With an optimistic view of politics, Daniel Pae and Michael Lutter ran for office in OU’s Student Government Association. With Daniel running as president and Michael as vice president, they believed they could affect positive and tangible change on campus. They won the election and shared a year of hard work and collaboration to tackle several challenging initiatives. This process forged a fast friendship, but it wasn’t until a visit home that Daniel and Michael realized their families shared a unique connection.
Michael, the former SGA vice president, is from Columbus, Ohio. “No one in my family had been south of Kentucky or West of Indiana,” Michael said. “So when I came here for school, it was new, uncharted territory for me,” he said. To Michael, the Midwest symbolizes a new frontier. His family joked that he had a southern accent despite being raised in the North.
“Coming from Ohio, my house was built in 1860. In that part of the country, everything is old and fixed. But in this part of the country, things are new and growing,” he said. When Michael decided to attend the University of Oklahoma, his brother, who serves in the army, requested to be stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton so he could be close to his little brother.
Daniel’s family, on the other hand, came to Oklahoma from across the world. Daniel’s parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea. They tested a few cities before settling down in Lawton. “My parents taught me so much about hard work, persistence, and keeping a positive attitude,” said Daniel.
Because the army base created a demand for laundry services, Daniel’s parents started a dry- cleaning business. “Neither of them had an MBA or anything,” said Daniel. “They read and studied and navigated the business code, which is hard enough to do when you’re a native English speaker,” he said.
Daniel and Michael decided to run for office together when they were sophomores. Once they realized they both had family in Lawton, Daniel invited Michael to meet his parents. When Michael’s brother drove him to Daniel’s parents’ store, he was shocked. “You’re kidding,” Michael’s brother said. “These are some of my favorite people.” Michael’s brother frequented Daniel’s parents’ dry cleaning business to care for his army uniform. “Daniel’s parents were some of the most inspirational people to my brother,” said Michael. “To him, they embodied the American Dream,” he said.
Daniel’s family and Michael’s brother were connected through their respective service to the United States. Michael and Daniel were connected through service to OU. Michael said the familial tie they didn’t know they shared was emblematic of their own friendship. “Like his parents, Daniel is the visionary. The guy with the ideas. And I’m like my brother— the supporting role who’s inspired by people like Daniel,” Michael said. To Daniel, it was a testament to fate. “It shows that everything happens for a reason. You meet the right people at the right time,” Daniel said.
As president and vice president, Daniel and Michael drove big ideas from conception to reality. They started a bike share program, brought a food bank on campus, passed legislation for dead week limitations and found a way to provide free legal aid to students in need.
They accomplished a substantial amount for their relatively short time in office. “I know a lot of people are cynical about the state of politics right now,” said Daniel. “But I think one thing we demonstrated during our time in office is that if you have a positive attitude, you’re persistent in your efforts, and collaborate with others, you can make a positive and sustainable difference for people,” Daniel said.
Their friendship, family connection, and time in office gave them a bright outlook on the future of Oklahoma. Michael said, “If there’s anyone who will get involved in Oklahoma politics and make a positive difference, it’s Daniel.” Both are pursuing accelerated Masters’ programs and plan to continue enacting the change they want to see—in whatever capacity possible after graduation.