Friday, Cecilia Santos Yatar, 92, became the oldest among six World War II survivors on Guam to receive an honorary high school diploma under a 2014 law.
Yatar was her family’s most fluent English speaker and was on her way to getting top class honors, but the Japanese invasion of Guam in 1941 cut short her dream of finishing high school, her family said.
Yatar is also the first to receive an honorary diploma from Southern High School in Santa Rita, her place of residence since the early 1950s, according to her daughter, Luling Yatar Flores.
Five other war survivors previously received honorary diplomas from George Washington High School, under the same Guam law.
“It’s a family reunion and an advanced Mother’s Day celebration when she gets her honorary diploma,” Flores said. Two of Yatar's daughters now living in Colorado and Georgia joined their Guam family for the twin celebration.
Yatar, who will turn 93 on Nov. 22, raised 11 children. She has 18 grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren, her family said.
Her family said Yatar was the oldest of three daughters in a family of nine children. She loved to go to school and rarely missed her classes in spite of numerous family obligations, including taking care of a younger sister born with a mental disability and her younger brothers, the family said.
Yatar was also up very early in the morning to carry out her chores before heading to school, her family said.
“It was very apparent to her teachers that Cecilia was an excellent student who excelled in her studies and even competed in the school spelling bee competition. An unknown fact until recently, Cecilia’s only surviving sibling, Francisco Cruz, shared how Cecilia was the most fluent in the English language of all her siblings and served as family spokesperson when necessary,” the family said in a statement.
Yatar’s mother was imprisoned, her family said. She also lost three brothers and two uncles at the hands of Japanese soldiers, the family said. The rest of the family was moved to a Fena concentration camp, where they endured further torture and interrogation as the Japanese believed them to be hiding ammunition for American forces, the family said.
The economic hardships right after the war and family obligations further prevented Yatar from going back to school. She eventually met her husband, the late Isidro Ramos Yatar, the family said.
Ada, the chairman of the education board, said at least two other war survivors are set to receive honorary high school diplomas in the weeks ahead. A Guam law allows some senior citizens who were unable to complete their studies because of World War II to obtain an honorary high school diploma.
Families can apply for an honorary high school diploma on behalf of their relatives who meet the following criteria as set forth in Public Law 32-115 enacted on Feb. 10, 2014:
- does not possess a valid high school diploma;
- resided on Guam during World War II, from Dec. 7, 1941 to Sept. 2, 1945;
- would have been eligible to attend school, but his/her education was interrupted with the occupation of Japanese enemy forces; and
- did not continue his/her education after World War II in order to work and rebuild their homes and lives or assist in the care of family members.
The honorary high school diplomas may also be awarded posthumously.