarship were presented by Commander Ron Iwasaki.
The Oregon Nisei Veterans Award is given to an outstanding athlete who has excelled in their sport(s). This year, the award was presented to Megumi Oishi of Lincoln High School. Megumi is an outstanding fencer. She’s the team Captain of the PDX Fencing Team and has made the All-American Team and the All-Academic Team on the US Fencing Team. She will be fencing for the University of Washington next year. Congratulations, Megumi!
Art Iwasaki was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat team during WWII and a founding member of Oregon Nisei Vets. Art was a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and this scholarship is given in memory of his loving wife, Teri. Second Lieutenant Roger Okamoto was killed in Vietnam in 1966 at the age of 23. Lieutenant Okamoto graduated from Benson High School and earned an engineering degree from the University of Washington. Ms. Janice Okamoto and her son, Mr. Gary Okamot, represented the family at the banquet. This year, the Iwasaki/Okamoto Scholarship was combined with the Gresham-Troutdale JACL Scholarship.
Gresham-Troutdale JACL (GT JACL): Gresham-Troutdale JACL Scholarship
The Gresham-Troutdale JACL is part of the oldest national civil rights organization in America. It serves to protect the rights of not only Asians, but all minorities, and nurtures the cultural heritage of Japanese Americans. Mr. Terry Nishikawa, President of GT JACL, presented the scholarship.
The winner of the Oregon Nisei Veterans/Gresham-Troutdale JACL Scholarship was Grant Pasquantonio of Clackamas High School. Grant was a Speech and Debate district champion, a four-year member of his school’s music program, and a College Board AP Scholar. Grant will attend Oregon State University next year. Congratulations, Grant!
Portland Shokookai: Shokookai of Portland Scholarship
Portland Shokookai was founded in 1966 by a small group of Japanese companies. They facilitate business operations for Japanese companies in Oregon and SW Washington and run the Japanese Language School. Mr. Yoshiki Saeki, the President of Shookokai, presented the scholarship. This year’s Shokookai of Portland Scholarship winner was Nina Takahashi of Southridge High School. Nina founded the Southridge Asian and Pacific Islander Student Union, was part of the student government and was a four-year member and captain of Southridge’s dance team. Nina will be attending University of California Berkeley next year. Congratulations, Nina!
Japanese Ancestral Society (JAS):, Hide Naito Scholarship, Mary K. Naito Scholarship, Tsuya and Kumaichi Minamoto Scholarship
The Japanese Ancestral Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the Nikkei community and promoting education and fellowship among the members of the community. JAS awards three scholarships each year. Mr. Mike Irinaga presented the scholarships for JAS.
Hide Naito was a Portland entrepreneur who started his first of several businesses in 1921 which diversified during his lifetime into retail operations, importing and real-estate development. Mr. and Mrs. Verne and Aki Naito, the donors for the Hide Naito and the Mary Naito Scholarships, attended the banquet to honor the scholarship recipients. This year’s winner of the Hide Naito scholarship was Julie Ichikawa of Tualatin High School. Julie was chosen to play with the Portland Youth Philharmonic, attended the Portland Japanese School for fourteen years and trained her dog to be a therapy dog so that they could volunteer to support hospitalized people. Next year, Julie will attend University of California Irvine. Congratulations, Julie!
Mary K. Naito was a homemaker, community volunteer, businesswoman and high school Valedictorian. The winner of the Mary K. Naito Scholarship was Rina Ishii of Columbia River High School. Rina is a principal Bass player in the Portland Youth Philharmonic. She played tennis on her high school team for three years. She also won the Japan Overseas Educational Services Literary Works Contest in both the Poem Division and the Haiku Division. Rina will be attending the University of Washington next year. Congratulations, Rina!
The third Japanese Ancestral Society Scholarship was combined with a Portland JACL Scholarship.
Minamoto Family/Matt Masuoka Scholarship
Tsuya and Kumaichi Minamoto emigrated from Japan in the early 1900’s and endured being incarcerated during WWII. Their daughter, Mary, created this scholarship in their honor. This year, the Minamoto scholarship was combined with a Portland JACL scholarship, the Matt Masuoka Scholarship.
Matthew Masuoka was a Nisei dentist who was a past President of Portland JACL and a Pacific NW District Governor. This award is given in his honor by his daughter, Dr. Connie Masuoka, who attended the banquet to honor the graduates.
The winner of the Minamoto Family/Matt Masuoka Scholarship was Shion Britten of Southridge High School. Shion is a member of his school’s Asian and Pacific Islander Student Union. He was a four-year member of both the Southridge Baseball team and the Wind Ensemble. Next year, Shion will attend Oregon State University. Congratulations, Shion!
Portland JACL: Matt Masuoka Scholarship, Kiyoko Yumibe Scholarship, Yoshiko Kennedy Scholarship
Portland JACL was established in 1928 with an ongoing mission to fight social injustice and to preserve the cultural heritage and values of Japanese Americans. Portland JACL awarded three scholarships this year. The scholarships were presented by Mr. Chris Lee, the Vice-President of Portland JACL.
Kiyoko Yumibe was a hard-working Nisei who was incarcerated during WWII. She established a fund, through Portland JACL, to help support youth seeking higher education. Representing the donors at the banquet were Mr. and Mrs. Gary and Diane Onchi. The winner of the Yumibe Scholarship was Megumi Oishi of Lincoln High School. Megumi is a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, the founder of The Athlete Narrative, an Anti-Athlete-Body-Shaming Social Media Platform and was both a Japanese-English tutor and translator. Megumi will be attending the University of Washington. Congratulations, Megumi!
Yoshiko Kennedy used her talents as a seamstress and master of Ikebana to ensure her children would receive an education. The Yoshiko Kennedy Scholarship was created in her memory. The winner of the Yoshiko Kennedy Scholarship was Brandon Okamoto of Hillcrest High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Brandon played baseball and wrestled for his school’s teams, he volunteered at the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and worked with his dad on renovating and managing properties in Oregon. Brandon is still deciding on which college he will attend next year. Congratulations, Brandon!
The Veleda Club and Portland Nikkei Fujinkai: Veleda Club/Nikkei Fujinkai Scholarship
The Veleda Club is Portland’s oldest Nikkei women’s service organization that is active in the community today. Ms. Sharon Takahashi, President of the Veleda Club, gave the scholarship.
Portland Nikkei Fujinkai is a Japanese Ancestral Women’s Association that was established in 1935. They support community activities and cultural education. Ms. Michie Uzunoe, President of Nikkei Funjinkai, gave the scholarship.
This year’s winner of the Veleda Club/Nikkei Fujinkai scholarship was Ashton MacClanathan of Clackamas High School. Ashton played baseball for Clackamas High School and was selected for second team all-conference. He also volunteered at My Father’s House cooking meals for the homeless.
It was wonderful to be in person as a community to celebrate these amazing graduates. Our community can be proud of all they have accomplished in their four years of high school, despite all of the setbacks of the pandemic. There is no doubt that each of the members of the Class of 2022 will continue to find success as they move to their colleges and universities next year. Graduates, good luck with the next steps of your academic career and we look forward to hearing about your future endeavors. Congratulations to the Class of 2022!