Two alumns share their story as their son gears up for December graduation


Analicia Haynes

Lamar Lee (left), Branson Lee (middle) and Kelly Lee (right) pose for a family photo in the playground outside of where they used to live during Lamar and Kelly Lee’s time in graduate school in 1999. Branson Lee is a senior management major and is graduating in December, almost 20 years after his parents graduated from grad school at Eastern.

Analicia Haynes, Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s Note: In an April 29, 1999 edition of The Daily Eastern News, Lamar and Kelly Lee were interviewed, and they told their story about raising a child while working and finishing graduate school. Almost 20 years later, their son, Branson Lee, who was five when the story was written, is now a senior management major and is graduating in December.

A beautiful surprise: that is what Kelly Lee, an Eastern alumna, said when she found out she was pregnant her senior year of college.

That was almost 20 years ago and now the “beautiful surprise,” or senior management major Branson Lee, will be graduating from the same university his parents graduated from when he was just a few weeks old and then a second time when he was five.

Kelly and Lamar Lee graduated from Eastern with their undergraduate degrees in 1994 and then again with their masters in 1999.

They said Eastern brought their family together, and Lamar Lee said everything in their life seems to always revolve around Eastern.

He said he met his wife at Eastern and together they started their lives and their family at Eastern, and now they said they are incredibly proud to see their son welcomed into the “Eastern family,” although originally that was not the plan.

Lamar and Kelly Lee said they formally met each other their junior year after their friends forced them to meet. But, Lamar Lee said what they did not realize was that they knew each other their freshmen year when they had an English class together.

“I was the guy who was always in the back of the class half lit because I was drinking before class started and sometimes the professor would mess with me because of the fact that, ‘this kid is half drunk in my class,’” he said.

Kelly Lee said she remembered how loud he was, and Lamar Lee said initially she did not want to have anything to do with him.

“‘Who’s this pompous ass,’” Lamar Lee jokingly said when Kelly was asked what she thought of him when she first met him.

Branson Lee shook his head and chuckled as he looked at his parents, listening to their love story.

“I’m just making sure they’re not holding back,” Branson Lee said.

Kelly Lee looked back at her husband and laughed, “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Kelly Lee said, agreeing with her husband’s comment and looking right at Lamar Lee who nodded and said, “I was, I was.”

“(He had a) very big ego and I figured that he wasn’t going to be the brightest bulb,” she said. “Then, when they brought him over that night … we started talking and … he had a brain and I was like, ‘He’s intelligent, I didn’t expect that.’”

“(And) here we are,” Lamar Lee said, looking at his wife and smiling.

When they found out they were pregnant with Branson Lee, Kelly Lee said she was scared but knew that she had a support system around her to help her.

“Never did it cross my mind that I was not going to finish school,” Kelly Lee said. “That was never an option for me.”

Kelly and Lamar Lee said graduating and going to graduate school was something they wanted to do and knew they had to do in order to give their son a better life.

So, two weeks after Branson Lee was born, Kelly and Lamar Lee walked across the stage at their first graduation.

Lamar Lee said he was scared about how he would be able to support a child when he was struggling to support himself.

Both Lamar and Kelly Lee said they found their own inspiration to not only finish school but also find the strength to raise their son at the same time.

“Over the course of my life, I wanted to have a better life and I knew that an education was a way to get that better life and knowing the fact that she was pregnant with Branson I knew then that I had to get that degree if I wanted to be able to give him some kind of life,” Lamar Lee said.

They said when their son was born they knew they wanted to make sure he had an easier time to follow his passions and that was their goal.

But Branson Lee said he never pictured himself attending the college his parents went to, it was something that was never an option.

He said he did not like the older looking campus or town at first and when it came time for college tours and visits, he said Eastern never made the list.

“I already knew what it looked like,” Branson Lee said. “I didn’t want to come (back).”

Instead, Branson Lee attended Illinois State University for one year and did not do too well.

“At 17 or 18 it’s hard to think about, ‘well is this really a good school for me’…that shows how serious I was at the time,” Branson Lee said.

After his first year, Branson Lee said he had to leave ISU and was not accepted back.

However, Branson Lee said the setbacks he faced, just didn’t stop him and instead of giving up he attended a community college before being accepted into Eastern, something his parents told him he should have done from the start.

“Coming to Eastern was probably the best decision I made as far as my college career (goes),” Branson Lee said, citing several factors that made his experience at Eastern a better one such as being able to work one on one with professors and having smaller class sizes.

His parents agreed with him and said Eastern was the best thing that happened for him.

“I’m so incredibly happy for him and the strides that he has taken, the growth we have seen in him and I think that he has seen that we’ve just seen so much maturity and growth over the years especially since he’s come (to Eastern),” Kelly Lee said. “It made him who he is.”

Lamar Lee said he is proud of his son’s tenacity to get back to school and to now graduate.

“College is a roller coaster of events, you second guess yourself, you second guess why you’re here, “should I be back at home, knowing what he went through he’s gone through some major obstacles found a way to find his way through,” Lamar Lee said.

Branson Lee said he is ready to graduate from Eastern, but he is still unsure about what his future holds.

However, Branson Lee said if there is one thing his parents taught him to do, it is to be passionate about everything he takes on.

“I just want to get done, at some points I beat myself up (for not finishing school sooner) but college is not a sprint it’s a marathon… I’m proud that I finished, I did it,” Branson Lee said.

Lamar Lee said he is grateful for all the opportunities his family received from Eastern and in life but he said he never imagined his family ever having those opportunities.

He recalled a time after Branson Lee was born and they were trying to find something to do on a Friday night, in this case they were trying to get pizza.

“We were so broke and I’m not kidding you we were scrounging through couch cushions looking for change. Back then you could get a Dominos Pizza for three bucks. I already had a job, we were so broke that we barely had enough change to get a pizza,” Lamar Lee said. “I remember looking at (Kelly Lee) and saying, ‘Mark my words we will never ever be this broke ever again in our lives,’” Lamar Lee said.

Kelly Lee said they made sure their son never went without, even when times were tough and Branson Lee said he never remembered a struggle.

Branson Lee said despite the many successes his family had, his parents never changed and they remained humble.

He said he was used to his parents telling their story and heard it many times before but hearing it again, he said he cannot help but think of how far his parents have come and how far he has come.

“Since he’s going to graduate, and I already told him, I’m going to be very emotional,” Lamar Lee said. “I’ll be emotional for first of all it’s your child graduating and what that means to him… and the other thing is that he’s coming out of Eastern.”

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].