Mason Graduate, 82, Plans to Start University in Vietnam

Posted: May 11, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Stephanie Hay

Buu T. Le will be traveling back to Vietnam instead of walking in George Mason University’s commencement ceremonies May 15. At 82, Le is George Mason’s oldest graduate this year. A Vietnamese man who spent 13 years surviving in a concentration camp, Le earned his PhD in Cultural Studies from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) in August 2003.

“I will now return to Vietnam and work for the University of Australia in Saigon teaching cultural studies,” he says. “Then, I would like to set up a university in my home province, if politics will allow me.”

Le climbed the ranks to colonel in the Vietnamese army and worked as an engineer, building roads and constructing highways. He then became involved in politics and served terms as a senator.

“I was in politics in Vietnam before being in the concentration camps for 13 years, from 1972 to 1985,” Le says. “George Mason gave me a chance to know about cultural affairs here, as well as politics, and French, which I studied every day. I am going to teach politics and cultural studies to my students.”

Le came to the United States and settled in the Washington, D.C., area in 1992. He studied at Northern Virginia Community College before starting his education at George Mason in 1996. He quickly earned BA and MA degrees in sociology at Mason. He also has a BA in English teaching from Saigon University.

Susan Swett, director of graduate admissions for CAS, remembers Le particularly fondly—he showed up in her office with a bottle of champagne after learning that he was admitted into the program.

“I’ll never forget it. In fact, I was very much tempted to show up at his dissertation defense—seven years after he first came into my office—and give him a bottle of champagne to celebrate his incredible success,” Swett says.

“He certainly is a man with real style,” says John Stone, former director of the Cultural Studies Program at George Mason. “He seems like someone who is 20 years younger, and he put many of the other graduate students to shame with his energy and vitality.”

Le credits Stone, now chairman and professor of sociology at Boston University, with being the most influential person in his George Mason career. Stone, too, found Le an inspiration.

“He is a remarkable individual who had a very difficult time during the transition in Vietnam and had survived horrible experiences both on a personal level and in detention,” Stone said. “Yet, he came out of it all with a tremendous zest for self-improvement and a desire to study at an age when many people would think of retirement. Certainly, I was most impressed by him.”

Stone has no doubt that Le is capable of reaching his goal in Vietnam. “Maybe when he turns 90 or something, then he’ll be ready to set up that university,” Stone laughs.

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