Noted local farmer Haruo Hayashi was a sophomore at Arroyo Grande High School the year his life changed.
In early 1942, Hayashi, his parents and younger brother were forced from their home in Arroyo Grande, and sent to the Gila River War Relocation Center 500 miles away in Arizona.
Hayashi and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese Americans were pulled from their lives that year and incarcerated in concentration camps across the West as the result of an executive order by then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In total, Roosevelt incarcerated between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry.
For Haruo Hayashi, among other things, the order meant not graduating from the high school he had attended with his friends and classmates.
Seventy-five years later, Hayashi finally got his diploma — alongside his grandson.
Hayashi, now the patriarch of his well-known South County family, was honored at the Arroyo Grande High School commencement ceremony on Thursday where his grandson, Kobe Hayashi, was also graduating.
“Today I have the honor of announcing a very special grad,” Arroyo Grande administrative Secretary Rocio Palacios-DeVries said at a podium after a brief pause in the ceremony, which celebrated the 468 graduating Arroyo Grande High School seniors.
An Arroyo Grande VIP
From his seat beside the stage, Hayashi, dressed in a blue cap and gown, appeared happy when Principal Dan Neff walked over to present him with his own diploma.
His reaction was somewhat more subdued than that of grandson Kobe Hayashi, who threw fake $100 bills in the air after accepting his own diploma with aplomb.
After the internment order ended in 1944, Hayashi briefly joined the Army before returning home to Arroyo Grande to the family farm. Since then Hayashi has risen to prominence as a respected farmer, an advocate for reparations for those impacted by the War Relocation Order of 1942 and one of the most well-known figures in Arroyo Grande.
After raising five sons together, he lost his wife of 62 years, Rose Hayashi, in 2015.
When he was handed his diploma on Thursday, Hayashi seemed quietly emotional, looking down at the small blue leather rectangle with a smile.
“Arroyo Grande was, is and always will be his home,” Palacios-DeVries said over the loudspeaker. “He was, is and always will be an Arroyo Grande Eagle.”
“It is my privilege to announce, Haruo Hayashi,” she finished. “Class of 1944.”