A Very Special Celebration
Earlier this month, Dasle Kim and her mom flew from New York City to Korea to attend an elementary school graduation.
The graduate they traveled to celebrate: Dasle’s 78-year-old grandmother, Youngsoon Lee.
A Different Time
As a child in Korea in the 1940s, Dasle’s grandmother never attended school.
At that time, Youngsoon says, it was uncommon to get a formal education—especially if you were a woman.
“I grew up in a very poor family,” she says. “I started working full time by the time I was 12.”
After she was married, Youngsoon raised her four children while managing a restaurant.
“I didn’t know how to read or write, so I had to memorize the menu and the prices,” she says.
A Tough Transition
Dasle’s journey from the United States to Korea for the graduation ceremony took 14 hours.
“My grandmother and I have always had a close relationship, despite the distance,” Dasle says, “so it meant so much to me to be there for her special day.”
Youngsoon is one of 13 students in her school’s graduating class. All of them are around her age.
She says she’s proud of how far they’ve come since first enrolling in the abbreviated adult learner program, sponsored by the Korean Department of Education. They completed grades 1-6 in the past two years.
She says her first days in class were especially hard.
“Everything was so foreign and so difficult. I wanted to quit.”
She says learning English was particularly challenging.
“It was the subject I most wanted to do well in, so I could communicate with Dasle and my family in English,” Youngsoon says.
“But it was the hardest for me.”
Constant encouragement from family members, including Dasle, helped boost her self-confidence.
“They helped with my homework and encouraged me not to give up,” she says.
“They believed in me every step of the way.”
Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream
On graduation day, 733 adult learners from ten schools around Seoul joined together for one big ceremony.
“The room was jam packed,” Dasle says.
“Everyone was so proud—both the adult graduates and their families.”
Going to school, Dasle says, has been a lifelong dream for her grandma.
“She’s made plans to start middle school in a few months,” Dasle says.
All 12 of her classmates (“now dear friends,” according to Dasle), have too.
Dasle says she hopes she can make the trip for that future graduation day, as well.
“You’re never too young or too old to get an education. My grandmother is proof of that.”