Yamashita Family

Yamashita Family photo

In Spring 2020, Dennis Yamashita’s daughter Emily was invited to join the Alpha of Washington chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Washington. Among ΦBK families, it may not be unusual to have three consecutive generations become ΦBK members from one academic institution. However, what is unusual was that Dennis was the only one who was able to march at commencement.

Dennis’ father, Kiyoshi Yamashita, a Nisei (second-generation Japanese American), was born and raised in Auburn, Washington, just south of Seattle. He excelled at school and graduated Salutatorian of Auburn High School. Among his six siblings, he was the first and only one to go on to college. He continued to excel at the University of Washington and became a member of ΦBK, one of only four Japanese Americans inducted that year. 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 B.A. 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 (total of 110,000 Japanese Americans in the US), were forcibly removed from their homes and “evacuated” into barbed wire internment camps, due to FDR’s issuance of Executive Order 9066. Within a week, Kiyoshi 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, he 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 hard-earned diploma.

Emily entered the University of Washington in 2016. At that time, Dennis held a quiet hope that she would do well through a rigorous academic regimen of balanced liberal education, and be invited to join ΦBK, becoming the third-generation ΦBK Husky. That hope became reality when she was inducted. 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 three generations of ΦBK, Dennis alone was able to physically march in his commencement exercises at the University of Washington. While his father was prevented from experiencing any semblance of pomp or circumstance behind barbed wires, at least Emily was able to take part in a virtual commencement exercise via live streaming on the internet. Though the Yamashita family was not all able to physically march at their commencement, their three-generation membership in ΦBK will remain a proud legacy in their family.