From the Associate 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 stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Each year 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 in the future.
On Wednesday evening, toward the close of the banquet, Anil Lewis came to the podium to present the year's winners and give an academic and personal sketch of each after announcing which scholarship he or she had been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, a brand new knfb Reader Mobile, presented by Ray Kurzweil himself, and the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems.
The final award was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Matthias Niska, who then spoke briefly to the audience. A summary of his remarks appears later in this article.
But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-nine 2009 NFB scholarship winners and one tenBroek Fellow, who was 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 Anil, who announced the home and school states after each name.
Rachel Becker, Maryland, Maryland: Hello, everyone. I am attending the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. I am pursuing a degree in early childhood and elementary education. With the help of Barbara Cheadle and many other people from Maryland, I came to the NFB when my parents joined the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children when I was a young child. It is a great honor to be selected for a national scholarship and to be here with you attending my fourth national convention. I am just really honored by this wonderful opportunity. Thank you.
Sarah Biglow, Connecticut, Massachusetts: Hi, everybody. My name is Sarah. I will be a first-year law student in August at the New England School of Law in Boston. I earned my bachelor of arts degree in history from Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. This is my first national convention. I have attended the Connecticut state conventions all through college. I was a state scholarship recipient every year. I have so far enjoyed what I have learned at this particular convention. I am looking forward to some of the sessions later on and to seeing how the general session is run. Thank you very much.
Anne Brady, New York, New York: Hi. I’m Anne, and I’m from Buffalo, New York. I’m going to be a freshman at Daemen College in the fall. I am going to major in English and creative writing. This is my first time at the convention. My state commission counselor sent me a scholarship application, and I really didn’t know what this place was all about. Then I got here and I was really confused and overwhelmed, and it was kind of crazy. This is amazing, and I am really honored to be here and to be nominated for a scholarship.
Ashley Brow, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi. My name is Ashley Brow, and I am going to Emerson College. I am going to be a junior studying communication science and disorders. I either want to be a speech language pathologist or an audiologist. I haven’t decided yet. I am just so honored to be here, surrounded by so many successful blind people. It really makes me hopeful for the future of what the lives of blind people will be like. Thank you so much.
Tara Carty, New Jersey, New Jersey: Good morning. My name is Tara Carty, and, as Anil said, I am from New Jersey. I just want to take this opportunity to thank the entire organization for this amazing experience. I will be attending Caldwell College as a sophomore next semester as an English major. I plan to write for a magazine or a newspaper and eventually to publish a book. I have been listening to many speeches this week, and many people have mentioned philosophies and the philosophy of the NFB. My own personal philosophy shadows that of the NFB, and it is an amazing experience to be involved and meet so many people that share that same feeling with me. I always tell people that I may have lost my sight, but I have not lost my vision. Thank you very much.
Lily Clifton, Washington State, Massachusetts: Hi. I’m Lily. I will be a freshman at Boston College this fall studying environmental geoscience. I just graduated from high school. This past year one of my greatest accomplishments was creating an environmental camp for blind and vision-impaired elementary-age kids. This has sparked many interests, including event planning, the environment, and working with our blind youth. As I step forward into college, I hope to contribute to things that are greater than myself, and I hope to continue to work with the NFB. I have never been to convention before, and this is a life-changing experience. I’ve loved every minute of it so far. Thank you, guys.
Juliet Cody, California, California: Good morning. I’m Juliet Cody from Cal State San Marcos, and I have my BA in communications. I’m one year into my master’s program. I want to become a communications specialist. I want to share that my first convention was actually here in Detroit, and I was still sighted at that time. But I did hear my freedom bell. I went back home, and I started two local chapters and one division with friends. I sit on the board of directors of the California affiliate. Not only did I hear my freedom bell, but I took the key of opportunity, and I am committed to the National Federation of the Blind.
James Cole, Indiana, Indiana: Hello. My name is James Cole. I am a recent graduate of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I had orientation at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, just a couple of days ago, and I will be headed there in the fall to study history and hopefully become a history professor one day. This is my third NFB convention. My first was in Louisville in 2005. My second was Dallas in 2006, and I haven’t been back since for all sorts of reasons. But I am glad to be back because I enjoy NFB conventions. I am having a great time here in Detroit. I've never been here, and I am happy that I have the opportunity to get this scholarship. We’ll see what happens next as the convention moves on. Thank you.
Blair David Douglass, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everyone. My name is Blair Douglass, and I’m going to be a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. I’m studying political science, international studies, and history. This is my first National Federation of the Blind convention. I have been thoroughly amazed by the passion and energy that this convention has displayed. I am truly honored to be a scholarship recipient and a representative of the new generation of National Federation of the Blind scholars. I pledge to do my part to do whatever I can to improve the future for blind individuals. Thank you very much.
Sharin Duffy, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. I am Sharin from New York. This will be my final year in the master’s of social work program at New York University. I am also a board certified music therapist, and I want to incorporate all of these skills to serve my community. I am not quite sure how exactly, but God will show me. This is my first convention, and I have found it to be energizing. As a single mom it has given me a greater passion to work with other blind parents on all the issues facing us from the serious things such as custody to the day-to-day support every parent needs to raise his or her children confidently. I want to thank the committee for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be here. Thank you.
Dawei Fu, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning, everyone. My name is Dawei Fu. I am a PhD student in the department of electrical engineering at the University of Arizona. I also have earned a master’s degree in reliability engineering from the University of Arizona. I have already passed my preliminary and comprehensive written examinations with great results; I am preparing to take my oral examination. I hope I will graduate by next year. It's a great pleasure to be here. Thank you very much.
Diane Graves, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. My name is Diane Graves. Allow me to offer my sincere thanks to the scholarship committee. This is a tremendous honor and a privilege to have been selected. I plan to make good on the investment. I am currently in my fourth term as a student at Kaplan Online University, pursuing a bachelor’s in organizational communication. I am also currently working in the field of civil rights as a civil rights mediator, and upon completion of my degree I plan to remain in the field of civil rights and affirmative action. Thank you.
Sunish Gupta, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. I will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pursuing my master’s in system design and management. I joined the NFB six years ago when Dr. Maurer appointed me as a member of the research and development committee. It was a great honor to serve the committee, and I still serve the committee. I had the privilege and opportunity to work with Ray Kurzweil, Mr. Gashel, and Dr. Betsy Zaborowski to work on the knfb Reader Classic. It was a fantastic experience, and I think we should pursue it further in making sure that we can take advantage of other technologies too. I think we are not disabled; it’s the technology that's disabled. We need to fix that. Thank you.
Melissa Haney, California, California: Good morning. I’m pursuing a master’s in rehabilitation counseling. I’m currently the treasurer of the California Association of Blind Students. I just want to thank you all for the honor of being here today. About a year ago, when I met you all, there was only one person that believed in me. And believe me, he was not me. Thank you.
Rachel Jacobs, Florida, Florida: Hi. My name is Rachel Jacobs. I’m a graduate student at the University of South Florida, where I am studying rehabilitation and mental health counseling. I also received my bachelor’s from the University of South Florida in psychology and criminology. I became a member of the NFB one year ago when I won a state scholarship in Florida. I’m the newest president of the Manesota Chapter in Florida and the vice president of the Florida Association of Blind Students.
Mary-Anne Joseph, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning to the wonderful members of the NFB. I am a proud and excited member of the Ohio affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. I am a PhD student. I am in my third year. I’m working on my PhD in counselor education and supervision. I have my master’s in rehabilitation counseling. Don’t hold it against me, but I’ve worked as a rehabilitation counselor in North Carolina, and I loved it. It was work that I really enjoyed doing. I am working on my dissertation on visual impairment and blindness. I am really thankful for this opportunity--the opportunity to win a scholarship that I can use to complete that dissertation within the next year and do a lot of wonderful research. Thank you.
Brooke Jostad, Colorado, Texas: Good morning. My name is Brooke Jostad. I will be a freshman next year at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, studying international studies, religion, and Spanish. When I was a freshman, I heard a quote, and I couldn’t quite understand exactly what it meant, but now that I am here, I know that this quote should represent the NFB. It says that hopelessness accepts while hope criticizes. I feel as though the spirit of the NFB is one that will criticize things that are not right. We will not settle for less until we see change, and I am very proud of being a member of this.
Dare Justice, Alabama, Alabama: Hi. I’m Dare Justice from Alabama. I am pursuing my bachelor’s in psychology. I’m attending Auburn University. Six years ago I was involved in a car accident that left me blind. I’ve recently had to adapt to being blind and having to learn how to walk, talk, and all that good stuff. I appreciate this opportunity for you to show me how confident I can be as a blind individual. I appreciate the opportunity to come here. The NFB is a great organization. Thank you.
Jeannie Massay, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Good morning NFB family. I’m going to tell a quick story. It’s relevant. There’s a reason that geese call out when they fly in formation. The first thing is the leader calls out so that people will follow. He is also the first line of defense. He encourages his family behind him. The other geese in line also do the same. They encourage each other as they fly through the air. For me the NFB has allowed me to fly as an individual. I lost my vision five years ago as an adult, and my life was completely changed. The NFB has given me hope and a passion for living life to the fullest. I hope to share that with other people. I am a second year graduate student in counseling psychology, and I am still contemplating pursuing a PhD, but regardless of what level of education I achieve, I will always fight for every blind person and hope to provide the hope that has been provided to me. Thank you.
Tyler Merren, Michigan, Michigan: Hi, everybody. It’s Tyler Merren. I’m a student at Western Michigan University studying exercise science and Spanish. As the president of the Kalamazoo Chapter of the NFB, I understand that there are a lot of challenges that we face as blind people. One example I will give is the local library. Even in the great city of Kalamazoo, the public library has been inaccessible to the blind until this summer. The Kalamazoo Chapter has worked with the library, and it is going to be fully accessible by the end of this summer. For most of my life I have faced challenges, and I know that many of you have too. I’ve had people tell me that I can’t. I want to let you guys know that it’s really refreshing to be among a group of people who, I am thoroughly convinced, don’t even know how to say the word can't. So receiving this scholarship is exciting, and I am honored. I hope I can further my education to help lead this Federation to a higher standard of achievement for all blind people.
Chikako Mochizuki, Kansas, Kansas: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Chikako Mochizuki, and I am currently working on my PhD in East Asian history at the University of Kansas. This is a very humbling experience. I am honored to be here to take part in all this. With the support of the NFB scholarship, I would like to complete my dissertation by the spring of 2011. Through my work as a historian, teaching and researching, I intend to contribute to society and to the world. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Ashley Nashleanas, Iowa, Indiana: Hello, everyone. My name is Ashley Nashleanas, and I am going to be a senior at the University of Notre Dame next year. It’s a wonderful school. I am studying chemistry, and my goal is to pursue a master’s and a PhD in chemistry. I am specializing in either organic or biochemistry; I am not sure which one. Anyway, I really got more involved with the NFB when they were doing a thing at Notre Dame in which I was included. It was an awareness event, and I got to know a lot more of their philosophy. The more I’ve gotten to know about the organization, it’s been wonderful being a part of the NFB. It’s an honor and a blessing to receive this scholarship. Thank you.
Hani Nasser, California, California: Hello, everyone. I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, during a civil war, and I witnessed a lot of death and destruction to my country and people. At the age of nine I started going blind. I had no help and got kicked out of school. I had no guidance. The only blind people that I saw were those sitting on the sidewalk begging for money and saying, “Please, can you spare some money? I am blind.” I lived that way for twenty-two years--running away from my blindness--until I found the NFB at the national convention in 2006 in Dallas, where I met some amazing and accomplished people who helped me become who I am today. I am here today as a scholarship winner and proud to be here. I am going to school at USC. I am a junior studying kinesiology and pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy. I am a California Association of Blind Students board member and the chair of its fundraising committee. Thank you so much for having me.
Matthias Niska, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning. I’d first like to thank Dr. Maurer and the Federation leadership, Anil and the scholarship committee, and you all for giving me the opportunity to benefit from this wonderful scholarship program. I am truly humbled to be a part of all of this. I would also be remiss if I did not thank the amazing staff and students of BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis, where I am lucky enough to be finishing the comprehensive adult training program right now. You guys have no idea how much your support has meant to me. I would not be standing up here without you guys. I love you all. I will be a first-year law student at the University of Minnesota Law School in the fall, where I will be pursuing a JD. I hope to focus on child and family law, especially adoption law, but no matter where my career in law, or my path in the Federation takes me, I plan to serve others because my religious faith teaches me that there is a far greater claim on my life than simply pursuing my own self-interest. Thank you.
Corbb O’Connor, Virginia, District of Columbia: Thank you. You know, chefs and cooks always want sharp knives in their kitchens. It makes work a lot easier and safer. The work that all of you do is sharpening the knives for all of us scholarship winners up here. Whether it’s raising your money or an outreach program to get one more kid a cane, you’ve helped me and these twenty-nine others gain and keep our independence. It’s an honor to be here as a tenBroek Fellow. Thank you.
Kayde Rieken, Nebraska, Nebraska: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I planted a flower when I was a little girl, and I kept checking every day to see if it had grown yet. My sister told me in her all-knowing big-sister fashion that it wouldn’t grow overnight, and I had to wait. In my childhood I had an idea of a philosophy of blindness. I didn’t view myself as amazing. I didn’t view myself as helpless. I just viewed myself as me. When I found the Federation, it helped this idea grow, and, as I’m moving forward in my life, as I’m going into Spanish interpreting at Nebraska Wesleyan University, as I’m involved in my student division, this philosophy of the Federation has helped me every step along the way. I’m honored to be here. Thank you.
Kyle Shachmut, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, everybody. I would like to offer a special thanks to the board and scholarship committee for bringing us here. My name is Kyle Shachmut. I’m originally from Arkansas. I’ve just finished a master’s degree in education at Boston College. In the fall I’ll be working toward a doctorate in education at Boston University. I’ll be focusing on educational media and technology in education. I’m really excited to be here. This is my first national convention, and particularly with my interests it is great to see all the work the Federation is doing to ensure that all the technology that we all have to use in education is accessible. I’m excited to be working with the Federation. Thank you.
Thanh Kim Tong, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi. I’m Thanh. I will be pursuing my bachelor’s in biochemistry at Mt. Holyoke College. I found out about the NFB and the scholarship a couple of weeks before the deadline, and I just want to say that initially I was just here for the money, but, now that I’m here, truly the money is just one great part of being here. It is a true honor, and I am so humbled to be with a group of people who believe and expect blind people to be better--to be great. It's good to be a part of a group of people dedicated to bettering the lives of all blind people. Thank you.
Andrew Wai, Pennsylvania, New Jersey: Good morning. I’m Andrew Wai from Philadelphia. In the fall I will be beginning my freshman year at Princeton University. I don’t know what I want to study yet, but I’m interested in natural and social science. I intend to go to Princeton to find what my passion is to study. I’ve been a lifelong Federationist. This is my third convention. I am a multiple time alumnus of the Colorado Center for the Blind high school summer program, and this last summer I was honored to serve as a cane travel mentor at a summer sensations camp in Philadelphia. I would like to make one final note. I haven’t as many life experiences or accomplishments as many fellows in my scholarship class, and I’ve only taken a few steps on my life’s path, but I owe the few steps I have taken to the National Federation of the Blind and the philosophy that this organization espouses. I intend to repay that debt. Thank you.
Katherine Watson, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: Hello, everyone. My name is Katherine Watson. I will be a sophomore in the fall at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. I just want to say that each and every one of you in the NFB and each and every one of you at this convention has given me a reason to live out the NFB philosophy. We talk about this philosophy a lot throughout the convention, but it doesn’t really mean anything unless you take it to your home, to your job, to your college campus. I want to thank each and every one of you, whether you are an outgoing lawyer who has inspired me, a travel instructor who has encouraged me, or a student that I am encouraging to attend one of the training centers. Thank you everyone for everything that you do, and I just want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.
Anil Lewis: That is the scholarship class of 2009.
Near the close of the banquet on Wednesday evening, the thirty students were called to the platform to receive their awards. After Matthias Niska received the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, he addressed the banquet audience seated before him and those across the nation who were following the event on the Internet.
In addition to thanking everyone responsible for the NFB national scholarship program, Matthias acknowledged his peers in the 2009 scholarship class as a diverse pool of talented students. He urged all of them to share their life blessings with others instead of keeping them solely for their own personal growth and benefit. He suggested that in the long run this approach would enrich the lives of both the giver and the recipient. In short he urged convention delegates to be unselfish with the blessings they receive.
Here is the complete list of 2009 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Anne Brady, Juliet Cody, James Cole, Douglass Blair, Dawei Fu, Mary-Anne Joseph, Dare Justice, Tyler Merren, Hani Nasser, Kayde Rieken, Andrew Wai, and Katherine Watson
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: Rachel Becker
$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship: Sunish Gupta
$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Tara Carty
$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Sarah Biglow
$3,000 Lawrence Kettner Scholarship: Diane Graves
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Ashley Brow
$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Ashley Nashleanas
$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Corbb O’Connor
$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship: Sharin Duffy
$3,000 Jeannette C. Eyerly Memorial Scholarship: Jeannie Massay
$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Kyle Shachmut
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Melissa Haney, Rachel Jacobs, and Brooke Jostad
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Chikako Mochizuki
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship: Thanh Kim Tong
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Lily Clifton
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Matthias Niska