CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–December 8, 2014. When journalism student Aaron Lee takes center stage as student graduation speaker during Roosevelt University’s Dec. 12 Commencement at the Auditorium Theater, he will not only be sharing a story of perseverance in the face of serious illness; but also, loss of a loved one.
He also will be recording his final words as a Roosevelt student on stage for use in a documentary and memoir that the 26-year-old Calumet Park resident currently is completing. He hopes to publish the long journey he has taken to receive a college diploma.
In and out of hospitals since graduating from the Alan B. Shepard High School in Palos Heights in 2006, Lee suffers from Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel illness whose symptoms for Lee have included debilitating abdominal pain, internal bleeding, skin rash, fatigue and attacks on his liver which nearly killed him.
As a Roosevelt student since 2012, Lee sometimes has spent long weekends in the hospital trying to rejuvenate himself in time for classes and TV sports broadcasting internships with media outlets like Comcast Sports Network and the Big Ten Network. He also has been a 2014 National Newspaper Association Fellow, recently representing Roosevelt and the state of Illinois in Washington, D.C. Lee also is a director of theatrical productions produced by the dance company Creative Expressions, founded by his late mother, Pamela Johnson Lee in Calumet Park. Creative Expressions infuses drama into its dance performances. He is a member of the New Community Church in south suburban Dolton, where Creative Expressions’ annual summer theater production is staged.
Over the years, Lee has told few – and no one at Roosevelt University – about his sporadic and painful bouts with Crohn’s Disease, until he took a memoir writing course with Roosevelt University Journalism Professor John Fountain.
“I tried to pick things that were easy to write about, but Professor Fountain kept telling me ‘No Aaron. Go back and dig deeper,’” said Lee, who calls Fountain both “a mentor and a friend.” “I was embarrassed and always trying to hide from my story, but Professor Fountain encouraged me in my writing and has always been there for me,” Lee said.
Because of the classroom experience, Lee came to the decision to share his story, which is not only about illness but also about the dream of finishing college as instilled by his mother. She died unexpectedly in 2011 just as her son was completing his general education courses at Olive Harvey Community College.
“There have been times I’ve been so sick that all I had was sports on TV and time to write,” said Lee, who has been working at Roosevelt to fuse the two interests together into a future career as a sports broadcaster. He envisions one day sitting and reporting from the ESPN desk.
“Somehow, I’ve been driven by my mother’s passing to finish college, and I know that walking across the stage to get my diploma will mean a lot to me,” said Lee. “It fulfills my promise to my mother to get my college degree and it puts me on track to pursue my passion for sports and writing,” he said.
Lee will be the fifth Roosevelt student in University history to deliver a Commencement speech to fellow graduates. As a journalism major and aspiring TV broadcaster, he also has big plans for the content and footage from the speech, which he plans to use to neatly wrap up the documentary and memoir about his personal journey that he and others believe is far from finished.
“I remember having a professor who once told me ‘The sky’s the limit on where you can go’ and I feel that way about Aaron,” said Fountain, who believes Lee can not only publish his story but also be a role model for how far Chicago’s urban youths can go when they set their minds to it, even in the face of adversities.
“There has been a lot of negative publicity and too often a negative image of young black men,” said Fountain. “Aaron represents the best in our young men and the best in our communities. He’s got passion