A Teacher’s Heart
Honorary degree recognizes a life disrupted by war
President Eaton bestows an honorary degree on Kimiko Nagaoka Mukai during her 90th
A job? Homesickness? Marriage?
None of these were what brought Kimiko Nagaoka Mukai’s studies at Seattle Pacific College to a sudden halt in 1942. She didn’t leave the campus by choice, but by force.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the bombs wreaked devastation well beyond the American naval base. If Mukai had had her way, she would have earned a degree in education and pursued her dream of becoming a schoolteacher. Instead, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 set in motion the relocation of 110,000 Japanese Americans, including Mukai. Her college education was cut short during her sophomore year, and she was transported with her family to an internment camp in Idaho.
During Mukai’s captivity, her father died after suffering a stroke. When she was released in 1943, she married and eventually returned to Washington state, settling in Spokane. But she never came back to Seattle Pacific, nor did she earn a degree anywhere else.
But Mukai’s story was only just beginning. Over the next 50 years, she became a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, active in her community and the First Baptist Church of Spokane. She worked hard to
raise a family while her husband labored
at three different jobs. But while Mukai may not have taught the classes and subjects she had originally hoped to teach, hundreds of children ages 4–6 learned from Sunday school lessons she developed and delivered for half a century.
And during that time, many of her family members, including brother Eira Nagaoka ’50, grandson Aaron Mukai ’96, Aaron’s wife Jennifer Carpenter Mukai ’97, and niece Linda Mukai Cohee’ 71, have graduated from Seattle Pacific.
On Saturday, April 18, 2009, at Seattle’s Japanese Presbyterian Church, in the company of her three sons, seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and more than 100 friends, Mukai celebrated her 90th birthday. And during the celebration, she received a very special birthday present: an honorary bachelor’s degree in education, presented by Seattle Pacific University President Philip Eaton.
In a letter to SPU and President Eaton, Mukai’s son David described how his mother would labor over Bible-story illustrations that she would print with a mimeograph machine, and then practice those lessons with ink-stained hands. “She literally poured her heart and soul into teaching her Sunday school classes,” he wrote.
“My mom’s dedication to teaching her Sunday classes … was influenced by the experience that she gained while a student at Seattle Pacific. … Due to the war, she may not have been able to reach her dreams of being a schoolteacher. … But there are many
children — perhaps in the hundreds, now adults — who most likely received their first biblical lessons, Christian teachings, and
values from our mom.”
In announcing SPU’s decision to bestow the degree, Eaton responded to the Mukai family, “We are honored by this opportunity to live out our deep commitment to reconciliation in this way. We hope this
will communicate to your mother our pride that she attended SPU … and that she was able to move beyond the painful circumstances of internment to live a full and successful life.”
—Photo by Daniel Sheehan
Back to the top
Back to Alumni Home