Paula Boakye came to America for better educational opportunities. Her father, who works at a warehouse, was worried about where the money would come from when the young woman chose to pursue a medical degree.
Those fears were put to rest this spring when Boakye, a 2008 graduate of Walnut Ridge High School, earned a Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship. She is the fourth Walnut Ridge student in as many years to receive the honor.
The Gates scholarship, funded by Microsoft executive Bill Gates, will pay for Boakye’s college education.
Boakye said she likes the fact that many students in the United States have the opportunity to go to college. In her native Ghana, students take a test toward the end of their schooling.
"If you pass, you go on to university," she said. "If you fail, you don’t go."
She also said it’s easier to go on if the students have money. If they don’t have the finances, even though they pass the test, they may not go on.
Boakye is excited about embarking on a college education at Michigan State. Her parents are excited about her next adventure, too. Boakye lives with her father and two brothers on the Eastside of Columbus. Her mother still lives in Ghana.
"My dad is happy," she said. As for her mother, "She was so happy she cried."
Boakye arrived in the United States in November 2004 and spent her four high school years at Walnut Ridge.
She began pushing herself early on when she saw Walnut Ridge graduate Jessica Ehule earn a Gates scholarship. Ehule returned to her alma mater to encourage other students to apply. The following year, Akililu "Lu" Alamerw received a Gates scholarship. Last year, El Hadji Falilou "El" Ndiaye was the recipient. Boakye said she is honored to be the school’s fourth recipient of the award.
Applying for the scholarship is no easy task, she said; it’s not a fill-in-the-blank application form. The application requires essay answers to nine questions, some of which address the applicant’s station in life, academics, long-term and short-term goals, career choices, family and finances, she said. Overall the application is 22 pages long.
Boakye will take her love of science into her studies as a biochemistry major at Michigan State, a school with a solid reputation for its medical degree program.
Boakye credits a science teacher at Walnut Ridge for helping her in her decision to pursue a medical career.
"My physical chemistry class was interesting," she said, "and I found that chemistry was easy."
Besides excelling in the classroom, Boakye was active in extracurriculars. She served on student council, was a member of the International Club, attended a YWCA Youth Conference, and is active in her church youth group.
Boakye will move to the East Lansing, Mich., campus on Aug. 20 and begin classes on Aug. 25. At age 20, she will be a little older than her classmates, but that doesn’t bother her. She has been a little older all along.
"We’re all going in there with the same knowledge and at the same level," she said.