Braille Monitor                                                                    August/September 2006

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2006 Scholarship Class of the National Federation of the Blind

The 2006 scholarship class: back row (left to right): Kotumu Kamara, Mary Harrod, Jeffrey Thompson, Sean Whalen, James Dietz, Cali Sandel, Robert Crowley, Cyrus Habib, Ryan Thomas, and Matthew McCubbin; middle row: Danny Solomon, Timothy Elder, Christopher Booher, Jeffrey Young, Robin Kyle, Rachel Becker, Ronza Othman, Ashley Skellenger, Laura Wolk, and Mary Anne Parks; and front row: Carrie Modesitt, Nikos Daley, Jessica Bachicha, Corbb O'Connor, Martha Harris, Anna Muaswes, Evelyn Valdez, Mary Krumwiede, Lucille Fair, and Noria Nodrat

From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind's Scholarship Program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes--more than ninety-six past winners this year--stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do with their lives.

On banquet evening, while we are still sky-high after listening to President Maurer's address, Peggy Elliott comes to the podium, presents the year's winners, giving an academic and personal sketch of each, and announces which scholarship the person has been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil, who astonished the entire banquet audience and delighted the members of the scholarship class by instructing Peggy Elliott to announce that the Kurzweil Educational Foundation was presenting each winner with an additional $1,000 scholarship; the latest version of the Kurzweil-1000 reading software, which is now DAISY-enabled; and a brand-new Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader! In addition to all this, Bookshare presented each winner with a one-year subscription to this valuable print-download service that also now includes most of the newspapers available on NFB-NEWSLINE®.

The final award presented in this year's scholarship extravaganza, which took place at the banquet on July 6, was the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Christopher Booher, who then spoke briefly to the audience. His remarks appear later in this article.

But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-eight 2006 NFB scholarship winners and two tenBroek Fellows, who were each receiving a second scholarship, came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Peggy, who announced the home and school states after each name. She began by announcing that the first winner was a tenBroek Fellow.

tenBroek fellow, Jessica Bachicha, New Mexico, Massachusetts: Thank you so much. Good morning, fellow Federationists. It is a great honor for me to be here as a tenBroek Fellow. I received degrees from the University of New Mexico in music and foreign languages, and will begin a master's in vocal performance at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston this autumn. I spent a year doing research on music and theology last year at the University of Leeds, and my research has shown me more than ever that music can be an instrument of social change. I look forward to putting this knowledge to work for the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you very much.

Rachel Becker, Iowa, Iowa: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am currently a sophomore at Buena Vista University in Iowa. I am a media studies major, and I hope someday to be a newspaper reporter. I just want to say that it is an honor to be here and be part of the scholarship class of 2006.

Christopher Booher, Texas, Texas: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Once again I'd like to welcome you to the great state of Texas. Currently I am pursuing a master's degree in business administration at Texas State University in San Marcos. After I graduate I intend to find a managerial position in finance or information technology. Four years ago with a Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship and a small spark of curiosity I went to my first national convention, and when I got there, I didn't know a single person. But when I left at the end of the week, I had three thousand new family members and a new philosophy to live the rest of my life by. I gained confidence and independence from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and I stand before you today to say that I am ready to go back and give to this organization that's given so much to me over the past four years. Thank you. Have a wonderful convention here in the Lone Star State.

Robert Crowley, New York, New York: Good morning, fellow scholarship winners, fellow Federationists, board of directors. I received my associate's degree in liberal arts with a major in chemical dependency counseling this spring. I will be entering Binghamton to pursue a degree in political science, and not become a lawyer, but to get into advocacy and lobbying. I am pleased to be here. I belong here, and I hope that I can contribute while I am here. Thank you.

Nikos Daley, Maryland, Ohio: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am grateful to God and the NFB for having the opportunity to be here. I am a sophomore at Franciscan University in Steubenville, majoring in social work. I look forward to being a lifelong member of the Federation. Thank you.

James Dietz, New York, Ohio: Hello, everyone. I just graduated a few weeks ago from high school, and in September I am attending Oberlin College in Ohio, planning to major in computer science probably, to be something like a computer programmer. I first found out about the NFB in 2001 when I attended the Buddy Program and was really surprised to find blind people actually leading people around and living in their own apartments. You can hear all the lip service about blind people doing anything they want, but it is really something else to see it happen. Thanks.

Timothy Elder, California, California: Good morning, fellow Federationists. My name is Tim Elder. I welcome you and give you the warmest of California greetings from Palo Alto, California. I did my undergraduate work in electronic music. I have been working for the past two years as a musician and record producer, touring around with a rock band. I have recently been accepted into U.C. Hastings law school. Whatever you are doing, whether it's a rock musician touring around, changing the world's attitudes about poverty, like Bono; or blazing a trail in the Supreme Court like Sandra Day O'Connor, I believe that we can make a strong impact on this world. I thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to pursue my own dreams and ambitions through education, determination, and the community this Federation provides. Thank you so much.

Lucille Fair, Mississippi, Mississippi: Good morning, fellow Federationists and fellow scholarship winners. I'm proud to be one of them. I am proud to be a National Federation of the Blind member. I am currently a junior at Alcorn State University, majoring in business administration. I am holding a dean's scholar award. I am proud to be here among all of you. In the future I plan to become a health care provider and possibly a tax preparer to put back into the community and be supportive of blind people and people who are in need. Thank you.

Cyrus Habib, Washington, Connecticut: Hello, everyone. Good morning. I am from Seattle. I did my undergraduate degree in New York City at Columbia and then spent a few years as an expat in England. I am now back after my graduate study to start law school at Yale. I am absolutely new to the Federation, and as someone who is new to it, I have to say that I am excited to learn about the proud history of this organization and enthusiastic to be part of the initiatives in the years to come. I look forward to getting to know the litany of leaders and symphony of solidarity and Federation of friends that this Federation comprises. I also look forward to going on a joy ride in one of those cars that are going to be designed quite soon. But I insist on getting past the first block, so make it fast. Thank you so much.

Martha Harris, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Buenos dias, everyone. Thank you so much to the Scholarship Committee for giving me this opportunity to be here. I am a freshman mass media major and Spanish minor at Bloomsburg University. I am also the vice president of the Pennsylvania Association of Blind Students and the secretary of our local chapter. At this convention I am excited to learn the stories of individuals as Federationists, what this organization does, and how it works, why this organization is the strongest group of blind people in the nation, where we've been in the past, and where we are going to go. I want to be a newspaper reporter in the Spanish-speaking part of the United States, and I am so glad to be a part of this ongoing story of the National Federation of the Blind.

Mary Harrod, Kentucky, Kentucky: Hello, everyone. I am proud and honored to be attending my fifth convention, as a scholarship recipient. I am currently working on a master's in psychology at the University of Louisville and plan to pursue another degree to become a teacher of blind students. I am currently the vice president of the Kentucky Association of Blind Students. I currently hold a board position in the local chapter, and I am the secretary of the newly formed Sports and Recreation Division. I've learned a lot of tools and philosophy through the NFB and my years of experience, and I plan to teach these tools to the students I teach. Thank you.

Kotumu Kamara, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good afternoon, everybody. I am originally from Africa. I am a student at the University of Minnesota, majoring in international studies. I plan to go into international mediation and conflict resolution. I am proud to be here today. I was introduced to the Federation by Nadine Jacobson. She inspired me with the philosophy of the NFB. I have struggled through many difficulties through my journey from a senseless civil war as a newly blind person. From my experience I have learned that those who face great struggles become great learners. I am proud to be here today, and I will continue to be a learner and a giver in the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.

Mary Krumwiede, Ohio, Ohio: Hello, everybody. I am a sophomore at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. I am pursuing a degree in international studies and French. Someday I'd like to do some interpretation work for the government. I am totally new to the NFB, and it's quite an honor to be here at the convention. I'd like to give a special thanks to the Scholarship Committee for allowing me to be here. It's truly an honor. Thank you so much.

Robin Kyle, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I am in the Indianapolis Circle City Chapter of the Federation, where I have been a member for five years. I am a mother of three and a grandmother of one. I am returning to school at the Indiana University, Purdue University of Indianapolis, commonly known as "UIPUI". I am receiving my bachelor's degree in education. My goal is to teach; I want to make a change in a young person's life. We are standing over 50,000 strong, and, people, that is power. With that power is the responsibility and the obligation to make a change within our blind community. That is my goal.

Matthew McCubbin, Michigan, Michigan: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This fall I will be attending Western Michigan University and majoring in telecommunications and information management. My longterm vocational goal is to become an assistive technology support specialist for the blind and to teach blind people how to use computers. This summer I am actually working at a camp program for blind youth in Michigan called Camp Tuhsmeheta. That has truly changed my life. That's where I got started with the Federation. The National Federation of the Blind is my family; you guys are my family. I have been so welcomed. I am proud to be here. You truly are my family--just without the Christmas gifts. Thank you.

Carrie Modesitt, Missouri, Missouri: Good morning. Albert Einstein said, "Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means." The examples set forth by Federationists sparked an inquisitive interest in achieving independence that encouraged me to obtain the necessary skills to become competitive. In the past two years that I have been in the NFB and an officer of the Missouri Association of Blind Students, others' modeling of success encouraged me and showed me that I and others like me can achieve similarly and reach to new heights. In the fall I will be attending Westminster College as a freshman, majoring in political science with minors in leadership studies and pre-law. I plan to complete law school and deal with cases relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Anna Muaswes, California, California: Good morning, fellow Federationists. It is respectable to be blind. Initially, when I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, I sensed a sense of shame and the fear that I would not be a competent adult. I attended the Colorado Center for the Blind. There I discovered the truth about blindness. The NFB has taught me a lot and brought me tremendous opportunities, one of which is that I will be mentoring at the youth Science Academy this summer. I am so grateful for that opportunity, and I will also be involved in a mentoring workshop in Seattle, also cosponsored by the Jernigan Institute. My experience at the Colorado Center for the Blind in combination with these opportunities have proved to me that I will be a successful genetics counselor. Thank you very much.

Noria Nodrat, New York, New York: Good morning to each one of you. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to show my sincere gratitude for all support and care that I received from National Federation of the Blind and the Scholarship Committee. I am majoring in human services. I will be graduating in the fall of 2006 with the honor of being valedictorian of my class. My average is 3.7, and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and I am hoping that I will share my experience and knowledge that I will learn with the National Federation of the Blind to help every individual blind person in the United States as well as in other countries. Thank you so much.

Corbb O'Connor, Illinois, District of Columbia: Good morning. I have found that this is my first experience with the National Federation of the Blind, and I have met so many interesting people who have many interesting stories to tell. So I thank you for sharing those stories with me. In the fall I will be at George Washington University, studying business, specifically hospitality management. Thank you.

Ronza Othman, Illinois, Illinois: Hello. I am so grateful to be here. This is going to be my last year of law school, and hopefully I will sit for the bar next year. I am also a board member of the Chicago Chapter, which I am thrilled to be involved in. Because of the NFB I have actually been learning Braille. I have begun using a cane to travel, which has really opened a lot of doors for me that I didn't know even existed, let alone were closed. I think it's fitting since we are in Texas, the theme, in my mind at least, comes from a cowboy song by Garth Brooks, "A Dream Is Like the River."

I will sail my vessel until the river runs dry.
Like a bird upon these wings, these waters are my sky.
I won't reach my destination if I never try,
So I will sail my vessel until the river runs dry.
I know I have a vessel, and I won't get anywhere unless I try.

Mary Anne Parks, Georgia, Georgia: How is everyone this morning? I am very honored to have been chosen an NFB 2006 scholarship recipient. I am currently obtaining my teaching certification to teach blind students as well as finishing a master's program in public administration. I am many things within my state affiliate. I am the secretary, an active member of the Atlanta Metro Chapter and a mentor at the Georgia Academy for the Blind. I am also a mentor for an NFB Science Academy attendee, and I love being a mentor. I am so excited to take my knowledge and the experience that I have gained from the NFB and to pursue it into my career as a teacher of blind students. Thank you.

Cali Sandel, South Carolina, South Carolina: Hello, everybody. Once again, I am Cali Sandel. I will be a sophomore in the fall at Winthrop University, majoring in political science with intentions of being one of many lawyers. I am so honored and it is such a wonderful opportunity to be included in this group of individuals. We've all come so far, and I know we'll just go so much further in life. Thanks to everybody.

The second tenBroek fellow, here for the second time, Ashley Skellenger, Florida, Florida: Hi, everyone. I will be attending Florida State University in the fall and will be going for my master's degree in social work. I'm interested in a few different areas including adoption and working in a hospital, particularly with the parents of premature infants. I got involved with the National Federation of the Blind when I was in eighth grade. Actually I started going to chapter meetings and finally attended my first state convention in high school and was amazed by the number of blind people I saw and what everyone was doing, the confidence and skills that everyone was demonstrating. That amazement was significant when I went to national; it was even more inspiring to see how many people were there, and all the levels of different things that were being done. I have learned so much, and I am hoping that I can give back as much as I have learned. I was recently elected president of the Florida Association of Blind Students. I am very excited about that opportunity, and I was able to participate in the first Florida seminar for parents of blind children that was held in conjunction with our state convention. That was such a great experience. I hope I can continue to do that. Thank you so much for the opportunity, and I am looking forward to this week.

Danny Solomon, California, California: Good morning, Dr. Maurer, board of directors, and my Federation family. I went into teaching junior high for seven years with a principal who wanted nothing to do with a blind teacher. I told her, "You've never hired a teacher with more passion and determination than I have." I challenged her and gave her a chance. A month later she gave me a plaque that read, "Only he who attempts the ridiculous can achieve the impossible, and you are right, Danny, I have never met any teacher as passionate as you." I still felt empty inside because I tried to teach as a sighted person, and just a little bit later I found the Federation, and they became my family. They became my strength and my source behind me. I then attended the Colorado Center for the Blind and grew incredibly as a person. Now I have turned it completely around and want to go to San Francisco State and earn my master's in education and a credential in teaching the blind. I will become a teacher of the blind and put all my passion into teaching Braille and bringing confidence and giving all the purpose in the world to all the kids, blind, sighted, everybody involved. Thank you so very much.

Ryan Thomas, Arizona, Arizona: Hello. I just graduated from high school in May, and I will be starting as a freshman at Northern Arizona University, majoring in environmental science, later to become a conservation biologist. I started in the Federation in '99, and I am so appreciative of everything that you have given me, most recently this scholarship. Thank you.

Jeffrey Thompson, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning, fellow Federationists. A year ago a bunch of people challenged me to change my life, and I looked at that, and since then I have graduated from BLIND, Inc. I have been serving as Minnesota Association of Blind Students president and am a proud member of the Metro Chapter of Minneapolis. I am attending the University of Minnesota, majoring in history with a minor in political science. I'd like to say that leadership comes in many forms, and I'd like to delegate a challenge to all of you. I'd like to challenge you to challenge someone near you, someone that you've met to change their life like the people I met last year did to me. Thank you.

Evelyn Valdez, New Jersey, New Jersey: Good morning, fellow Federationists, members of the Scholarship Committee, and our scholarship winners in 2006. It is truly an honor to be here. This is my first national convention. I have attended five state conventions in New Jersey, and every year it is a new learning experience. My inspiration to attend more state conventions was Miss Ever Lee Hairston. If it wasn't for her, I probably wouldn't have gone to the next convention. But anyway, I am currently a first-year graduate student at Kean University's Nathan Weiss College of Graduate Studies. I am pursuing a master's degree in special education with a concentration in preschool handicaps. I received my early childhood certification last May. I just ended the school year working as a paraprofessional in the Hillside School District with a seven-year-old blind student--monitoring, facilitating, and encouraging independence. I also work as a head teacher in the Elizabeth School District. I just want to say once again thank you so much for everyone's support, encouragement, and mentoring.

Sean Whalen, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: Good morning. Thank you very much. I'd like to express my gratitude, not only at receiving this scholarship, but also at the changes in my life that the NFB has induced in me as my philosophy of blindness and really changing my whole life last year in Louisville, Kentucky. I am currently finishing my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin in the honors programs, political science and philosophy. Upon graduation I intend to go to an NFB training center to perfect my blindness skills and then work on the '08 campaign cycle, after which I will go to law school to pursue a career in law and possibly academia as well. Eventually my ultimate dream is to take the floor of the Senate to represent my fellow Americans in the United States Senate. Thank you.

Laura Wolk, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Thank you, fellow Federationists. I am a sophomore at Swarthmore College (which can sometimes be difficult to say). I am working on a major in psychology with possible minors in cognitive science and religion with aspirations of being a clinical psychologist one day. I would like to thank the scholarship committee tremendously for giving me the opportunity to return to national convention as a child of the Federation and the secretary of the Pennsylvania Association of Blind Students, to rediscover everything that this Federation has to offer in terms of giving, taking, and growing in the realm of blindness as well as something that I have always known but feel is too often understated, and that is that Federationists are good people. They help us to grow not only in the realm of blindness, but in every imaginable facet in the best possible way. I greatly look forward to taking this opportunity to discovering all the vast amount that I have yet to learn as well as continuing the proud initiative for change. Thank you so much.

Jeffrey Young, Idaho, Idaho: Good morning. I will be attending Brigham Young University, Idaho, this fall. I will be majoring in music. I also have interest in music history and broadcasting and politics. One thing that I learned in the Federation or am learning in the Federation that I was already aware of and I hope everyone can become more aware of it: we as Federationists can achieve anything we want to.

Peggy Elliott: And there, Mr. President and my fellow Federationists, is the class of 2006.

After Chris Booher's name was announced as the 2006 winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, he briefly addressed the banquet audience on Thursday evening, July 6. This is what he said:

Chris Booher had only a moment for preparation before he addressed the convention banquet.

When I found this organization four years ago, it truly changed my life forever. I didn't believe that I was blind. I didn't know anything about blindness; I didn't even know any blind people at the time. That's why this scholarship program means so much to me, because a scholarship is how I got to my first convention. I applied for a Jernigan convention scholarship just because I wanted in-state tuition. So I got to my first convention and realized that this was it. This was what I had been looking for, and I had finally found it.

All of you have contributed to my being here. By living the philosophy and going out into the world every day with your white canes, every time you cross the street with confidence and skill, every time someone asks you what that big white stick is or why you are carrying a pool cue and you explain about the NFB, that's where it starts. We have to educate the sighted community and the blind community. That's why I am here today. I stand before you, ready to help out in any way I possibly can. I thank you all very much. Ulanda, I love you very much; thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you.

Here is the complete list of 2006 scholarship winners and the awards they received:

$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Rachel Becker, Nikos Daley, Lucille Fair, Cyrus Habib, Martha Harris, Mary Harrod, Kotumu Kamara, Mary Krumwiede, Noria Nodrat, Ronza Othman, Mary Anne Parks, Cali Sandel, Sean Whalen, and Jeffrey Young

$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship: Corbb O'Connor

$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Evelyn Valdez

$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: James Dietz

$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Jessica Bachicha

$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Robert Crowley

$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Anna Muaswes

$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Ryan Thomas

$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Ashley Skellenger

$5,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship: Laura Wolk

$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship: Matthew McCubbin

$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Scholarship: Robin Kyle

$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Timothy Elder

$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Danny Solomon and Jeffrey Thompson

$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Carrie Modesitt

$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship: Christopher Booher

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