Syngman Rhee 1910 in a 1950 photo.
Syngman Rhee 1910 in a 1950 photo.
PHOTO: JOHN RICH/BETTMANN/CORBIS/AP IMAGES

A lecture hall at the Woodrow Wilson School has been named for Syngman Rhee *1910, the first president of South Korea and the first Korean graduate of Princeton.

A ceremony dedicating Bowl 16 in Robertson Hall as the Syngman Rhee 1910 Lecture Hall was held Oct. 3, followed by an address by Un-Chan Chung *78, the former prime minister of South Korea. 

“Without Rhee’s strong leadership and diplomatic skills, free South Korea may not have existed,” said Jong-Seok Kim *88, president of the Princeton Club of Korea, which raised $480,000 to honor Rhee.

Rhee studied politics at Princeton and was inspired by the political philosophy of self-determination of Woodrow Wilson 1879 in his decades-long crusade for Korean independence from occupation, U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said during a 2009 speech at Princeton. In 1948, Rhee was elected president of the newly founded South Korean nation and ruled until 1960. His time in office was marred by accusations of corruption and election-tampering, and he resigned amid student protests.

Nevertheless, about 50 Koreans — half alumni, and many of the others parents of Princeton students — contributed funds to honor Rhee at Princeton. Kim said Rhee’s controversial rule should not cloud his achievements.

“Although his last moment as South Korean president was unfortunate, he is still admired and respected by many Koreans,” Kim said.