From the Editor: As the national convention draws near we observe the traditional buzz about what will be found on the convention agenda, who will make us laugh and who will make us cry, and what will turn out to be the most memorable event in the 2014 gathering of the National Federation of the Blind. This year there is an additional item of interest, the election of a new president. Such a transition occasions much speculation about the future and some considerable reflection on the past and the legacy of the man who has occupied the presidency of this organization for more than a quarter of a century.
With this latter point in mind, here is an article written by a twenty-year-old Marc Maurer that appeared in the Braille Monitor in March of 1972. I wish I could’ve claimed the byline for something this significant at twenty. Here is what the president of the student division had to say about his formative years, the division he then headed, and the role of divisions in our organization:
I am the second child among six. Having reached the age of twenty, I seem to have inherited some of the rugged individuality, the carefree fun-loving spirit, and the wish to do well that are so characteristic of the atmosphere in my home.
I have been legally blind since my birth and for all practical purposes totally blind for the past fourteen years. My third eye operation happened when I was six, and when it was over I was blind. I was resentful, bitter, and scared. I had determined that blindness was an irreparable tragic blow to my being. Henceforth, I would spend much time doing nothing except sitting alone and becoming more bitter. I was doing rather well; I had collected almost as much dust as the knick-knacks on our book shelf. Then my mother decided that it was time for a change of scenery and literally dragged me outside to "play." My first lesson about the proper attitude concerning blindness wasn't much fun, but it was taught to me in the form of a good time on a swing set.
The State residential school endured my presence for five years. I then moved on to school in my former hometown of Boone, Iowa. After my graduation, I spent a year receiving training at the adult orientation center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. In the fall of 1970, I enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, where I am now a sophomore.
In addition to school my educational experiences have been those of a curious American. My hobbies have included such varied projects as mechanics, cooking, reading, and singing. I like to swim, shoot pool, water ski, play cards, and skate, both on wheels and on ice. What I have known of winter sports has delighted me, and, of course, one of my most engaging present pastimes is girl-watching.
I was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind during my sojourn at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Under the tutelage of Kenneth Jernigan, the president of the Federation and the director of the Commission, I began to understand the organized blind movement.
We had several discussions about blindness and the blind, and, as it happened, I inevitably lost the debate, but I did grow to recognize the need for the organization. Incidentally, I consider it a feather in my cap to have won a bet with Mr. Jernigan.
The Student Division was organized at the 1967 Convention. At that organizational meeting there were about thirty people. At the past 1971 Convention the Student Division meeting was attended by about one hundred fifty interested persons. We have grown in membership and are growing still, both in numbers and in activities. There are now ten student or young peoples' divisions across the nation, with the prospect of two more within the year. Thus far in 1970, Student Division representatives have been seeking new members in New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas, Montana, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Iowa. The St. Cloud discrimination in which First Vice President Mary Hartle figured so prominently has now been brought to a successful close, and the Division's secretary, Curtis Chong, is presently negotiating with officials on the University of Hawaii Campus because the blind students attending that school have no place where they may study after 4:30. In a manner somewhat similar to that in which Loren Schmitt was treated by the rehab center on the University of Illinois campus, the officials of the rehab center on the University of Hawaii campus are ordering and arranging the lives of the blind students.
In an effort to make these rehabilitation centers effective, the Student Division has requested and been granted permission to do a survey of the program on the Illinois campus. This survey is one of the most immediate future concerns of the Division. We plan to continue organizational proselytizing, and wherever possible we will give advice or help to any student desiring it. (In this connection the student handbooks—revised—are available from either myself or Jim Gashel, the immediate past president of the Student Division.)
As we understand it, the first duty of a division is to the organization of which it is a part, and as such the Student Division will work in whatever way we can to make the NFB a greater movement. We plan to do some survey work, book surveys, or commentaries on television programs, but the place of a division is not to lead, but to advise, provide a forum for learning, train its members in this business of organization, and fill the ranks of the larger group on the battlefield. We are an entity in one sense only. We are not a division of the NFB, but a division IN the NFB. We stand together with all our colleagues in the movement.