Eight years ago Seth Bae and his family moved from Korea to Los Angeles. After arriving in his new home he began working to learn the English language. “I knew the alphabet and a few words. That was it.”
Fast-forward to Tuesday night and the December graduation ceremony in Storer Auditorium at Onondaga Community College. Bae (pronounced BAY), who will be attending Harvard University in the spring, was the student speaker and told his classmates they could accomplish whatever they wanted. “Your pattern overrides your potential. You are here today because for the past two years, you committed yourself to what you believed in and dedicated your time and effort. I want to encourage everyone to continuously practice that pattern you devoted yourself to here at OCC. Don’t let your present circumstances define your destiny and don’t let your doubts stop you from moving forward.”
Bae has lived that very message. When his family arrived in southern California he was 16 years old. He was placed in English as Second Language class and struggled in school. “I knew I wasn’t ready to do well in college. I thought it made more sense to go in a different direction.” After graduating from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles in 2013, Bae joined the United States Army. While stationed at Fort Drum about 90 miles north of the OCC campus, Bae drove to Central New York weekly to worship at the Korean Church of Syracuse. He liked the people he met there, enjoyed the area and decided to move closer to Syracuse after he was discharged.
Bae started taking classes at OCC in the summer of 2017 and majored in General Studies – Liberal Arts & Sciences. As his English skills improved he became more immersed in campus life. He was Student Association Vice-President of Media, a VA Work Study student in the Student Veterans’ office, a Peer Connector in the Advising Center and a First Year Experience Mentor. He was also a Social Media Reporter, blog contributor for OCC’s website and presented a TED Talk on healthy communication, sharing wisdom on how people can better understand each other and manage disagreements or conflicts. In the classroom he owned a perfect 4.0 grade point average which earned him membership in the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa.
Next month Bae will be a visiting student at Harvard University. In the fall he plans to transfer to Yale University. His goal is to work for the United States government in some capacity. Language is his specialty. Bae speaks Korean and English fluently and is learning Chinese and Spanish. Everything came together for him at OCC and for that he is thankful. “OCC is a great transition for wherever you want to go. It was life changing for me here. I’m really grateful for how things worked out. My message is that hard work really pays off. ”