President of the Republic of Korea Honorary Degree Ceremony

June 17, 2009

Esteemed members of the Presidential Delegation from the Republic of Korea; distinguished members of the diplomatic corps; Chairman Ramsey; university trustees; faculty, students, alumni, and staff:

Today, we honor Lee Myung-Bak, who as President of the Republic of Korea is leading his country to a new future built on educational opportunity, green growth, and a more peaceful and prosperous world.

In honoring President Lee this morning, we are also welcoming back to GW a true friend of our country and our university, someone with whom we are proud to share a special bond. Many colleagues remember President Lee as a visiting scholar who came to GW for nearly two years, to study and teach international business. President Lee, we at The George Washington University take special pride in your accomplishments. It was my personal honor to accept your invitation to represent the University at your inauguration in February 2008 as the 17th President of the Republic of Korea.

The relationship between the Republic of Korea and GW truly shows that ours is a lifelong and worldwide community. It is a relationship with deep historical roots, going back to the earliest years of contact between Korea and the United States.

The first Korean to graduate from an American medical school, and indeed the first Korean to become an American citizen, was the distinguished statesman Suh Jai P’il, also known as Philip Jai-Sohn, who received his medical degree from the University in 1892, before returning to his homeland to found the first modern Korean newspaper.

Last year, this distinguished alumnus of our University was honored by Korean Americans with the placement of a statue here in Washington on the property of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea.

We are also very proud that the founding president of the Republic of Korea, Dr. Syngman Rhee, graduated from The George Washington University in 1907 and many years later, in 1954, received the honorary degree of doctor of laws.

This past academic year, more than 250 students from the Republic of Korea were enrolled at GW, and I am pleased to note that we have more than 800 alumni in the Republic of Korea, some of whom have traveled from Korea to be with us here this morning. This is the largest concentration of our alumni in any nation outside the United States. I am confident that we will continue to build on this strong relationship in the years to come.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my privilege to confer the honorary degree. President Lee, would you please join me at the podium?

You rose from humble circumstances to become a trailblazer in business and a visionary leader of the Republic of Korea.

You were born in Osaka, Japan, where your father worked as a farm hand on a cattle ranch while your mother raised seven children. After World War II, your family returned to Korea. You attended high school at night while supporting yourself as a street vendor. Your hard work and perseverance gained you admission to the prestigious Korea University, where you were elected president of the student council.

After graduation, you went to work at what was then a little-known company called Hyundai. You rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming a company director at age 29 and CEO at age 35. In 1988, at the age of 47, you were named chairman of Hyundai and became a business legend.

Even with this great success, you continued to push yourself to greater heights. In 1992, you went from business to public service and were elected twice to the Korean National Assembly. You came to The George Washington University in 1999 to study and teach international business and, in 2000, returned to Korea to continue serving your country.

You were elected mayor of Seoul in 2002 and launched an ambitious plan that cleaned up and rejuvenated the city and overhauled the transportation system. You then took on an even greater challenge, winning election in December 2007 as President of the Republic of Korea.

As President, you have put in place regulatory reforms and initiated a sweeping Green Growth agenda to create jobs, protect the environment and prepare Korea for the 21st century. You have pledged to increase economic prosperity and to pursue a new era of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. You are leading your country into a stronger engagement with the international community and a more active partnership in global efforts to fight terrorism and climate change, eradicate poverty, and reduce international tensions.

President Lee Myung-Bak, from the corporate boardroom to The George Washington University to your country’s highest office, you have demonstrated a global vision, a commitment to education, and a dedication to service. For all the foregoing, The George Washington University hereby bestows upon you the degree of Doctor of Public Service with all the rights, duties, privileges, and opportunities pertaining thereto.


Release Date: 
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 1:46pm