Tennessee Meiji Gakuin School holds last graduation

Tennessee Meiji Gakuin School holds last graduation

"It's very sad but I'm also looking forward to attending university in Japan but I'm also sad to say goodbye to students, staff and the community," Sayuri Tsunakawa says. "It's very sad but I'm also looking forward to attending university in Japan but I'm also sad to say goodbye to students, staff and the community," Sayuri Tsunakawa says.

March 9, 2007

By MELISSA DiPANE
6 News Anchor/Reporter

SWEETWATER (WATE) -- The Tennessee Meiji Gakuin School in Sweetwater hosted its last graduating class on Friday.

The Japanese High School will close on March 31. That's after the regular school year is completed.

It was the first accredited Japanese high school in the U.S.

The school was established in August 1988 by Meiji Gakuin, a Japanese University in Tokyo.

It opened to the public in May 1989.

Graduation marks an end for some and a beginning for others.

The 2007 graduating class only had 26 students, that's compared to 194 just 10 years ago. 

"These students you get to love them like your own its sad," says Bob Fuller.

Fuller used to be a dorm parent for many of the students who live on campus. He lost his job a year ago because of a decrease in enrollment.

Fuller says 9/11 and fears of terrorism were a huge blow.

"I can understand the Japanese closing the school down mostly because of 9/11 and the economy in Japan went downhill it's a sad occasion," Fuller says.

The school's staff is now scrambling to find other jobs.

English teacher Hiromasa Okamura says the closing has offered him a new beginning. "I'm going back to Japan to go to the seminary to become a minister."

Okamura says years spent with his Baptist church in Sweetwater opened his eyes to a higher calling. "I've been given a vision or dream to have a church here for the Japanese people living here in the United States."

The graduates reminisced about good times and bad, bonding over the loss of a classmate last May in a drowning. In honor of the boy's memory, they set out an extra chair.

Students were visibly emotional during the ceremony but say they are excited for the future.

"It's very sad but I'm also looking forward to attending university in Japan but I'm also sad to say goodbye to students, staff and the community," says 2007 TMG Valedictorian Sayuri Tsunakawa.

TMG will hold an official closing ceremony Saturday with an invitation-only event.

Congressman Jimmy Duncan and former Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist are expected to attend.

The school property of more than 144 acres is now for sale.

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