Two from Stanford named 2019 Great Immigrants by Carnegie Corporation

Young Jean Lee
Young Jean Lee was named a Great Immigrant by the Carnegie Corporation. (Blaine Davis)

Carnegie Corporation of New York has released its annual July 4 list of Great Immigrants in a salute to 38 naturalized citizens who strengthen America’s economy, enrich our culture and communities and invigorate our democracy through their lives, their work and their examples.

Among the honorees are President MARC TESSIER-LAVIGNE, a native of Canada, and YOUNG JEAN LEE, associate professor of theater and performance studies and a native of South Korea.

Every Fourth of July since 2006, the philanthropic foundation has sponsored the public awareness initiative to commemorate the legacy of its founder, Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie, who believed strongly in both immigration and citizenship.

On its website, the Carnegie Corporation explained, “Young Jean Lee has been called ‘the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation’ by the New York Times, but her path to achieving that reputation was not easy. As she recalled in Time, when she tried to join her school’s drama club in her small town in Washington state, the teacher told her, ‘Well, we’re doing Oklahoma! And there are no Asians in Oklahoma!’ It wouldn’t be until her late twenties that Lee truly began to pursue her passion. Her experience of arriving in the United States from South Korea at the age of two and feeling like an outsider has profoundly shaped Lee’s work, which often centers on issues of identity — from Korean American (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven) to African American (The Shipment). With the 2018 Broadway debut of Straight White Men, in which a father and his three sons tackle the issue of privilege over takeout Chinese food, Lee became the first Asian American woman to write a play produced on Broadway. From 2003 to 2016, her nonprofit Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company brought her work to more than 30 cities around the world.”

In recognizing Tessier-Lavigne, Carnegie noted that he was born into a military family in Canada but grew up in London and Brussels, where his father served as part of Canada’s military contingent at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Tessier-Lavigne was the first in his family to attend college, graduating from McGill University with a degree in physics and later earning a second degree in philosophy and physiology from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He received his PhD in physiology from University College London. A leading expert on brain development and repair, Tessier-Lavigne began his career in the United States in 1987 at Columbia University, where he did his postdoctoral research, going on to join the faculties of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Stanford University. Tessier-Lavigne’s research on the formation of neural circuits has advanced our understanding of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. During his time as vice president for research and chief scientific officer at the biotechnology company Genentech, he directed 1,400 scientists in research and drug discovery for cancer and other diseases. Tessier-Lavigne returned to academia in 2011 to serve as president of Rockefeller University and, in September 2016, was named the 11th president of Stanford University. In his ‘What Matters to Me and Why’ lecture, delivered to Stanford students in 2017, Tessier-Lavigne said that the American regard for the sciences was one of the reasons he decided to pursue his career in the United States. As he put it, ‘Compared to so many other places in the world, I think there’s a bedrock optimism in this society, and individual drive and accountability. We have to kindle that optimism, because there’s lots to be optimistic about if we work together to tackle problems. It’s optimism that has to keep us going.’”

See the Carnegie announcement.