Mercile Lee’s founding role in prominent scholarships honored

The University of Wisconsin–Madison will solidify the legacy of the late Mercile J. Lee by incorporating her name into the two life-changing scholarship initiatives she established and directed for decades.

Lee, who retired in 2013 as assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs, died Oct. 25.  The Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program will be the new overarching name for the Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp scholarship programs. The two programs will retain their distinct names; students from both will now be known collectively as Mercile J. Lee Scholars.

The naming honor was announced Thursday at an often emotional ceremony at the Edgewater Hotel attended by about 350 people, many of them former scholarship recipients. They praised Lee’s leadership, vision and mentoring.

“She never wanted us to stop investing in ourselves or each other as a community of scholars,” Dominic Ledesma, a Powers-Knapp Scholar and 2004 graduate, told the crowd. “The unconditional support she offered, coupled with high expectations and structured measures of accountability, underlies our definition of tough love — the love Mercile provided for all of her scholars.”

He said people have been asking him what it was like to be Mercile Lee’s son.

“She had the same time for me as she had for all of you, and I think that’s the piece that I’m most overwhelmed by,” he said. “I could call her at any time, irrespective of all these things that I’ve heard that she’s done — and I didn’t know a lot of these things. … I can’t thank you enough for allowing her to still be a mom to me and a mom to all of you as well.”

Many speakers urged the crowd to pay Lee’s legacy forward. People were encouraged to write on blank cards on each table specifically how they planned to do that. The cards will be mailed back to each person in six months as a reminder and a check.

At the end of his remarks, Robb Lee had everyone stand, clasp each other’s hands, and say, “Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholars: Committed to a better future for all.”

Story by Doug Erickson, Photos by Andy Manis