Future Reflections         Convention Report 2008

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The 2008 Scholarship Winners

Whether a student is bound for an Ivy League school, a state university, or a small private college, a few thousand dollars here or there in scholarship money is always welcome. That’s one very big reason why parents and teachers should be more than a little curious about the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program. The NFB Scholarship Program is one of the largest award programs in the world for blind students.

In 2008, thirty blind students received a total of $122,000 in cash awards, an all-expenses paid trip to the weeklong NFB convention, and a certificate. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each also received a $1,000 check and plaque from the Kurzweil Foundation, the brand new KNFB Reader Mobile presented by Ray Kurzweil himself, and the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems. This is clearly a program every academically competitive blind student should consider carefully.

But there is another reason parents and teachers ought to be interested in the NFB Scholarship Program. These blind students, who had the capacity and character to win highly competitive scholarships, are also inspirations and role models to younger blind students. Parents, students, and teachers who attend the convention get the opportunity to observe, listen to, and meet current and past scholarship winners. Many past winners have gone on to distinguished careers, and they return to the conventions eager to mentor other students.

Every year, the current class of scholarship winners is introduced at the NFB Board of Directors meeting, which is the first large, public meeting of the convention. The chairman of the Scholarship Committee announces first the student’s name and then both the home and school states. Each winner then comes to the microphone and speaks directly to the Federation. Below, in alphabetical order, are each student’s portrait, name, home state, school state, transcribed remarks from the board meeting, and the name and amount of the award received by each later in the week at the NFB annual banquet. Also at the banquet, the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship is given one more opportunity to address the convention. Those comments, by winner Leslie Penko, are printed at the end of the article. Here now is the 2008 NFB Scholarship Class:

Beth AllredBeth Allred, Wisconsin, Colorado: Good morning, everybody. I have just completed my bachelor of music degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with an emphasis in voice. Right now I am attending the Colorado Center for the Blind, and, after finishing my independence training program, I will attend the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I will pursue a master’s degree in voice. I will become a successful expressive musician, a compassionate teacher, able to teach and learn from my students, and I will continue to work within the Federation to help blind youth as I feel that I am a good role model and that I can help students get the resources they need. And I will treat every experience that I have with enthusiasm as I believe that the experiences we have shape who we are and are going to be. Thank you. [$3,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Leadership Scholarship]

Alyssa BatesAlyssa Bates, Ohio, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everyone. I must say that I never thought that I would end up on stage at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Though I have had the same amount of vision my entire life, I never really considered myself a blind person. Largely due to the help of one very special person I became involved in the Federation, and I’ve embarked on a whirlwind romance with the Federation during the last nine months. I’ve become deeply involved, and I’ve come to believe in what the Federation stands for. Speaking of whirlwinds, I am pursuing a meteorology degree from the Pennsylvania State University, and I plan to research tornados and improve response and warning times for them. I would like to thank everyone in the Federation, especially the scholarship committee, for this wonderful opportunity. God bless. [$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship]

Mika BaughMika Baugh, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I would like to thank the convention and the board for your generosity, your leadership, and the resources that you have provided me with. I’m a recent high school graduate and will be attending Indiana University as a freshman in the fall to major in psychology and to minor in medical humanities and Spanish. After completing graduate school, I will pursue a career in physical therapy. Thank you. [$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship]

William BlackWilliam Black, Utah, Utah: It’s definitely a great honor to be chosen as a scholarship winner. I’m attending the University of Utah for my generals, and I am going to the International Culinary School at the Art Institute in Salt Lake City. I’m going to get a bachelor’s degree in culinary management, and I intend to become a caterer after that. Also I am the secretary of our local chapter, and I am honored to be a scholarship winner and to be among these wonderful people. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Katy CarrollKaty Carroll, New York, D.C.: Thank you for the introduction. Good morning, everyone. I will be a junior at American University in the fall. I’m studying international studies and physics. I studied abroad independently in Norway last summer, and I will be in France in the spring at the École Nationale de Science Politique in Paris studying political science. With my degree I hope to go into the state department one day and work in the Office of Agriculture, Environment, and Trade. I would really like to improve trade relations and the relationship between trade and the environment. I really appreciate being here. Thank you all so much. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Stacy CervenkaStacy Cervenka, D.C., D.C.: Good morning, Dr. Maurer, members of the board, and other members of the Federation. I am originally from Illinois and Minnesota and currently live and work in Washington, D.C., where I am a legislative correspondent for Senator Sam Brownback in Kansas. I work on issues of education, disability rights, prolife issues, bioethics, veterans’ issues, prison reform, criminal justice, and (as of recently) health care. I always say that Mother Teresa once said that  “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle; I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” This fall I will begin a graduate program at Johns Hopkins University’s Washington, D.C., campus, where I will be pursuing a master’s degree in government with a concentration in political communication. My career ambitions are to further the goals of marginalized populations that I’ve often been surrounded by and consider myself a part of, including people with disabilities, people who live in inner cities, people who live in very rural areas, and people who live on Indian reservations. I just want to thank all of you for generously donating your time and resources and energy to give all thirty of us the opportunities that we have here today. We all know how fortunate we are, and we know we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you. [$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Tomás CintrónTomás Cintrón, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico: Good morning, everyone. It is an honor to be here again. I’m Tomás Cintrón. I come from Puerto Rico. I got my bachelor’s from Inter-American University, San Germán campus. After that I received my rehabilitation at LCB. Then I started working with the department of education as a teacher with children K through sixth. I am now working on my master’s degree. I hope to be done next year. My mentor [Alpidio Rolón] is here. My goal for this year is to start a chapter in Puerto Rico for parents of blind children. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award]

Buna DahalBuna Dahal, Colorado, Colorado: As Pablo Picasso once said,  “I’m always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them.” I’m a graduate student at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. I was invited to present an empowering speech at the United Nations in 2007. I worked in Turkey last year through Blind Corps. I’m a graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Fellow Federationists, it is indeed my honor to share this week with you as a tenBroek Fellow. Thank you very much. [$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Allison deFrancoAllison deFranco, New York, New York: Hello, everyone. I am really excited to be here, and just a quick correction. In New York, if you say New York, New York, that means the city. I am actually from six hours north of the city, Saranac Lake, New York. I currently attend Syracuse University College of Law, and I am going into my third year, while I am also attending Syracuse University, School of Education, getting a master of education, focusing on disability studies. I believe I am one of the farthest to come to this convention. I flew in from Budapest, Hungary, where this summer I am working at the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, focusing on issues of children’s rights in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I am excited to be here, and it is a great opportunity so far. [$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship]

Chelsey DuranleauChelsey Duranleau, New Hampshire, New Hampshire: Thank you, Anil, Dr. Maurer, and fellow Federationists. I am Chelsey Duranleau. I am pursuing a degree in Spanish with a minor in sociology at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. Also during the summer I am a camp counselor. I work in a program called Interactions, and I work with blind children. That has been really rewarding. I hope to bring a lot to the Federation. I am very independent, and I try to influence people and be a role model, especially for children. It is truly an honor to be here. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Tim ElderTim Elder, California, California: Good morning, distinguished board, fellow Federationists. Thank you for having me here. I attended my first convention in 2006. Many of you may be surprised to hear this, but prior to that convention I had never met another blind person. I never thought that I could receive a respectable paycheck. I never thought that anybody would look past my blindness and love me for who I am, and this group has really been a family to me and has helped me to achieve my dreams and goals. Thank you. Since that convention I received my BA in music composition. I currently have a band and produce music distributed globally on ITunes and available on national radio syndication. If being a minor rock star wasn’t good enough, I still have concerns for social justice. I’m a third year law student at the University of California, Hastings College of Law. I am currently spending the summer working at a public interest law firm in San Francisco, litigating on behalf of low-income workers, and probably the most notable development is that this past week I proposed to the love of my life and am engaged and excited to be starting a family in September. So thank you for having me. It’s a true honor. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Joseph EngleJoseph Engle, North Dakota, Minnesota: Greetings, my fellow Federationists. This is my first convention. I am going to be attending Concordia College in the fall, majoring in social studies, education, or classics education to become a high school teacher while going through Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, to become a Lutheran pastor. Since this is my first convention, I notice it has been quite a good experience, enjoyable, and I do intend to be involved with the Federation. When I get involved in an organization, I get involved wholeheartedly. I don’t do anything halfway; I do everything I can do. What can I do--well, many people have commented about my teaching abilities at my church. I intend to use those abilities in the Federation to educate the general public about the truth about blindness. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Michelle GittensMichelle Gittens, Minnesota, Minnesota: Hello, Federationists. The training that I received at BLIND, Inc., coupled with my music degree, is enabling me not only to change what it means to be blind, but also to change what it means to be a blind musician. On and off stage I let it be known that I sing because I am skilled, not because I am blind. In three weeks I will be attending a music program at Yale, and in the fall I will be starting my second degree, in music business, at McNally Smith College of Music in Minnesota. I thank you all for this opportunity. I thank the NFB for challenging us all to be sky-is-the-limit blind people. Thank you. God bless. [$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship]

Justin HodgeJustin Hodge, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning, everybody. It is definitely an honor to be here this morning and this week. This fall I will be a junior at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana. I am currently majoring in mechanical engineering. This summer I am working as an intern at Lexmark in their laser printer research and development area. This past fall I had the opportunity to study abroad in Grantham, England. That was definitely a wonderful experience. My independent skills were definitely boosted by that experience. When I graduate, I basically am considering three options for employment. I might go into the corporate sector. I may work as an engineer for the NFB, or I am also considering going into the mission field. This is my first convention. I have learned a great deal so far, and I am looking forward to the rest of the week and finding out what the NFB has to offer. Thank you. God bless. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Janice JeangJanice Jeang, California, California: Hello, fellow Federationists. It is actually Texas, California, Baltimore, Chicago, California. I will be a first-year master’s of public policy student at the University of California, Berkeley, this fall, which is an area related to our most famous activist in our organization, Dr. tenBroek. Speaking of activists, another famous activist by the name of Jesse Jackson once said,  “If my mind can conceive it, then I will be able to achieve it. “ So I just wanted to come and say thank you to the Federation for giving me the confidence to conceive it, for giving me the belief and the skills for me to achieve it, and for trusting enough in me to give me the honor and privilege of being up here to speak to you guys. I owe everything to the Federation, and I hope to continue proving myself worthy of your trust for this amazing gift. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Andrew JohnsonAndrew Johnson, Connecticut, Connecticut: Good morning, everyone. I want to be brief, but I want to start by thanking the NFB, especially the scholarship committee, and Dr. Maurer, also to everyone in the room, and all of the thousands of people that this organization represents. This is my first convention, and this has been an incredible experience. I am excited to meet you all, but about me. I just graduated high school, and I’ve finished up an internship at my local radio station. I am going off to Connecticut College in the fall, where I am going to be pursuing an English degree and hopefully be a journalist, where I can fill up my passport, travel around, and write about all the great stories and great people that I get to meet all over the place. Thank you all, and congratulations to the other scholarship winners. [$5,000 2008 Dan Ryles Memorial Scholarship]

Rebecca LedderRebecca Ledder, Nebraska, D.C.: Thank you, everyone. I am a rising sophomore at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., majoring in Japanese with a possible minor in sociology. I am also a graduate of the Nebraska orientation center for the blind, and I would like to thank everyone here for making this amazing opportunity possible for me and for all the rest of the scholarship class. Some things I have found are a little bit easier to say in Japanese, so [a series of Japanese words], which very roughly translated means, Thank you for everything that you have done. Thanks. [$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship]

John MahlerJohn Mahler, South Carolina, South Carolina: Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Before I talk about myself, I just want to say a couple of things about my experience here. This is also my first time here at convention. I was sitting having breakfast this morning with Mr. Jacobsen--he’s my mentor today. I’m overwhelmed at this opportunity. It’s an amazing experience--the relationships I have developed in the last couple of days. I was telling Mr. Jacobsen, this is the best time of my life. It is incredible to be here today. I want to thank all of you for all the opportunities that are coming with the scholarship. It’s given me the confidence to apply to some of the top law schools in the nation. I’m heading into my senior year at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I am originally a product of Tyler, Texas, which is about an hour and a half east of here, and I am looking forward to coming back to the Texas affiliate and applying to law schools here. I don’t want to leave Parnell, but I have to come back to family here. I’m a political science major and an international studies major as well. I’m a double major. I’m also in the honors program. Out of eight thousand students I am in the top two hundred of Coastal Carolina University. Thank you all very much. It is an honor to be here. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Sara MinkaraSara Minkara, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored and flattered to be here today. This is my first national convention, and, to be honest, I was a little bit nervous. However, the moment I arrived here, the warmth and welcome, the inspiration, the support, the encouragement that I received were astounding. I would like to take that and instill it into every heart in this global community because there are children out there who have the potential, but there are obstacles impeding their progress. I believe that every child in this global community has the right to thrive and succeed and become a successful person. Therefore I am pursuing an international relations major with a focus on economics and a math major at Wellesley College. I hope to be one day a UN official to improve the education system on a global level. Thank you. [$5,000 Michael Marucci Memorial Scholarship]

Leslie PenkoLeslie Penko, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone, the board of directors, and my fellow Federationists. I would first of all like to thank everyone for the warm welcome I’ve had at my first national convention. It has been amazing. I’m Leslie Penko, and I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. I graduated in 2007 from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s in psychology. Currently I am pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I just finished my first internship at a bereavement center, where I was a bereavement counselor and group facilitator. In the fall I will be interning at a county hospital in a psychiatric ward. I aspire to be a counselor and, again, I just thank everyone for this incredible opportunity. [$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship (Donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults)]

Faith PennFaith Penn, Texas, Texas: Hello, everyone. Good morning to you all. I am currently a senior at Texas Tech University. My major is public relations, and I will have a minor in English when I finish. In the fall I am going to be interning in the athletics media department at my school. Upon graduation I plan to pursue my master’s in radio, television, and film. I hope to write commercials--you know, the good ones that everybody remembers and that get stuck in your head and all that good stuff--that’ll be me. I hope to do that. I am a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. This is my fifth convention. Every year I learn so much. I am excited to be here again. I’ve been here as a first-time convention goer. I’ve been here as a staff member in the Buddy and STEP Programs, and now I am here as a scholarship winner, so I am excited to be here. Thank you so much. It’s a big honor for me. [$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship]

Trevor SaundersTrevor Saunders, New Jersey, Pennsylvania: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am a freshman at Carnegie Mellon. I want to study computer science. I want to make computers better for people, particularly blind people like me. I always believed in the Federation ideas and high hopes, but a few years ago I met the Federation and learned it was all-true. I am an Eagle Scout. For my project we put up Braille signs at a nature center near my home so it was accessible to blind people. We should learn about nature too. Last summer on a school trip to Kenya, I was responsible for a trip to a blind school where they don’t learn science; rather they didn’t. We brought the principal of that school to the National Center in the United States. Now they are learning science. Thank you, Federationists. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Matt SimpsonMatt Simpson, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, everybody. I am Matt Simpson from Atlanta, Georgia, and in the fall I will be a freshman at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. I plan to study history and politics. This is my first NFB experience and my first convention. I would like to thank the NFB and everybody in this room for the honor of this scholarship and the amazing opportunities of this convention and the opportunities the NFB provides us with each and every day. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Nikki SinghNikki Singh, Maryland, Connecticut: Good morning, everyone. I want to take a moment to thank the scholarship committee once again for all their hard work and for honoring us with our scholarships, as well as the convention. I am also a recent high school graduate. In the fall I will be a freshman at Yale, where I hope to major in either literature or history before going to law school. Thank you. [$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship]

A.J. SmithA. J. Smith, California, California: First I would like to thank the scholarship committee and the board for giving me this wonderful opportunity to come here to Dallas and to attend the National Federation conference. I am going to attend the University of San Francisco in the fall, and I will double major in biochemistry and social justice. I will become a doctor in the next eight years. As a doctor I will change the world; I will make this world a better place. And the reason why is because the National Federation of the Blind provides great opportunities and gives us no reason not to. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

Amanda SwansonAmanda Swanson, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning, everyone. I am a senior at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. I am majoring in biology, and after I graduate, I plan to work for the Environmental Protection Agency. I would like to thank my friends at BLIND, Inc., and the NFB for all their support. Thanks. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

André TynesAndré Tynes, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, Federationists. My name is André Tynes, and I would like to thank the scholarship committee for this honor. I am currently a graduate student at Norfolk State University, majoring in rehabilitation counseling with a concentration in severe disabilities. Also I hold a bachelor’s degree in social work. I am also the president of the Peninsula Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. I currently work for a local magazine called Hampton by the Sea and Beyond. In the fall I will be doing an internship at the Department of Rehabilitation Services in Hampton, Virginia. I am happy to be here today. When I lost my vision in ’98, I had such great mentors from the NFB, and they showed me that I did not need to be ashamed to be blind anymore. Thank you. [$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship]

C.J. WatsonC. J. Watson, North Carolina, Virginia: Hi. I am from North Carolina, and I will be attending graduate school at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. I have attended three different mission trips to Mexico and have directed music programs in the summer and also assisted in rehab camps for the blind during the summers for the past several years. I’ve also done PR work for American Cancer Society and the Children’s Miracle Network. I am a six-time cancer survivor as well as being blind--celebrating two years and four months. My undergraduate was in piano performance, and for my graduate degree I am working on my second year at Marymount, in community counseling. I hope to use my experiences as a blind individual and as a cancer survivor to work with blind people and their families, cancer patients and their families, dealing with the emotional and psychological stresses of cancer. I want to thank the scholarship committee and each and every one of you Federationists out there who have done all that you have done in making this possible, and I thank you, and I look forward to the rest of this week. [$3,000 Network 2000 Betsy Zaborowski Memorial Scholarship]

Isaiah WilcoxIsaiah Wilcox, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning. My name is Isaiah Wilcox, and I am from Atlanta, Georgia. I am currently attending Morehouse College as a sophomore, where I am double majoring in computer science and mathematics; hopefully I will go on to pursue my master’s degree in computer forensic science. Just want to thank the scholarship committee for having me here this week and also to thank you, the members, for supporting the scholarship program. Thank you. [$3,000 NFB Computer Science Scholarship]

Nijat WorleyNijat Worley, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, fellow Federationists. This is my sixth convention, and according to Ray Kurzweil’s calculations, I should have two hundred more to go. I will be attending the University of Colorado at Boulder and majoring in political science and international affairs, after which I will be going to law school. I intend to work for the United States State Department as an international diplomat. My father Kevan was asking me the other day whether I would continue coming to conventions after going off to college, and my answer to him was,  “Of course,” I would be coming to conventions, because it’s become a tradition for one thing, and, second of all, after all that this organization has given me, the only way I can pay back to this organization is to serve it to the best of my ability, because of what it has given me by letting me go to Rocket On!, the Youth Slam, the Youth Leadership Academy, and the leadership seminar at the end of this month. I will be attending Cadamount Institute for Environmental Studies at the end of this summer. I am very excited to be here. Thank you to the scholarship committee and to the National Federation of the Blind for the scholarship. Thank you very much. [$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship]

 

That is the scholarship class of 2008. After Leslie Penko received the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, she briefly addressed the banquet audience seated before her and across the nation listening and watching on the Internet. This latter group included Leslie’s mother, who had searched in vain to see her daughter among the thousands of diners earlier in the evening. These are the remarks that Leslie made:

Thank you so much, Dr. Maurer, Mr. Kurzweil--I cannot thank you both enough for this opportunity. I would like to start by thanking Barbara Pierce, who introduced me very recently to this incredible Federation. I also have to thank the scholarship committee, who saw something in me that led them to invite me to participate in what has become the most incredible week of my life. It has certainly been a life-changing experience, and, though I’ve been telling people that--and I feel kind of corny saying it--I know that many of you understand what I mean when I say that.

I of course have to thank my family back home, because without them and their support I wouldn’t be here. They loved me no matter what, and I’m so thankful for that.

Now I also have to thank my new family, my extended Federation family because they have taught me this week, every one of you, actually to love myself just the way I am. Honestly, all money aside, I’m going to walk away from this experience with the most invaluable resources I could ever have imagined, that is, every individual that I have spoken with this week. I have learned wisdom and advice and techniques and skills, ways that I can just be me, more me than I have ever known I could be--no tricks, no pretending, just me, completely comfortable and not panicking about where the stairs are or worrying about looking foolish, fumbling around a restaurant looking for the restroom, all the things I thought I had to put on a front for, prior to this week. So for that I thank everyone who is here. I would just encourage you to get to know each other, to ask everyone questions, because each and every person has a story to tell and advice to give and wisdom. It doesn’t matter where they come from or where they’re going. It’s amazing the things you can learn and gain by just talking to people. That is something I will cherish forever. So thank you so much for this opportunity. I will never forget it, and I will be back.

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