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Miles are just one measure of their journey, and not the most significant one. These two freshmen traveled far, it’s true, but they also overcame other obstacles to reach Marquette.
Xiong Her and Cha Lee share much in common. Both lived in a refugee camp in Thailand before their families were relocated to Milwaukee. In eighth grade, both reached out to Marquette’s Upward Bound program for academic support to help them succeed in high school. And when it was time to think about college, assisted by Kiarra Reid, their Upward Bound counselor, Her and Lee applied for Gates Millennium Scholarships. Both won.
“I have no idea how I won. I put all my effort into it,” says Her.
“As a man, you’re not supposed to cry, but tears just started to drop from my eyes,” says Lee.
The scholarship covers tuition and room and board all the way through doctoral degree. Applicants are chosen based on leadership and a record of community service. They also submit essays to describe obstacles they’ve overcome. Her and Lee’s essay topic was obvious. As Hmong children in Thailand, the two were not recognized as citizens and not permitted to attend good schools. That changed after their families reached Milwaukee.
Her and Lee, at 9 and 11 years old, respectively, had a lot to learn, including English. Lee was placed with kindergartners to learn how to read. “It was kind of embarrassing,” he says. “But I worked really hard to read books and pronounce everything.”
Then, they were connected with Marquette’s Upward Bound program. “It was a lot more helpful than I thought,” admits Lee, “and there is always someone there.”
The four years spent in Upward Bound and Marquette’s Educational Opportunity Program office paid off and made choosing a college easy. “Marquette felt like home,” says Lee.
Now, Her and Lee are working their way through college studies. “Sometimes, it’s hard in class,” Her says. “I am doing fine, but it’s not easy,” Lee says. — JMM
Upward Bound is a pre-college academic support program offered by Marquette’s Educational Opportunity Program. It recruits first-generation, income-eligible eighth-grade students in Milwaukee and offers classes, tutoring, college placement assistance and more.