To Altiora: One Ohio State Newark Student’s Inspiring Story
The words “Be positive. Be a leader. Be open. Be you.” are frequently uttered by The Ohio State University at Newark sophomore public affairs major and Cincinnati native Roman Lee. They tidily sum up how he has accomplished so much despite the odds against him.
Lee talks openly about his childhood as one of five children raised by a disabled single mother in an economically disadvantaged, predominately African-American neighborhood. “The thought of going to college or even getting into a good high school was unimaginable; the dream of becoming successful was unthinkable,” he said. “I was told that I wasn’t going to make it; I wasn’t going to become a lawyer or a leader because my family was poor, we lived in a poor neighborhood, and I am African-American. I was bullied all through school for who I am: for my ambition to learn, lead, and be successful and a part of something bigger than myself.”
Lee attended a public elementary school in his neighborhood, and when tested for admittance to a private middle school just a mile from the elementary school he was told he was extremely far behind in almost all subjects. This disadvantage led him to spend his middle school years working twice as hard as his peers to catch up to them. Lee rose to the occasion which led him to be admitted to a private high school known as Elder High School. Here, he would discover his path to success with the help of a grateful community.
“Through all of my struggles, I kept the drive to succeed alive with Elder High School’s motto, Altiora, Latin for ‘strive for the higher things.’ I always apply the motto to my future endeavors as well as any present hardships I may be enduring,” Lee said.
During his high school years, he began setting himself up for future success with heavy academic and extracurricular involvement. He took college preparatory courses including several advanced placement classes. Lee served as his class president, and then was elected as student body president. He received academic honors and the Ralph C. Bange Memorial Award for his outstanding use of talents both in and out of the classroom. Lee participated in track, swimming and the honor guard, was a part of the Mock Trial Team, pro-life and broadcasting clubs and food committee. He was a Hamilton County Youth Court volunteer juror and attended the West Point Society of Cincinnati Leadership and Ethics Seminar.
“Opportunity challenged me to seek out a path to success no matter where I went or how bleak things were,” Lee said during the 2018 Scholarship Breakfast where he gave remarks as the recipient of the John J. and Elizabeth O’Neill Scholarship. “I believe that a scholarship is not just a piece of paper or money, but actually a key to the gates of success and an opportunity to accomplish our goals.”
He orated with both passion and emotion during the breakfast thanking donors for their contributions to helping Ohio State Newark students obtain their goals. “I don’t look at my degree as just a degree, I see it as a time to make a difference, an impact and give a direction in our world.”
Lee is the current student body president of both Ohio State Newark and Central Ohio Technical College (COTC), president of Habitat for Humanity - Collegiate Challenge and an active member of Journey Campus Ministries and Laurel Honor Society.
“Roman has been a strong advocate for student interests and has helped me understand the context of those interests and the degree to which they vary in urgency,” said Ohio State Newark Dean/Director and Executive Dean of the Regional Campuses William L. MacDonald, Ph.D.
He is also a student employee for the Office of Multicultural Affairs and volunteer COTC ambassador. Last year, he was nominated to and attended the Propel Ohio Collegiate Leadership Summit, a leadership program that promotes civic engagement and inspires undergraduate students to grow into civic leaders in Ohio led by Senator Sherrod Brown.
“What Ohio State has taught me is to put the hard work into it. Get involved in at least one thing on campus. Do community service. Step out of your comfort zone, open your mind, try new things and a little failure will teach you more than you would think,” Lee said. “College is not just about classes. It is also about the experiences you have and the people you meet.”
He will transition to the Columbus campus in the fall semester of 2019 to complete his public affairs degree with a minor in military science. While he is looking forward to being housed with others in his major, he will miss being at Ohio State Newark. “I will miss the small campus where I can look at each building and think to myself ‘I know and admire so many people in there.’ I will miss the close-knit community feel that is also very diverse that has helped shape who I am.”
After completing his undergraduate degree, he intends on attending law school followed by serving in the United States military as a JAG officer (military attorney). Lee hopes to then move his career into politics as a government official representing his community and country as an activist in the progression of not only policy, but also the well-being of others.
As if those plans are not lofty enough, Lee’s most important goals are to begin two charities: V.O.I.C.E. and J.O.U.R.N.E.Y. V.O.I.C.E. will aid children who are victims of domestic violence, child abuse, poverty, hunger and homelessness. It will be in honor of his mother. J.O.U.R.N.E.Y. will help guide 16 to 22 year olds through the pursuit of their dreams and goals by assigning them a mentor to teach them life skills and how to make connections, and help them through choosing a college, major and career.
“These dreams, as big as they are, are what drive me to continue to Altiora.”
The Ohio State University at Newark offers an academic environment that’s inclusive of diversity, challenging but supportive with world-renowned professors and access to Ohio State’s more than 200 majors. It’s where learning comes to life. Research, study abroad and service learning opportunities prepare students for their careers in ways they never expected.