With a warm welcome in Tampa on Tuesday, actor George Takei said the thunderous applause "makes me feel like I'm at a Star Trek convention."
But this convention was educators, the National Tutoring Association, which is a cause dear to the heart of an actor who has used his sizable social media following (6 million Facebook friends) to highlight civil rights issues in between hilarious cat memes.
Best known as Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek TV series and feature films, Takei recounted in chilling detail what it was like as a young boy to have soldiers with bayonets pound on his front door and round up his family to be held behind barbed wire for three years in a World War II internment camp for Japanese-Americans.
"This was a dark chapter of American history that too many Americans are not aware of," he said to a crowd of about 200 in a Tampa hotel ballroom.
He put a face on that chapter.
"I was only 5 years old at the time," said Takei. "But I will never forget that terrible morning. It is seared into my brain."
He vividly remembers his mother holding his baby sister in one arm and a huge duffel bag in the other with tears streaming down her face as she left her house, later describing it as the most humiliating and degrading experience of her life.
The family of five lived for three months in a horse stable at the Santa Anita racetrack.
He attended school behind barbed wire, with fellow Japanese-Americans as teachers and local "white ladies" who volunteered to teach them, "because they felt it was wrong for us to be imprisoned because of our race."
As he told his life story, he kept returning to the teachers who formed the "ecosystem of education" in which he thrived. It ranged from his early teachers in the internment camp, to being mentored by Richard Burton "in his pre-Elizabethan period," he said with a wink, to his college professor C. Bernard Jackson, who enlisted him in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots to work with the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
"I am who I am today because of these people, and that's what you folks are doing every day, building a better society, and for that I thank you," he said to vigorous applause and a standing ovation.
Professor Darrin Sorells, an NTA board member who teaches psychology and runs a tutoring program at the University of Southern Indiana, said he was moved by the speech, especially since he had just that day given a talk on the power of "positive psychology."
"He's a perfect example," Sorrells said. "You can just imagine what he had to go through and yet he kept his positive outlook, he didn't give up, didn't grow bitter. That's just inspiring."