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2 Long Island students among Carey Gabay Scholarship winners

Two Long Island students who overcame hardships will get all their college expenses paid this year in the name of an attorney who rose from public housing to the halls of state government before being fatally shot during Labor Day weekend four years ago.

Krystal Johnson of Freeport and Venjamin Rivera of Central Islip are among the five recipients chosen across the state to receive the Carey Gabay Scholarship, which will pay not just for room, board and tuition but also transportation, supplies and personal expenses to the State University of New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office announced Monday.

The winners all come from "disadvantaged backgrounds" and exemplify Gaby's perseverance, hard work and public commitment, Cuomo said.

Johnson was 14 when she and her family left Guyana for New York City, and while they were getting used to life here, superstorm Sandy struck and damaged their home, officials said. During the years that their home was being renovated, the family bounced from one temporary housing situation to another, often living without heat, hot water and internet access, Cuomo's office said.

Still, Johnson maintained a "commitment to excellence" in her academic and extracurricular endeavors, according to the award announcement. 

Johnson wants to devote her career to expanding access to high-quality medical care and will attend SUNY Buffalo.

Rivera often witnessed abuse as a child, and he has been the caretaker of his younger siblings, Cuomo's office said.

Then in 2017, he was diagnosed with leukemia and spent a year in the hospital, missing junior year of high school, officials said.

But he made up for the lost time quickly — he finished two years of studies during his senior year and graduated, the scholarship announcement said. 

Rivera received a full scholarship offer from an out-of-state school, but his medical condition requires him to stay in New York, officials said.

He hopes to help victims of abuse by becoming a lawyer and plans to attend SUNY Old Westbury, Cuomo's office said.

The other winners are Bethelihem H. Gebresilasie of the Bronx, Samia Montgomery of upstate Troy and Rifath Siddique of Queens.

"Carey Gabay dedicated his life to building better communities, and these inspiring young people exemplify his selflessness and commitment to service and social justice," Cuomo said in the news release. "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." 

Gabay grew up public housing and attended public school in the Bronx, then graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law School. In the years before he died, he served as Cuomo's assistant counsel and as first deputy counsel for the Empire State Development Corporation.

He was at the predawn festivities for the West Indian American Day Parade on Sept. 7, 2015, when he was caught in the crossfire of a gang-related gun battle and shot in the head. He was 43.

This is the fourth year of scholarship awards in his name. 

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson echoed Cuomo's congratulations to the five new recipients: "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."

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