Governor Cuomo Announces 2019 Carey Gabay Scholarship Program Winners

September 2, 2019

Five Outstanding Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Receive Full Cost of Attendance Scholarships to SUNY Colleges

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the five 2019 winners of the Carey Gabay Scholarship Program. The scholarship program was created to honor the legacy of Carey Gabay, an attorney and public servant, who was tragically killed as an innocent victim of gun violence in September 2015 at the age of 43. Each scholarship covers all costs of attendance, including tuition, room and board, college fees, books and supplies, and transportation and personal expenses.

"Carey Gabay dedicated his life to building better communities, and these inspiring young people exemplify his selflessness and commitment to service and social justice," Governor Cuomo said. "I applaud this year's scholarship recipients for all their accomplishments and look forward to seeing them continue Carey's legacy and help create a better New York."

Carey grew up living in public housing and attending public school in the Bronx. After a successful high school career, he went on to graduate from Harvard University and then Harvard Law School.  While at Harvard University, he was elected to become the president of the undergraduate student body. During his recent career, he worked tirelessly in public service, first as an Assistant Counsel to Governor Cuomo, and later as First Deputy Counsel for the Empire State Development Corporation. Carey had a longstanding commitment to public service and giving back to those around him.

The five chosen students exemplify Carey's legacy of succeeding academically despite having an economically disadvantaged background, as well as his commitment to social justice, leadership, and mentoring. This is the fourth year of granting the scholarships.

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said, "The recipients of this year's scholarships will carry out Carey Gabay's long-lasting and remarkable legacy through their commitment to their communities, desire to pursue a higher education, and passion to make our state and the world a better place. Congratulations to Bethelihem, Krystal, Samia, Venjamin, and Rifath, and I look forward to seeing the great things you all will accomplish as SUNY students and beyond."

The winners of this year's scholarship are:

Bethelihem H. Gebresilasie - Bronx

Bethelihem's family moved often during her childhood, living at various times in Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda, and Arlington, Virginia before moving to New York. Her exposure to different countries and cultures, and particularly to various civil conflicts and unrest, has informed her worldview and fostered her commitment to working to combat injustice. During high school, Bethelihem participated in the Sadie Nash Leadership Program and the Africana Understandings club. She also worked as an intern at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.  Bethelihem looks forward to exploring her interest in the arts while in college, and hopes to work towards a career that will allow her to give back to her community.

Bethelihem will attend SUNY New Paltz.

Krystal Johnson - Freeport

When Krystal was fourteen years old, her family moved from her small hometown in Guyana to New York City. While acclimating to life in the United States, Krystal also had to deal with housing instability challenges due to ongoing renovations to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy. Despite bouncing between temporary housing situations over the next few years while the rebuilding process was underway, and living at times without amenities such as heat, hot water, and internet access, Krystal maintained her commitment to excellence in both her academic and extra-curricular endeavors. Krystal has an interest in the medical field and hopes to one day devote her career to expanding access to high quality medical care.

Krystal will attend the University at Buffalo.

Samia Montgomery - Troy

In Samia's short life, she has experienced homelessness and food insecurity as well as the death of a parent and another parent's fight against a serious illness. She has overcome these tragedies to excel academically, graduating with a 95 average. She has dedicated her time to tutoring younger students in her community so that they too can excel beyond their situation. Samia wants to attend law school and fight for those who have been mistreated by the criminal justice system, with a focus on the wrongfully convicted.

Samia will attend SUNY Oswego.

Venjamin Rivera - Central Islip

Growing up, Venjamin often witnessed abuse, and he was called on to be the caretaker for his younger siblings.  Then, in 2017, he was diagnosed with Leukemia.  He was forced to spend a year in the hospital receiving treatment for cancer and missed his entire junior year of high school.  He never let this situation prevent him from achieving his goals.  He completed two years of coursework in his senior year of high school, graduated, and received a full scholarship offer from a school in another state. However, his medical condition has required him to stay in New York State. Venjamin is committed to becoming a lawyer so that he is able to help victims of abuse.

Venjamin will attend SUNY Old Westbury.       

Rifath Siddique - Queens

Rifath moved from the Middle East to Queens two years ago, where he lived in a small basement room with his entire family.  He tutored other students five nights a week after school until 9 p.m. to help earn extra money for his family. He was a member of his school's chapter of the National Honor Society, as well as the varsity Soccer and Volleyball teams. He also participated in the Peer Pal network, a peer mentoring organization at his high school. Rifath has a passion for helping people and plans to go into medicine so that he can provide assistance to as many people as possible.

Rifath will attend Stony Brook University.


About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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