Grad speaker values diversity


Student Kenneth Lee will emphasize diversity when he delivers his commencement address during the Pima Community College 2015 graduation ceremony on May 21.

The college will award certificates and associate degrees to 3,732 graduation candidates at the Tucson Convention Center Arena. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m.

Lee, who was selected from numerous applicants, will speak about the value of multicultural diversity.

“The theme just fits in my life,” he said. “I’ve traveled a lot. I met different people from different cultures. They spoke different languages. Meeting them widened my world. It made me appreciate and understand humanity.”

Lee will graduate with an associate of applied science degree to be a clinical research coordinator.

Clinical research is a branch of health care science that determines the safety and effectiveness of medications, medical devices, diagnostic products and treatment regimens intended for human use.

Pima’s clinical research coordinator program trains students to manage clinical research trials involving human subjects while preparing to take the Association of Clinical Research Professionals certification exam.

Lee credits his passion to learn for his success in finishing the program. He looks forward to helping improve lives for those who suffer from incurable diseases.

“I want to live in a better place different from before,” he said. “What if we find the cure for Ebola? That will really make a difference to our world.”

Lee was born in Baltimore, Md., and has one older brother, Steven. His father served in the military as a helicopter pilot and his mother was a stay-at-home mom.

At one point, the family moved to Iran for his father’s job. His dad later re-enlisted with the military, and worked as an Army helicopter flight instructor.

The family moved to Copperas, Ga., and finally settled in Tucson. Lee graduated from Canyon del Oro High School in 1990.

During high school, he fell in love with the French language. After graduation, he attended Grand Canyon University seeking a double major in French and German.

“I ended up leaving GCU to go to Western Catholic University in Angers, France,” he said. “In Angers, I received a diploma for French Language Arts and a translator’s certificate from the government of France.”

Lee has lived in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Denver and Wisconsin while working as an instructor with Berlitz Languages International. His final assignment with Berlitz was managing multiple language schools in southern California.

“I returned to Tucson for family reasons,” he said. “I was bored and thought of studying math, a subject I had been terrible in. I found Pima, registered for a course, was totally impressed and never looked back.”

Lee thought nursing would be a good fit, but switched to the clinical research coordinator program when he learned there are possibilities to help people on a global scale.

Lee likes to talk about his parents, and calls them his role models for finding a career that serves humanity in a special way.

“My parents are both from the same small town in New Bern, N.C.,” he said. “They were from simple southern backgrounds. They didn’t have degrees until later in life.”

Lee’s father earned a master’s degree and his mother became a dental hygienist. From a very early age, both parents stressed the importance of cultural diversity.

From raising their kids in Iran to sending them to school abroad and throughout West Africa, his parents emphasized to their children that we are all of value in our big world.

“Ken loves to read and study,” said his father, Curtis Lee. “I found him to be compassionate and respectful to others.”

Tobin Bryant, a friend and a classmate, had known Ken Lee for more than a year.

“Ken has been really a good friend,” Bryant said. “Things happen in my family that sometimes I’m absent. Ken will help me catch up with my schoolwork.”

As Lee prepares his commencement speech, he seeks to provide suggestions that deliver hope.

“In today’s violent world, we need to see our differences as our strength,” he said. “I hope to give some really concrete guidelines on how we can improve all the lives around us, here in Tucson and in our great world as well.”

Lee plans to travel to his favorite international city, Paris, the day after graduation.

When he gets back, he’ll apply for a job in virology.

After one year of work in the field, he’ll take the national exam to be certified.

“Fortunately, the CRC program allows Pima graduates to work in many diverse fields,” he said.

“I also plan on using my degree and language experience to take what I’ve learned to local and global levels.”

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Commencement speaker Kenneth Lee, who will graduate with an associate of applied science degree, jokes around with a teaching dummy at a West Campus lab. Lee wants to be a clinical research coordinator. (Alex Fruechtenicht/Aztec Press)

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