Western Washington University (WWU) awarded a posthumous honorary bachelor’s degree on June 15 to James K. Okubo, a Medal of Honor recipient and former Western Washington College of Education student. He was unable to finish his degree because his family was incarcerated during World War II, along with about 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry.
After leaving WWU in 1942, Okubo enlisted in the U.S. Army and was a medic with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was awarded a Silver Star for saving the lives of fellow soldiers under heavy fire in France in 1944, and received a Medal of Honor in 2000.
After the war, Okubo settled in the Detroit area, and became a dentist and a faculty member at the University of Detroit Dental School. He died in a car crash at age 46 on a family ski trip in 1967.
His children, William and Anne, and other members of their family attended the ceremony to accept the degree on behalf of their father.
Thuong (Valerie) Cung, 20, addressed her peers at the Edmonds Community College (ECC)’s commencement last month, one of only two student speakers to do so.
An international student from Vietnam, Cung graduated with an Associate in Science degree, with honors.
Cung’s college journey began on an airplane three years ago– – her first plane trip. Her parents had saved enough money to take her family from the countryside of Vietnam back to her father’s hometown for a visit.
By chance, Cung ended up sitting next to an Indian American man who is a retired engineer. Throughout the flight, they talked about her studies and goals, and shared stories about Vietnamese, Indian, and American culture. Within 15 minutes of landing, the man asked if Cung would like to study in the United States. He also offered to cover the cost of tuition.
“It was like a movie,” she said. “He’s not my relative, and he knew nothing about me, but he believed in my future.”
Cung is the first in her family to go to college. She received an ECC Foundation scholarship, and two International Student Services scholarships.
In the fall, she will begin her studies at the University of Minnesota, where she will pursue degrees in chemical engineering and pharmacy.
Cung’s advice to her fellow graduates: Learn to fail and fail to learn. It’s a process, but as long as you do not stop moving forward, you will achieve what you want.