Graduate Stories: Sean Lee, CC'23

May 15, 2023

Name: Sean Lee
School: Columbia College '23
Major: Art History & Architecture

Tell us about yourself! What's your name, school, major, and where are you from?

My name is Sean Lee. I will graduate from Columbia College with a bachelor's degree in Art History and Architecture. I am from Hong Kong, China.  

If you could describe your college experience in three words, what would they be? 

There's a Chinese saying that there is always another taller mountain (一山还比一山高). This is undoubtedly the case at Columbia, where the abundance of talent is truly humbling. I recall my first day on campus looking for my dorm room as I was introduced to a social entrepreneur who builds robotic prosthetic limbs for disabled children to my left and an aspiring physicist from New Jersey who was featured on national TV in China, speaking fluent Mandarin to my right. The list goes on and on and on.

I must admit, it was a bit overwhelming in the beginning as I was trying to navigate this new environment where excellence is the baseline—one fortified by a diverse community of thinkers and innovators so passionately driven as they strive to make a lasting impact for the betterment of society. Our motto In Lumine Tuo Videbimis Lumen, translated as in thy light we shall see light, is personified in every individual I have interacted with at Columbia who has never stopped inspiring me. It is without a doubt that I have learned as much from the countless thought-provoking exchanges outside the classroom as I do from my professors in class!

Some of my friends describe me as a wild card. My Columbia journey has been quite unpredictable as I have stepped out of my comfort zone to try things I never would have imagined before. In the past four years, I have traversed between the worlds of the telecom industry, from corporate governance to investment banking and venture capital, with the next chapter in my life learning about public administration.

Columbia has provided me with a plethora of opportunities to explore, the courage to experiment, and the fortitude to learn from one's failures or the humility to build upon our moments of success. This is the Columbia I value and am proud to be a part of.

How have the Columbia Global Centers enriched your college experience?

With initiatives led by the Columbia Global Centers, such as the University Initiative for International Students that offered students access to nine Global Centers and WeWork sites across the globe, or the dynamic program of speakers and virtual internships, vibrant Columbia communities have sprung up all around the world—a testament to the fact that the Columbia spirit prevails even during these exceptionally difficult times.

Sean participated in a public program at the Beijing Center.

The magic of the Global Centers has been about dissolving barriers across cultures based on kindling dialogue that champions a multiplicity of perspectives. Opportunities to connect with scholars from around the world beyond Morningside Heights have undoubtedly sharpened my world views on a wide range of topics, from sustainability to entrepreneurship to being a global citizen. 

The Global Center in Beijing has played a pivotal role in empowering me to realize my own career aspirations. One summer, I expressed interest in learning about entrepreneurship and investments. The Beijing Center subsequently helped me secure a highly coveted internship at MiraclePlus (formerly Y Combinator China), which was a transformative experience as I stood at the forefront of technological frontiers in fields such as emerging climate technology and artificial intelligence. More recently, as I was exploring options for graduate school, the Beijing Center also became a critical resource in connecting me with administrators and alumni from programs I was applying to. I am deeply indebted to the Beijing Center’s constant encouragement and unwavering support.

The pandemic has made it clear that it is not the brick or the mortar that defines Columbia but rather the people and community.

Sean Lee, CC'23

Tell us a little bit about your life before coming to Columbia and how you ended up here.

I was born and raised in Hong Kong. Prior to Columbia, I spent seven years at Sevenoaks School in the UK. My Columbia journey began with the architecture geek in me being deeply moved by the beauty of the campus when I went on an admissions tour. As I walked from the Low to the Butler Library for the first time, I felt this overwhelming greatness for me to seize.

This flux of energy even resonated through the crisp grass lawn of the campus (yes, the grass really left an impression on me!). Funnily enough, its expansive plain, the precision of its cut, and the chaotic quivering of individual strands of grass mimic what I see in Columbia’s Core, my peers, and the university as a whole: brimming with transformative ideas which spread across time and place. 

What's your plan after University?

I will pursue a Master in Public Administration at Tsinghua University in Beijing. As an Art History & Architecture major, this might come across as a significant divergence of interests. That said, the Core has been critical in cultivating my worldview and, more importantly, training me to be an agile thinker with transferable skills. I really do see the Core as an anchor of sameness in a sea of differences.

What's your Chinese name and what does it mean?

My Chinese name is 李浩铭, or Lee/Li Hao Min. "李" (lǐ) is my family name. "浩" (hào) means awe-inspiring righteousness 浩然正气. "铭" (míng) means to engrave in one's memory. It was given to me as a reminder to always act with integrity and be compassionate.

Do you have advice for students interested in applying to Columbia?

Ask yourselves Why Columbia? We are often given the advice to follow one’s heart. As effortless as it sounds, it is surprising how one can so easily lose sight of the person they are, with some blindingly seeking to emulate the success of others as they neglect their strengths or weaknesses and, more importantly, their true passions. The application is an opportunity to reflect on your personal experiences—take advantage of this and just be yourself!