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War, hatred and 74 years can’t keep woman from her high school graduation on Vashon Island

Mary Matsuda Gruenewald tells of going to WW2 internment camps

Mary Matsuda Gruenewald tells of being a high school student on Vashon Island when Pearl Harbor was attacked and her family was sent away to internment camps.
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Mary Matsuda Gruenewald tells of being a high school student on Vashon Island when Pearl Harbor was attacked and her family was sent away to internment camps.

Separated first by racism, then by life, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald finally was united with her high school diploma Saturday.

It took her 74 years.

Gruenewald, a 92-year-old Seattle resident, received the certificate Saturday after missing her original 1943 graduation from Vashon Island High School.

Her family had been removed from their farm in 1942 and placed in an internment camp in Idaho.

The United States was at war with Japan and Japanese-American families like the Matsudas were deemed to be a danger. A presidential commission later determined the true motive was racism.

“I realized then how much as a people we were hated,” Gruenewald told The News Tribune earlier this year. “It was a real scary time.”

As the Matsudas left the Vashon Island docks on May 16, 1942 a group of white people shouted obscenities and racial epithets at them.

Vashon Island gave a different kind of reception on Saturday.

Vashon High principal Danny Rock didn’t have to think twice when he heard Gruenewald wanted her diploma.

“It was an easy yes,” he told KOMO.

Gruenewald did graduate from high school inside the internment camp. She went on to be a nurse and author.

But Gruenewald had always wanted that diploma from Vashon Island High School.

“I never did have a memorable experience from my graduation from high school,” she told KING.

On Saturday Gruenewald, wearing cap and gown and sporting a colorful lei, accepted her diploma to applause.

“This is an incredible point in anybody’s life to be able to graduate from high school,” an emotional Gruenewald told KING. “My parents and my brother, I wish they could have been here to see this. They would have been really proud.”

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

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