The 2011 Scholarship Winners (left to right): Back Row: Daniel Martinez, Henry Wedler, Ma'ayan Malter, Mary Billington, Kyle Shachmut, Sandy Sommers, Yasen Angelov, Kathleen Katulak, Ryan McBee, and Brenton Fuchs; Middle Row: Aleeha Dudley, Catherine Lei, Shafeka Hashash, Kristina Vu, Heather Edwards, Matthew Yeater, Roberto Diaz, David Bouchard, Terence Meehan, and Justin Salisbury; Front Row: Christopher Fountain, Diane Graves, Julie McGinnity, Mikaela Stevens, Michelle Hackman, Carry Joanis, Sylvia Modesitt, Christine Daniels, Amber Sherrard, and Jessica Beecham.
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 stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July 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.
One of those who introduced himself was Christopher Fountain, a junior marriage and family counseling major at Old Dominion University in Virginia. Chris had to miss several convention sessions because of dialysis, but he was a bright and active member of the scholarship class and a promising young leader in the Virginia affiliate. We were shocked and grieved to learn following the convention that on Monday evening, July 11, Chris Fountain died suddenly. The news was devastating to his family, his fellow scholarship winners, and everyone in the Federation family who knew and had come to love and respect him. Happily during the convention no one had any idea of the tragedy that was immediately ahead for all of us.
On Friday evening, July 8, toward the close of the banquet Patti Chang, the new chair of the scholarship committee, came to the podium for the first time to present the year's winners and announce which scholarships they had been awarded. This year each winner shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil before they took their places across the back of the platform. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each winner also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, a brand new knfbReader 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 Kyle Shachmut, who then spoke very 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-seven 2011 NFB scholarship winners and three tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving their second NFB scholarships, came to the microphone to speak directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Patti, who announced the home and school states after each name.
Yasen Angelov, Florida, Florida: Good morning, everybody. I currently reside in St. Petersburg, Florida. I have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind for the last seven years. What brought me to this organization was the enormous resources about blindness. I have congenital glaucoma, and the fact that I am blind didn’t stop me from becoming the top student in my class. I was nominated as an outstanding accounting student by the faculty at USF, St. Pete. I was also awarded a scholarship by the CPA scholarship fund at the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. During the last tax season I was a volunteer with the IRS VISTA program, helping low-income people file their income tax forms for free. My goal is not only to become a CPA and earn big money, but also to support NFB because I know how important NFB is for all the blind people in the United States. Thank you.
Jessica Beecham, Tennessee, Tennessee: A wise man once said that the creative and dedicated minority almost always changes the world. Since the 1940s the National Federation of the Blind has embodied the truth of this statement. Standing before you today, a member of the scholarship class full of future leaders in law, education, human services, and so much more, I can truly say it is respectable to be blind. We this week are sponges here to soak up the knowledge from our mentors of leadership, advocacy, and success. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take the lessons from this week and transform them into a lifetime of leadership in the movement to change what it means to be blind. Thank you.
Mary Billington, New York, Massachusetts: Good morning, everybody. My name is Mary Billington. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. In December I graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University, where I got a degree in economics. At Barnard I also received my New York state certificate in childhood education. I currently work at an education advocacy group, where I advocate on behalf of students with disabilities as well as students who are English language learners in the New York City public school system. In my free time I also serve as research assistant to the president of Barnard College—yes, my free time. In the fall I will somewhat reluctantly leave my hometown of New York and travel to Boston to begin a master’s program in education policy at Harvard University. Thank you.
David Bouchard, Mississippi, Tennessee: Good morning. I’m David Bouchard. I am from Starkville, Mississippi. I am a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and I’m also a Braille instructor and summer counselor for Blind Industries and Services of Maryland’s Independence 2011. This August I will be attending Sewanee, the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee. I plan to receive my master’s degree in orientation and mobility from Louisiana Tech. I wish to use this degree to help change policies and help instruct blind children and adults to allow them to receive quality training in structured discovery. I would like to thank everyone for giving me this fantastic opportunity. Without you this would not be possible. Thank you.
Christine Daniels, Colorado, Colorado: Thank you very much for having me here. It’s an honor. I am also a recent graduate—well last year—from the Colorado Center for the Blind. The skills were very pivotal for helping me be able to start my journey as a blind person. I am currently a second-year PhD student at the University of Denver, where I am studying cellular and molecular biophysics. My current research is with the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for aging and aging-related diseases. We are studying Lou Gehrig’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s specifically. I’m also a mom of two children, and I just thank you for this opportunity.
Roberto Diaz, Connecticut, Connecticut: Good morning. Let me begin by saying that I’d like to reiterate a thought I had yesterday when reflecting on the enormousness of this experience. I cannot express or overstate how massive this is—when you come into contact with a group of people, a body such as yourselves that collectively represent the absolute magnificence of what humanity can bring. I’m a former Marine. I was a firefighter for twenty-two-and-a-half years before a line-of-duty injury cost me my eyesight. I volunteer at a burn camp for children who are the survivors of traumatic burn injuries, and they also include from time to time children who were blinded by their injuries or from birth. I was the counselor in that capacity as well as the director of archery. Last year I became the first legally blind state-certified archery instructor in the state of Connecticut. I have a wife and fourteen-year-old daughter. Once again, I just can’t say enough. I plan to teach American history with the focus on the American Constitution to inner city youth who are at risk or in dire need of staying out of the system. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I thank you from my family, and semper fidelis.
Aleeha Dudley, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everybody. I’d like to thank you so much for this humungous opportunity. I plan to take this opportunity and run with it. I want to become more active in this organization. Some of you might know I want to be a veterinarian. I’ve always been determined to be a veterinarian, but I just got more determined. I was at a vet’s office doing an interview, and I sat down with him, and he said, “I don’t want you to pursue this goal. You can’t do this; that would be like me blindfolding myself and walking through a minefield.” I was angry. I was not a happy girl. I walked out of that office, and I am determined now with the technology and resources available that I will become a veterinarian because it’s about time that someone with a visual impairment became a veterinarian and showed the public that we can do this.
Heather Edwards, South Carolina, South Carolina: Good morning. I hope you are all having a good convention. My name is Heather Edwards, and this fall I will be a junior at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, where I am studying psychology and minoring in Spanish and women and gender studies. I currently work as an early interventionist with children with Downs Syndrome, autism, and intellectual disabilities to help them get a jump start before they start kindergarten. I hope to transition this to work in the field of disability coordinator to help children with disabilities transition from living with their parents and going to high school to being independent and going to college, because I didn’t have such a great disability coordinator. I would like to take that experience and help someone else so that I make sure that they get the help they need. Thank you.
Christopher Fountain, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning. This morning I would like to share a lesson that I’ve learned throughout my years, and I can best relate it to the poem “The Road Less Traveled” by Robert Frost. As you know, at the end of the poem the hiker takes the path less traveled. I relate to this because, like the hiker, I believe I took the path less traveled. Now this path has been filled with sorrow and happiness, failure and triumph. I’ve had opportunities to get off this trail, but I’ve chosen to stay on it. Through my journey I’ve earned the rank of Eagle Scout, learned to read Braille, and learned how to use a white cane. These have been very helpful. One day I stopped, took a look around, and noticed that the path is very different than when I started. The path was a little better defined, and there were little, warm lights along the trail, not yet bright enough, but just bright enough to suggest that here is a little help. So out of curiosity I examined one of these lamps, and on the bottom was etched the National Federation of the Blind and a whole bunch of names. As a good Scout and a good person, I decided to scratch my name along with the others and take care of this trail and these lamps in the hope that like those before me in the NFB I could be a guiding light for those who follow. Thank you.
Brenton Fuchs, Connecticut, District of Columbia: Salve omnes, my name is Brenton Fuchs, and I am currently attending American University, where I hope to receive a degree in marketing. I know it’s no great surprise that employers continually underestimate us as blind people and don’t think we can function as well as our sighted counterparts and work as efficiently as them. However, what’s not as readily apparent is that, not only do employers continually underestimate us, but they also think that hiring a blind person would incur additional expenses on their behalf and require many additional accommodations to help us perform at our full potential. This fact became apparent to me while working at a nonprofit organization last summer. To that end I hope to use the skills in marketing that I acquire in college and that I am acquiring currently on the job at MetLife in New York this summer to market us as a people, as an organization, and as a group, to the rest of the nation and to potential employers to let them know that, yes we can in fact function just as well as our sighted counterparts, and to let them know that we indeed do not need thousands of dollars worth of equipment to successfully complete a job but have acquired a set of skills throughout our lives to enable us to accomplish this goal. Thank you.
We have in this class three tenBroek Fellows. This means that they have already won National Federation of the Blind scholarships in previous years.
The first of these is Diane Graves, Indiana, Indiana: Greetings, fellow Federationists. I am honored to be a recipient of the 2011 scholarship and doubly honored to be elected as a tenBroek Fellow. I have been affiliated with this great Federation family since I joined in 1995, which makes this gift especially meaningful because it is like receiving a vote of confidence from my family. I am currently employed with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission as a mediator. I have served the Civil Rights Commission in various capacities and have served as a mediator for about eight years now. Several years ago I decided I wanted to play a larger role in the administration of the civil rights and other social services laws. Civil rights has always been my passion, so I decided to go back to school and see if I could get the credentials I needed to make that happen. I am currently enrolled at Kaplan University, working towards a bachelor’s in organizational communication, which I hope to have completed by March of 2012. I will then be going on to receive a master’s degree in sociology, and hopefully after that I will be going on to receive a doctorate in sociology as well. I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.
Michelle Hackman, New York, Connecticut: Hi, everyone. My name is Michelle. I’m a recent high school graduate and first-time convention-comer. I am really enjoying fencing with all of you guys with our canes. I’m going to be starting as a freshman at Yale this fall. I’ll be majoring in behavioral neuroscience and political science and doing a couple of things that people have told me repeatedly throughout my life that I can’t do. I want to be a staff reporter where I can chase people down with a microphone, and I’m going to be working at a brain-imaging lab come September. Professionally my real interest is in technology and human behavior, something you guys are very familiar with: cell phone addiction and Internet addiction. I hope to become a behavioral researcher and policymaker in that area; so, if any of you have an interest in that, the next time we fence, please feel free to say, “Hello.” Thank you.
Shafeka Hashash, New Jersey, New York: Hi, everyone. I can’t express how thankful I am to actually be a scholarship winner this year. I will be attending NYU this fall as a freshman studying political science and international studies, and I would then like to transition into law school. My ultimate career goal is to work in the United Nations. In working in the United Nations, I would love to create an international network between the U.S. and the Middle East to spread disability rights and the NFB philosophy of what it means to be blind in America in countries where being blind is frowned upon and hidden away. So my ultimate goal is to create this network of advocacy and learning together.
Carry Joanis, New York, New York: Hello, everyone. My name is Carry Joanis. I just want to say thank you for this opportunity as one of the scholarship winners. I am finishing a master’s degree in business administration with a co-major in finance and entrepreneurship. I will be starting a post-graduate program in leadership in the fall. I’ve been hearing a lot about the NFB since ’08, which is the same year I first came to the United States. I didn’t know anything about the NFB before. I left my country on March 31, came here, didn’t have any skills, and did not speak English. I landed in Denver, Colorado. I went to the Colorado Center for the Blind, where I received living skills and learned English at the same time. After that I moved to Rochester, New York, and got a scholarship to start a program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and it’s a real pleasure for me to be selected. My dream is as an entrepreneur to open the possibility for other blind people to be employed. I am very thankful to be here, and I identify my own philosophy with that of the NFB. Thank you very much.
Kathleen (Kate) Katulak, New York, New York: Hi, everyone. I am a graduate student at Teachers College of Columbia University. When people ask me why I want to become a teacher of the blind, I often think back to some of my own experiences--a time when I went blind and did not receive the services that I deserved. I think back to interviews and instances when I received discrimination and many people who told me that I could not … and would never.… Once I got past the negativity, I said to all of them, “What is stopping me now?” Because it certainly wasn’t my blindness. I want to make a difference in the lives of my students so that they can make a difference in the way that many people view blindness. I feel that I’ve had many opportunities in my life. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in psychology and got a wonderful job at Yale University working in research. Now I’m a graduate student, and I plan to go on and do wonderful things. If anything, going blind empowered and encouraged me and enabled me to become the person I am. I thank all of you, and I hope you have a wonderful convention.
Catherine Lei, California, New Jersey: Good morning, everyone. My name is Catherine Lei from Elk Grove, California. I am deeply honored for this great privilege of being here before you today as well as at this, my first-ever convention. These first few days I have already met so many inspiring people. I’ve had so many new experiences. I’ve learned so much. As this week progresses, I hope to continue learning all that you have to teach me. I just this year graduated from high school, and this fall I will be a freshman at Princeton University. I intend to study physics and then go on to law school in order to blend the field of science and law to become a patent attorney. Thank you.
Ma’ayan Malter, Illinois, Illinois: Hey, NFB. So this is my first convention, and I am loving it. I just graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago, and this fall I will be a freshman at the University of Chicago, where I plan to study economics. I want to study economics so that I can learn to make the economy work for everyone, especially for people with disabilities, because subminimum wages are not acceptable for anyone. I am also very interested in economic research. A project I’d like to tackle in the future is to prove that laws like the ADA and social services are actually beneficial to the entire society and not just those they directly affect. So if anyone is interested in talking about anything, I’d love to talk to all of you, and I just want to thank the board for letting me be here this week.
Daniel Martinez, Texas, Texas: Hello, Federationists. It is an honor to be a part of the 2011 scholarship class. I am currently a sophomore at the University of Texas at Brownsville. I am studying to receive a bachelor of arts in education so that I can then attend Louisiana Tech and receive a master’s as a teacher of blind students. I hope one day to be an NFB distinguished educator. This summer I participated in three internships. I’ve gotten the opportunity to teach eight elementary students and two teachers of the blind. Thank you very much.
Ryan McBee, Oregon, Oregon: Hello and good morning. My name is Ryan McBee. I am a sophomore at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon. I am majoring in political science and minoring in communications. My goal is to be an elected official or political consultant. My goal is to work as an elected official for blind individuals, so that subminimum wage deal we are all talking about?—I would make sure that it’s dead on arrival when it came to the floor of the House or Senate. This subminimum wage bill is not acceptable, and as an elected official I would like to stop that bill and many others. Please give me five years, because in 2016 I will be eligible to run. Thank you.
Julie McGinnity, Missouri, Missouri: Hello, everyone. I am going to be a junior next fall at Webster University. I am studying vocal performance and German. I am a musician. I am a performer, and I want to get my master’s one day and possibly teach at a college. I would like to teach Braille music, because I believe it is the most under-taught form of Braille that there is. I would also like to work with blind musicians on performing techniques, and I would just like to inspire people through song, because I believe that, not only can scientists and mathematicians and people who invent things inspire people, but music inspires as well, and you can learn so much from music. I would like to prove to all that blind people can be professionals and can be accepted in the field of music and performing as well.
Terence Meehan, California, California: Good morning. I would like to thank everyone for the opportunity to be here. It has been a wonderful convention. My name is Terry Meehan. I am currently pursuing an MD and a PhD from the University of California at Davis. My PhD work is going to focus on the neurodegenerative causes of various diseases that cause disability in children. While I was applying to medical school, it was crucial for me to present my visual impairment, not as a weakness, but as a strength, as a source of empathy and encouragement and a way to relate to patients in a unique way. As a physician I intend to treat patients in a clinical setting, children with disabilities, in a way that encourages them to take control of their lives and view the strengths that their disability has afforded them. Thank you.
Sylvia Modesitt, Missouri, Missouri: Hello, everyone. I’m Sylvia from Missouri, and I am thrilled to be a freshman this fall at William Jewell College, where I will be studying molecular biology in the Oxford honors program. After that I intend to earn my PhD and conduct research while teaching at the college level. I could talk for quite a while on the subject, I’m sure, but, keeping it pretty short, I’ll just say this: I’ve been a member of the NFB for eight years now. The main thing it has taught me is this: though we all have things that handicap us, it is up to us whether we allow those things to handicap our dreams. Studying the sciences has always been my dream ever since I can remember, and I will never let my blindness hinder that. Thank you.
Justin Salisbury, Connecticut, North Carolina: I am completing a degree in mathematics and also quantitative economics at East Carolina University. I hope to go on to a PhD in economics and teach at the university level. I am super excited to be a mentor at the Youth Slam this summer. I want to tell you a little bit about my experience with finding the Federation. Loss is something I grew up thinking was something to be mourned. When I had a friend die this fall, I was mourning that, and I found myself in a good southern Black non-denominational church for what I thought was going to be a funeral, but they called it a home-going ceremony. They were singing and screaming. They had a band. They had a choir for two-and-a-half hours celebrating her life. It was a very positive experience, and I didn’t cry in the entire thing. I could not believe it; they had such a positive philosophy. When I was a senior in high school, I applied for every single scholarship I could find, and I got a scholarship from a blindness organization. They took me to their national convention. They had a sighted person meet me at the airport and take me to the hotel. They took care of me. They didn’t really let me out there on my own. They told me about the Federation. They said, “The Federation is this really extremist, militant group, and they are going to plan the next 9/11. Just be ready for them.” I was really kind of scared by that. I knew that I had applied for a national scholarship from the NFB of Connecticut, and I won it. So I thought, I’m just going to put on this mental hard hat and not let their philosophy affect me. I’m just going to take my money and run. Well, I got there, and it was a whole bunch of happy, positive people. I said, “Wow, this is not what I was expecting.” So I’m thinking, extremist militant? Where is that coming from? Then Parnell Diggs gave his banquet speech. I understood where the militant came from, and I loved it. I loved it. So I just kept my involvement with the NFB, and I’ve loved it ever since. Keep it up, guys.
We have our second tenBroek fellow next, Kyle Shachmut, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning. Thank you to Dr. Maurer, the board, and the scholarship committee for bringing us here. Thank you to all of you who raised the funds for all of these programs that bring us here. It is very much appreciated. I study educational technology at Boston University. I love what I do. I get to work with some outstanding teachers to help make sure that they give great technology experiences and solutions to their students, not just blind students, but all students. Then I get to work with them to make sure that the solutions are accessible. I also get to work with universities to make sure that projects they roll out to all their students are accessible and useable by everybody and that they select good technology. I absolutely love what I do. I hope to get to meet many of you this week, and thank you very much.
Amber Sherrard, Louisiana, Louisiana: Hello, everyone. My life changed tremendously at age fifteen when I joined the National Federation of the Blind. At the time I did not consider myself to be blind even though I used many alternative techniques every day. I began to associate and get to know a lot of the members here at the National Federation of the Blind, and I saw how their lives were so positive, how they were all so confident and independent. I craved the freedom they all had. I wanted more of it. I strove to be just like them. Later I made the decision to attend a national training center. I went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and there I learned a positive attitude about blindness. It changed my life forever. Now that I have completed my adult training, I will be going to Louisiana Tech University to study nutrition and dietetics. My goal is to be a registered dietician and to help people eat well and live long. I would like to thank the scholarship committee for giving me such a wonderful opportunity. This is an experience I will cherish forever and never forget. Hello, I am Amber Sherrard, and I am proud to be blind!
Sandra Sommers, Ohio, Ohio: I am one of the old people she is talking about. I am a nontraditional student. I am basically a soccer mom from Ohio. I have a seventeen-year-old, a fifteen-year-old, and a thirteen-year-old, and my husband is my hero this week, because he is home alone with them. Five years ago I was handed a piece of paper by my ophthalmologist that said I had RP. I didn’t know what it was. He said nothing to me but handed me the piece of paper. I went home and Googled it, and imagine my surprise. Then I realized that all three of my kids could have it. So I ignored it for a couple of years, thinking it would go away, but it didn’t. My vision continued to deteriorate. I came to realize that I couldn’t live the way I was living. I started making some phone calls, looking for some resources, and I found someone who would listen to me. Most people were telling me that I could no longer cook, I could no longer clean, I could no longer care for my family, or I would never have a job again. Even my state rehab counselor told me that nothing would ever happen again; it was time to file for disability. I finally got ahold of Barbara Pierce from the NFB, and it changed my life. I had a BA from before having children—time to refresh my skills. I am now working on a physical therapy degree in between making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m honored to be here. I’m thrilled to be here, and I’d like to thank the scholarship committee for this opportunity.
Mikaela Stevens, Idaho, Idaho: Standing one very important inch over three feet tall with blindness makes life an adventure. It is not always easy. In fact, when I was younger, I had a hard time accepting my differences. But through a series of trials and growing opportunities, I have learned to rise above and relish life in all its beauty and am committed to helping others do the same. I have attended three Idaho state conventions and two national conventions and have seen the power and impact of the National Federation of the Blind. I look forward to contributing to future conventions and giving back to this organization. To me this scholarship is an opportunity to further challenge myself, improve the cause of equality, and help others rise above and relish life no matter the circumstances.
Kristina Vu, Texas, Texas: Good morning, everybody. This August I am going to be starting my freshman year at Rice University. I am majoring in political science and plan to be a prelaw student. This is my first convention, and I have to say, in the couple of days I’ve been here, I’ve learned a lot more than I ever expected to. Unfortunately some of these things were not exactly happy experiences to learn. I found out about the possible authorization of subminimum wages for disabled people, and I learned about the alarming rate of illiteracy among blind students simply because schools refuse to meet their duty to provide lessons in Braille. It’s things like these and laws of similar nature that destroy the ideal of equality that America was built on. It’s these kinds of laws that have stirred my passion to become a lawyer, but beyond that I also want to be an elected politician because, rather than just arguing about the law, I want to be in those committees shaping them. So, hopefully, ten years from now, or maybe a little later than that, depending on when I can get elected to Congress, I hope you will all vote for me. In the course of the rest of this week, I hope to meet as many of you as I can and learn as much from you as possible. Thank you to the scholarship committee for this opportunity.
The third tenBroek Fellow is Henry Wedler, California, California: Good morning, everyone. I first joined the National Federation of the Blind in 2004 when I participated in the first-ever high school Rocket-On! science camp. While there I met blind people who were engineers, mathematicians, chemists, physicists, scientists--which was what I wanted to be. That was so inspiring to see these successful blind people doing well in their careers. My favorite aspect of the National Federation of the Blind, of the people I met at science camp and of all the people I have met at conventions, is that they quite literally exude inspiration, success, and excellence. I think we are all learning as a scholarship class so much from these people. The inspiration that I have gained from the National Federation of the Blind is what allowed me to graduate recently with degrees in chemistry and history from UC Davis and go on to receive a PhD in theoretical organic chemistry starting in the fall. More important than receiving from the National Federation of the Blind is giving back to it, and I was a mentor at the 2009 Youth Slam. I was a co-instructor at the 2010 Junior Science Academy, and one of my favorite life experiences was this past April when I put on a chemistry camp with the California Association of Blind Students and the National Federation of the Blind of California for ten students who were in high school, much like the Rocket-On! Science Academy, interested in chemistry, interested in science. These kids came in terrified of a stove, terrified to touch a pipette, and absolutely mortified at the thought of touching and transferring chemicals as a blind person. They left wanting to be scientists. Thank you for everything, and I say from the bottom of my heart that I am committed to the National Federation of the Blind and all it stands for.
Matthew Yeater, Indiana, Indiana: I’m in awe right now. I was walking through the hallway with Tom Page, my mentor, when I got here Sunday. I am in the process of writing a book, and I am wanting to get in touch with publishers and editors. I need help. He was talking to me about Sharon [Maneki]. Sharon wrote a book on World War II, and I’m fascinated with World War II, especially General George Patton. He was a four-star general who served on the front line. His enemies hated him for it, and his soldiers loved him for it. When I was at the Bosma Center, I was in the process of going to Indiana Bible College, knowing that a blind person before me had failed and did not make it. I met Ron Brown. He invited me to the NFB meeting. I was overwhelmed with what went on. I was so impressed. I was part of the college leadership program. I came here, and I am no longer overwhelmed. I didn’t think that I had it in me to do what you guys do. With tears in my eyes I poured out my heart to him, and he encouraged me. What I am doing right now is that I am going to trade my accomplishments for his. Ron, I am going to take advantage of this opportunity to honor you publicly. Thank you for what you do for this organization. Thank you for what you do for Indiana. Thank you for what you have done in my life. I am not comparing him to General George Patton, but I’m not alone, I’m sure, in saying that he wouldn’t be what he is if it wasn’t for this organization pouring into him the way he poured into me. I need this organization in my life. I need it in my ministry. I need it in my school. Thank you for being there for me.
On Friday evening, July 8, Patti Chang presented scholarships to all the winners. The final one was the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. This year it went to Kyle Shachmut of Massachusetts. This is what he said:
Thank you. I’d like to thank very much the scholarship committee, Dr. Maurer, and the leaders of the Federation for this award. It’s truly a humbling honor. I’d like to thank my wife, Laura. Without her support there’s no way I could be involved in this organization the way that I am. She’s attending her first convention event tonight, so welcome and thank you. I’d really like to thank my parents. My parents and my siblings never knew the Federation, but they were Federationists. Their philosophy of blindness was truly amazing. They treated me equally with all my siblings, and it was just amazing. They never let me settle. I’m here tonight for two reasons. Two years ago I had my first contact with the NFB, and I was really amazed and inspired by the leaders here. Their imagination, their determination--but that is not really what kept me here. What kept me here is finding out that the leaders and the members are really people of action. We in the Federation do things. We do big things. We do important things. We are really changing what it means to be blind.
Earlier this semester my school was trying to enact inaccessible technology across the university, and I was inspired by the leaders I have met in the Federation to speak up against that. If you notice, I said “trying.” I’m very grateful to say that they’ve inspired me to help make change in my day-to-day life and for others. So I encourage all of you to do the same, to get involved, follow the great leaders that we have, and make a difference in your world.
The second reason that I’m here is because of the outreach of some great Federationists. Two years ago, when I won a scholarship, I had never had any contact with the NFB. The outreach of my great chapter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, particularly Dr. David Ticchi's constant outreach--he is truly the reason that I’m here and involved in the Federation, so thank you very much to Dr. Ticchi.
This is not an end for me, it is a beginning. I really look forward to continuing to work with the leaders of this organization. I hope to get to meet many of you and to work with you as we continue to change what it means to be blind. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Here is the complete list of 2011 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Mary Margaret Winifred Billington, Christine Daniels, Roberto Diaz, Aleeha Miakell Dudley, Heather Edwards, Brenton Fuchs, Diane Graves (tenBroek Fellow), Michelle Hackman, Shafeka Hashash, Carry Joanis, Catherine Lei, Ma'ayan Shira Malter, Daniel Martinez, Ryan T. McBee, Julie Ann McGinnity, Terence M. Meehan, Sylvia Lane Modesitt, Justin M. Salisbury, Sandra J. Sommers, and Matthew C. Yeater. Christopher Fountain would also have received this scholarship.
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owens Memorial Scholarship: Kristina Vu.
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Yasen Angelov, David Schilling Bouchard, Mikaela Stevens, and Kathleen A. Katulak.
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Jessica Beecham and Henry “Hoby” Wedler (tenBroek Fellow).
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Amber Sherrard.
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Kyle Shachmut (tenBroek Fellow).