"Attending the convention has changed me in many ways. For the first time in my life, I did not feel self-conscious or different. For the first time in my life, I feel like I am part of a big family that really cares." - Ayoub Zurikat, 2017
Most of us talk about how our national convention reinvigorates or recharges us. Recently, I’ve been thinking about why that is. For many of us, it involves setting high expectations for others and ourselves. We are surrounded by people who expect us to do more than is sometimes thought possible for low-vision and blind people. While that is part of it, for me, there is another big reason: the impact on newcomers to convention and our National Federation of the Blind family.
Newcomers to our conventions bring fresh ideas and energy. They transform us as we influence them. I marvel at the ease with which our younger generation embraces technology and STEM, and I have had to progress to keep up with them. At our 2017 convention, the impact we have on newcomers pervaded my thoughts.
This year one of our scholarship winners and first-timers to convention called me ahead of time. He was worried about travel and explained to me that he had not received formal orientation and mobility training. He was nervous and unsure he was ready for this huge event. We discussed how he could manage, and I promised to connect him with a good traveler who would assist.
When Ayoub Zurikat met me in our hotel, he had a short cane, which is truly the heaviest I have ever had the pleasure, or displeasure, to try out. I traded him canes for the evening. So he went from his short, heavy cane, which might have been forty-five inches high, to my straight carbon fiber sixty-five inch cane for the duration. Truthfully, I just hoped to get a cane in his hand that wasn’t bound to lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Of course, Ayoub far exceeded my expectations.
Midweek I mentored Ayoub, and he wanted to visit the job fair. So we did. Once we got there, I left him to work the room on his own. I was a little worried that he might be upset about my letting him be, but I needn’t have worried. My mentee thanked me for doing so, explaining that his friends never "let him get lost." I understand the transformative experience of getting lost and figuring it out. Again, he rose to the occasion, exceeding even his own expectations.
Many of Ayoub's first-time convention experiences were enlightening, as is true for most of us veterans. In his inspiring thank-you note he wrote:
"Attending the convention has changed me in many ways. For the first time in my life I did not feel self-conscious or different. For the first time in my life I feel like I am part of a big family that really cares."
Ayoub's success at the job fair left me feeling good, but that wasn't all. On the last day of convention, my husband stopped me to say that Ayoub was traveling with a long white cane from the hotel to our meeting rooms and was using the cane with good technique. If you were at convention, you know that the long hallway involves moving back and forth and winding one's way through crowded restaurant areas and at times, throngs of people. This young man went from very low confidence in his travel abilities at the beginning of the week to confidently navigating the most challenging area of the hotel for anyone by the end of the week. His expectations were most certainly raised. And exceeded!
I love how our conventions invigorate and inspire me, but even more I love watching what our conventions do for others, especially those new to this transformative experience. There are thousands of life-changing moments at each of our conventions. It is an amazing privilege to be a part of any of them.