Future Reflections Spring 1992, Vol. 11 No. 2

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CONFESSIONS OF A SCHOLARSHIP WINNER

                       by Jennifer Lehman

       Reprinted from the December, 1991, Braille Monitor.

From the [Braille Monitor] Associate Editor:
Jennifer Lehman is a sophomore at St. Norbert College, majoring in communications. She reminds us all over again just what the impact of the National Convention is on people who are experiencing it for the first time. If you are toying with the idea of attending the NFB convention for the first time or if you know someone who is doing so, read this article, and consider that this same expansion of the world and deepening of self-confidence is available to everyone who attends our conventions and dives into the activities and the opportunities available. Here is the story of what happened to one young woman as first printed in the Fall, 1991, issue of the Wisconsin Chronicle, the publication of the NFB of Wisconsin:

As I stepped from the oppressively humid jetway into the startling coolness of the New Orleans airport, I felt the apprehension I had been fighting to control begin to overwhelm me. Flying alone for the first time, I had just arrived in an unfamiliar city to spend a week attending a convention of a group about which I knew almost nothing. Lurking beneath my apprehension, however, was a spark of excitement. I realized that this trip could be a challenging and fun adventure. I could not have known then how much I would learn and what an exciting and unforgettable experience the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind would be.

Prior to this convention my contact with other blind people had been limited. I was the first blind student to enter the Watertown public school system and am presently the only one at St. Norbert College. Apart from my younger sister, many of the blind people I had met seemed to exemplify the stereotypic image of blindness. They seemed totally dependent upon others to meet all of their needs. I was not anxious to spend a week surrounded by such people. I felt that there were no other blind people like my sister and me--people who thought of their blindness, not as a handicap or an insurmountable hurdle, but as something which, though sometimes a nuisance, did not have to keep them from doing what they wanted to do with their lives.

Soon after arriving at the convention, I discovered, to my relief, that I had been wrong. The ideas about blindness which I had thought were unique to me and my sister were actually part of the philosophy of the NFB. I was among people whose attitudes and accomplishments I admired and who reached out and made me feel that I was a part of their huge family. The sense of community I felt was one of the most positive aspects of the convention for me.

Another positive aspect was the chance to learn more about the NFB. Before this trip I knew almost nothing about the group. I had heard some mixed reports. For instance, I had heard that it was somewhat radical, especially in its fight for exit row seating on airplanes. I had also heard that it worked hard to promote the teaching of Braille, something which I very much support. Through conversations with members and many excellent speeches, I learned a great deal about the philosophy and actions of the National Federation of the Blind. I found that I agree with much of this philosophy. I plan to become an active member and may even work to start a student division in Wisconsin.

The convention taught me as much about myself as it did about the NFB. I have always considered myself fairly independent, but this convention taught me to be even more so as an improved cane traveler. Walking with so many other people who were also using canes, I gained new skills as well as more of the confidence I needed to help me travel better. As I relaxed and opened up to people, I also gained much-needed self-confidence. I hope that the positive effects this convention had on my self-image will last a lifetime.

Attending the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind is an event I will never forget. I am extremely grateful to the members of the scholarship committee and all those who worked to make this experience possible for me. By winning the Wisconsin NFB scholarship, I received more than just the money to help pay for my tuition. I gained confidence, knowledge, friends, and memories which I will cherish forever.

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