Daniel Lee: Defining the Positivity
When Daniel Lee was in grade school, he had what he calls an “identity crisis.” Living with cerebral palsy meant he was in a wheelchair. But seeing other kids walking made him uncomfortable.
“I met with a social worker. I remember asking him, ‘Do you like me? Because I don’t like myself.’ He told me it’s OK to feel that way. And then he said, ‘Let’s try to find the real you.’”
That moment – and further discussions – helped Daniel “figure out who I was and accept myself as I am.”
And, eventually, the interactions with social workers did even more for Daniel’s identity. As thoughts of careers came to mind, he considered becoming a medical doctor so he could help others facing challenges such as his, then a filmmaker. But the tremendous good social workers had done for him and his self-esteem soon made his professional future clear. He would be a social worker.
Now it’s happening. In the fall of 2022, Daniel, who is 20, began his first year in the social work program at York University.
Daniel was actually a bit surprised he got into university. He was, in fact, accepted to two universities. But his success doesn’t surprise Mary Sovan, one of his teachers at Stephen Lewis Secondary School in Vaughan, ON.
“Daniel has never looked at what he couldn’t do, but instead, at how he could do things using his disability as a motivation and strength for what was ahead of him. He used his positive attitude to turn challenges into goals and accomplishments.”
That positivity is taking Daniel forward. Initially placed a stream at school that focused on trades, he advocated to move into an academic stream that would enable him to apply to university. And he has quite a talent in multimedia – he’s developed podcasts about music and has been a video editor for the YouTube channel of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
In addition to praising his social workers, Daniel is quick to highlight two other sources of support and inspiration.
One is Canada. Daniel lived with his parents in the family’s native South Korea until age 10. He says that in South Korea he was seen as someone in a wheelchair. But it wasn’t until the family arrived in Canada that he felt fully accepted.
The others are his parents, Julia (Hyun Jung Oh) and Kenneth (Heesock Lee).
“My parents told me everything as possible. When I told them my goals, sometimes they were ambitious. But they were like, “OK, let's try to figure this out.” They trust me and they let me make mistakes. They catch me if they need to, but I learned so much from my mistakes. My mindset now is if another challenge comes along, I just accept it and deal with it. It's hard sometimes, but I have that mindset thanks to them.”
He is also insistent on recognizing EKO for its belief in him.
“Empowered Kids Ontario and this scholarship will be really impactful in helping me with studies so that one day I can help other people. So I want to say thank you and how meaningful this scholarship is to me.”
Read about EKO Scholar Daniella Altieri
Read about EKO Scholar Max LeMoine
Read about EKO Scholar Sydney Melindy
Read about EKO Scholar Victoria Chen