SHEILAH KAST, host:
Of all the stories of triumph and family pride at this season of commencement, this one is extraordinary: an immigrant father and three of his children graduating together. This weekend Korean-born IT entrepreneur Simon Lee, his eldest daughter Julie and son Philip are all receiving master's degrees in systems engineering from George Washington University here in Washington, while younger daughter Michelle is collecting a bachelor's in business administration. Simon Lee articulates the family creed.
Mr. SIMON LEE (George Washington University Graduate): You are never too old to learn. Also, you are never too young to teach.
KAST: We spoke at GW's engineering school in the dean suite renamed to reflect a half-million dollar donation from the Lee family. The kids were elegantly dressed, slender, all taller than their 56-year-old father, who beamed with pride. He teased them gently, and they teased back, but they were also deferential. Simon Lee his wife Anna emigrated from South Korea in 1979 with two-year-old Julie. Julie said her father's reverence for education grew from a difficult childhood.
Ms. JULIE LEE (George Washington University Graduate): My dad was the one that has always stressed education. His story is, you know, his father passed away when he was two years old and his mother passed away when he was 14 years old, and so he was raised basically by his eldest brother. And before his mom passed away, his eldest brother told him to, you know, take care of him and make sure he went through school.
Mr. LEE: He's selling his own rice farm field. He supported me, my tuition for my college, so that's how I was able to finish my college degree, which...
Mr. LEE: In Korea.
KAST: In Korea.
Mr. LEE: So if my parents and if my even brother did not have that spirit about high education, then I would not be able to going to the colleges at all.
KAST: And so how did life in the United States unfold for you compared to what you expected?
Mr. LEE: Obviously, when I came to United States, I had a lot of difficulties, especially the different cultures and the different languages, which I had to overcome.
KAST: Did you speak English when you came?
Mr. LEE: A little; was not enough to communicate, at least for first few years.
KAST: But still, it was only, I think, seven years after you came with your wife and your daughter that you started a business.
Mr. LEE: When I came to United States, my first job was bookkeeper, even though I had engineering degree in Korea. And then my brother-in-law, who lived here 30 years, introduced me to one of his oldest staff, who was working in the computer business industry, and so I worked for several companies, and then I moved into MCI. I was able to learn more about technology and then also management. And the important thing is I was able to expand my own people networking, so I started to have my own business.
KAST: And that is STG Incorporated.
Mr. LEE: Yes. So I incorporated STG in 1986, with a little money, almost no money. My wife was so scared when I told her, when I wanted to have my own business, and leaving MCI. I was a senior position. But when I told her to--start my own business, she was not an easy person to convince. So I might be sleeping on the couch maybe for one or two days.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LEE: But the reason I was able to start my own business is I had a lot of good friends, a lot of good friends.
KAST: Tell me what STG Incorporated does and how many employees you have.
Mr. LEE: Performance-based solutions. We have 1,300 employees and we finished--$170 million revenue in 2004.
KAST: Can I ask, Julie, do you work in the business, in your father's business?
Ms. J. LEE: I started working there at 12 years old and worked up until I graduated from college, and I became a consultant afterwards and started my own company. Now I have about 350 employees.
KAST: Three hundred and fifty employees.
Ms. J. LEE: Yes.
KAST: Philip, do you work in your father's business?
Mr. PHILIP LEE (George Washington University): I do, but I also started my own company eight months ago, and I don't have 350 or 1,300. It's just me, as of today.
KAST: Michelle, you just graduated with a bachelor's in business administration.
Ms. MICHELLE LEE (Graduate): Yes, correct.
KAST: When did you decide to do that?
Ms. M. LEE: Well, originally, I went into college thinking I would go into elementary education, but then seeing my dad and my sister and my brother--they're all such great role models, in a way, and so I thought I would go into the business field, and although it's not really in the government or IT contracting field, I did want to pursue business and really be able to see what they go through in, I guess, a smaller degree.
KAST: When you say `pursue business,' do you have in mind to start your own business?
Ms. M. LEE: Not really sure on that yet. So...
KAST: Hold on a minute. Julie just said something.
Ms. J. LEE: Business runs in the blood, I guess, so starting from my dad.
Mr. LEE: The youngest daughter, who's going to be 13 years old in July, about five years ago, one day, she came up with her own company stationary and her own business card. The company name called FGM. So we did not know what that stand for, and then she start to give us massage on our shoulder or back, and then we figure what FGM stand for: Feels Good Massage. So...
Mr. LEE: ...as Julie just mentioned, OK, our children has the, you know, business blood.
KAST: Simon Lee, Michelle Lee, Julie Lee, Philip Lee, congratulations to you all.
Group: (In unison) Thank you.
KAST: Simon Lee and three of his children are graduating from George Washington University this weekend. The celebrations started on Friday.
Unidentified Woman: Go forth and use that degree wisely. Congratulations, good luck, and God...
(Soundbite of cheers and applause)
KAST: To see a photograph of the happy graduates and hear more from Simon Lee, go to our Web site, npr.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen returns next week. I'm Sheilah Kast.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.