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Student Success 2023

Joseph Lee

Cal State LA graduate, Charmaine Chui
Cal State LA graduate dreams of changing the world through communication
The College of Arts and Letters student speaker will pursue a PhD in the fall.

College of Arts and Letters

Cal State LA News Service

College of Arts and Letters

Joseph Lee received a Master of Arts in Communication Studies from Cal State LA’s College of Arts and Letters. He also received a bachelor’s degree in communication from Cal State LA.

Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Lee has been blind since his early childhood years.

As a master’s degree student, Lee found his passion in researching organizations, technology, diversity, and accessibility. He has been ranked among the top student speakers in the nation and has competed as a member of the College of Arts and Letters’ award-winning forensics team.

In the fall, he will begin pursuing a doctoral degree in communication with an emphasis on organizational communication at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Long gone is a blind kid lacking confidence, replaced by an up-and-coming scholar and a Cal State LA alumnus with a big dream to not only continue to transform myself, but to transform the world around me,” Lee, the College of Arts and Letters’ student speaker, said to fellow graduates during their Commencement ceremony on May 23.

Read his full speech below.

Hello, Golden Eagles!  

What a momentous day—for family, friends and faculty, you are witnessing your investments and support come to life, and for us graduates, we are wearing our hard work and achievements on our heads. This is our day, so let us celebrate, class of 2023!  

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu once said, “Life and death are illusions. We are in a constant state of transformation.” The idea of continuous change and transformation defined my and our experiences at Cal State LA: long before becoming Golden Eagles, interactions inside and outside the classroom, and now, our mission as alumni striving for the public good.  

Before coming to Cal State LA, I studied communication at a two-year college. My instructor, who happened to be my speech and debate/forensics coach and a Cal State LA alum, told me, “Go to Cal State LA and make a difference.” And, as people say, the rest is history: bringing speech trophies, recognition and a transformed person back to the university.

Doing co-curricular activities such as speech and debate taught me the importance of bringing outside knowledge to the classroom—analyzing media messages, understanding poetry from minoritized groups and dance performances advocating for change, all incorporated into my and our essays, portfolios and for graduate students, our theses.   

Another thing that transformed me was campus and classroom interactions. While I’m not drinking hot chocolate before night classes, I volunteered to develop software to help people with disabilities. While volunteering, I asked myself, “Why do organizations talk to each other?” The answer came while taking an undergraduate organizational communication course, with my instructor firmly declaring, “Organizations are communicators.”  

Later in graduate school, I and my friends had an emotional class experience where we discussed compassionate communication—the vulnerability from that discussion was transformational for all of us. As we walk across the stage today and become alumni, let us cherish that moment of transformation in the classroom and on campus—a moving musical performance, a provocative art exhibit, or perhaps a conversation with strangers while standing in line for food.   

Combined, the experience outside the classroom—forensics—and interactions inside—campus experiences—transformed me into a more well-rounded Golden Eagle. Long gone is a blind kid lacking confidence, replaced by an up-and-coming scholar and a Cal State LA alumnus with a big dream to not only continue to transform myself, but to transform the world around me. Today, I believe Cal State LA is saying to us graduates: Go beyond the pavilion and transform the world while showcasing our own transformations. 

As for me, once I add “M.A.” today and a “Ph.D.” to my name later, I hope to be part of commencement again, this time as a professor cheering on students who were, are and will be transformed by the university and our interactions.  

And of course, I must thank family, friends and faculty for supporting us and making our transformations possible.  

So, friends, graduates, Class of 2023, let the world lend their ears to our transformations! Thank you!  

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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit