Former White House staff member’s first tweet becomes viral sensation

A little known former White House staff member has used his first tweet to describe a heart-warming moment with Barack Obama in a tweet that has gone viral online.

Gary Lee, a Korean American from Albuquerque, New Mexico, served as an assistant staff secretary under Mr Obama.

On Saturday, Mr Lee – who has been on Twitter for several years, but only ever re-tweeting remarks, wrote:  “I’ve never tweeted before but today felt like a good day to start.”

He was shocked into action, he said, after Mr Trump reportedly interrupted an intelligence briefing to ask a Korean American: "Where are you really from?"

The president then reportedly asked why the “pretty Korean lady” wasn’t negotiating peace with North Korea.

Mr Lee began detailing how, on deciding to leave the White House in 2011 to accept a Fulbright Scholarship in South Korea, he went to bid goodbye to Mr Obama.

Mr Obama welcomed him by saying hello in Korean – a moment that surprised and delighted Mr Lee, and which was caught by White House photographer Pete Souza.

“After my departure photo with POTUS, I left the Oval Office in a daze and ran into @kalpenn in the West Wing lobby,” Mr Lee recalled. 

Kal Penn was at the time the White House associate director of public engagement.

“I recounted the interaction with the president and he started tearing up. 

"’Why are you crying?’ I asked.

“He replied, ‘think about what you just said. How incredible that is. On your last day of work at the White House, after your years of service, the first African-American president greeted you in your parents’ native language.’

“I started crying too.”

Mr Lee told how his mother arrived in the US when she was 18, and his father when he was 26. 

“They worked multiple full-time and part-time jobs, opened a small business, and at one point, had only $20 in their checking account,” he said.

Mr Lee’s tweet touched a nerve, and has since been "liked" 157,000 times.

He continued: “In what other country is that even possible? In what other country are you allowed to dream, and despite all odds, pursue and achieve your dreams? In what country could a chubby, 90s Hip Hop and R&B-loving Asian kid from NM end up working for @BarackObama?

“What a beautiful, incredible nation of immigrants we are.”

On Monday, asked about the tweet, Mr Lee said it was not about his story in particular, but about the atmosphere of the time.

“The Obama family in general, the entire family was so tight-knit – and that was not out of his character. He inspired an entire generation,” he told MSNBC.

“They caught me off guard because I thought I was just going in for a last photo, and there he was with his arms outstretched.”

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