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Refugee student awarded as Gates Millennium Scholar

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Some of the most successful Buffalo Public School students are refugees from across the globe. WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley says for the fourth year in a row, a refugee student at Lafayette High School is the winner of the very prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship.


"When I got it I was so happy, I couldn't believe myself,” said Doris Noh.

"We have to work harder than the people who are here in order to be successful people, because that’s what life is all about – you have to work in order to achieve something,” remarked Doris Noh.

Noh has a great smile and giggles about how she achieved her big scholarship.  Noh is a senior at Lafayette High School. She's came to Buffalo from a refugee camp in Burma with her family eight years ago, but is originally from Thailand.   

"You know our family just run all the time. We just been hiding. It is just part of our life since we were born,” explained Noh.

"What are some of the things that people live through in the camps?” asked Buckley.  "Well, to tell you the truth, when people live in the camp, there's not a job right, so they do a lot of illegal stuff. Even though we are poor there are people poorer than us. Sometime they steel food from us even though we are poor. The poor people steel from us,” replied Noh.

“What has it been like since you've been here in Buffalo & in the United States?” asked Buckley. “Actually I was really shocked when I came to American because I never really expected the snow and the weather, also the people are different, because I’m not really adapt to their environment and it was really different,” responded Noh.

Noh reflects on her father's decision to come to the United States. She said her family didn't know anyone in Buffalo and they realized the language barrier would be tough, but her father was convinced life would be much better for the family.

“There’s not an opportunity for us if I live there, I don’t have a chance like other people. So my father moved here because he don’t see a lot of hope for us in the future, so he moved to America,” stated Noh.

Noh's said her father works at New Era. Her mother just started working a few months ago now that Noh's sister is of school age. Noh has become one of four Lafayette students, in a row, that came from a refugee camp in Burma and has been named a Gates Millennium Scholar.

“The fact that it has been four women from refugee camps from Thailand and Burma, that in and of itself, should be acknowledged and earmarked as like look who is coming to America because that’s amazing,” said Cassie Lipsitz, Lead Art Teacher at Lafayette High School.    

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Doris Noh's self-portrait from her art class.

Noh has been her art student since she was a freshman. The Gates Millennium Scholarship will provide Noh full college tuition. This honor is awarded each year to only 1,000 high school seniors nation-wide. 

“It is a full ride scholarship to any college, undergrad, graduate – up to a million and a half dollars throughout her life,” explained Lipsitz.

“When we view America, we view it as like the country there is a lot of richness, there’s a lot of pride, so when we come here, since we don’t have a lot of that, we have to work harder than the people who are here in order to be successful people, because that’s what life is all about – you have to work in order to achieve something,” remarked Noh.

“I see the international students interacting with the American students and making the American students kind of like push further,” noted Lipsitz. “Doris has total helped me with students translating, but also artistically getting students that are totally different from her, culturally, language wise, they see a student succeed and they see how to do it and that translates across the board.”           

Lipsitz noted Noh is very talented and well-rounded in her art work.  Noh had to write a thousand word essay to apply for the scholarship. She told her story and won.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Student Doris Noh & Cassie Lipsitz, Lead Art Teacher at Lafayette High School, look through a cabinet in the art classroom.

“I told of my family history, like before, why we moved to a Thailand refugee camp because of our home that was taken away. The government was very strike toward us,” said Noh.

Noh wants to study medicine and become a doctor and plans to attend D'Youville College.

“I want to become a doctor because I want to help people and also I’m very passionate about like helping people and learning new things and I’m also interested in science too. It’s been my dream,” Noh said.

Noh has been selected to be Lafayette's valedictorian.  After talking about her achievements and showing off her artwork, Noh hurried out of the art room worried about getting to her next class. Noh says she sometimes still misses her homeland, but realizes, as a young woman,   she has a better life and opportunity for her future.