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Iconoclast Claims Warm Fuzzy Side, Sarcastically

Steve Y. Lee ’06

Laura C. Mckiernan

If you’re an Undergraduate Council candidate, you are, in all likelihood, afraid of Steve Y. Lee ’06. As one of the co-moderators of last week’s debate, he added his own sardonic flourishes to the script. “It’s kind of cool that I came off as the bad cop,” Lee says. “The only instruction I had was to be obnoxious and to get answers.”

Haddock, Voith, and Grimeland would hardly recognize the mild-mannered student who sits nursing the last of his dinner in the Currier dining hall. Unscripted, Lee remains sarcastic and sharp-witted, but when talking about his thesis on heroin policy and methadone research, his just-finished presidential term at the Harvard Independent, and especially his volunteer work with teens, he sounds, of all things, earnest. Well, almost: “I have tons of fun at PBHA,” he says, “You get to meet everyone twice. First [it’s] ‘Hi, I’m Steve Lee’ and then a week later, when they discover that I’m not a fan of a certain political stance of theirs, it’s ‘Hi, I’m Steve Lee, the conservative.’ It’s fun, because it has never gone badly for me. Not counting what people say behind my back.”

If they are talking about him, Lee doesn’t seem to care. Roommate Saviz Sepah ’06, who has known him since junior high, says that while he disagrees “vehemently” with Lee’s views, the two enjoy heated political conversations. “He’s not afraid to speak his mind, for better or for worse,” Sepah says. But while Lee’s views may not mesh with those of the typical Phillips Brooks-ite, he is popular with the do-gooder crowd. “People don’t think of him as someone who would be great working with kids,” says Techrosette Leng ’07, who worked closely with Lee at the Summer Urban Program (SUP). “You’d be surprised at how easy he is to work with.”

Although Lee spent the past summer in the Boston area working with the program, his room is a testament to his desire to roam. Its walls are lined with maps of everywhere from Mars to his native California. He enjoys exploring its highways, armed with his makeshift GPS­­—a laptop balanced on the dashboard. He acknowledges that he could get a car with a built-in system, “but then it wouldn’t be a ’91 Volvo.” This summer, before med school, he wants to drive the entire length of Interstate 80.

When he’s not on the road, Lee’s diversions include shooting staples off his balcony, tempting the wrath of the eco-friendly in winter by heating his bedding with a 1400-watt blow dryer, decorating with Audrey Hepburn posters (Sepah attributes the obsession to Lee’s “puritanical perceptions of beauty”), and justifying his weather-inappropriate clothing (shorts, sometimes accessorized with a safari hat) to any and all who will listen.

Encountering Lee and his opinions on the page, in a debate, or in one of his provocative comments is not the same as knowing him, friends attest. In daily life, and in nightlife, he is somewhat more subdued. “He doesn’t come out to a lot of parties,” observes Leng, who recalls that Lee arrived at a party called Skankfest wearing shorts, a button-down, and a tie. “He prefers to just sit back in his room and sip whiskey, alone.”