President George W. Bush announced on March 5 the National Medal of Arts Recipients for the year 2002. The President and First Lady Laura Bush, Honorary Chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, will present the medals to the individuals at a ceremony in the Oval Office on March 6. Ming Cho Lee, painter and stage designer, of New York is one of the recipients.
Ming Cho Lee was born in Shanghai in 1930 into a rather westernized family. His father was a 1919 Yale graduate and his maternal uncle was a 1918 Yale graduate. He always believed he would come to the United States for his higher education. He left Shanghai permanently for Hong Kong in 1948 without completing his high school education, just prior to the Communist take-over of the city months later. He came to the U.S. in October 1949 to attend Occidental College in Los Angeles. He was only one of three students from China in a college of 900. Occidental College was actually his father's choice as the best college for his son as he felt Mr. Lee should have a real American liberal arts education in a place where he could be most quickly assimilated. Mr. Lee's father's choice of Occidental for his son was excellent. Mr. Lee became so comfortable in his new environment that he chose to study design for the theater, much to his father's dismay!
Ming Cho Lee had gained such a profound respect and appreciation for the American system of government and justice and America's founding by immigrants that he had no intention of leaving the U.S. He was granted permanent residence as part of a general amnesty. In the years since then, Mr. Lee became one of the top set designers in the country. Mr. Lee has won numerous awards for his work, including: the first Joseph Maharam Award for Electra in 1965, a Tony nomination for Billy in 1970, the National Opera Institute Special Award for Service to American Opera in 1980, a Tony Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk Award, and a Maharam Award in 1983 for his work on K2. Mr. Lee has also been named Man of the Year by the Chinatown Planning Commission in New York City and has received the Mayor's Award for Arts and Culture in New York City. Mr. Lee is currently Co-chair of Yale University's School of Drama Design Department where he has taught since 1969. (Biographical souce and photo from American Immigration Law Foundation).