The head of the scholarship committee, Cayte Mendez, introduced the 2018 scholarship class with these remarks:
Good morning, Mr. President and members of the board. It's been my privilege to serve as chair of this committee for the past year. Before I go any further, I just want to take a quick opportunity to thank my predecessor, Patti Chang, for all of her hard work with the committee. [applause] With her mentorship and the support of the committee members, it's made my learning curve as smooth as it could possibly have been, so thanks.
This scholarship program is an opportunity for the National Federation of the Blind to emphasize our commitment to academic excellence and leadership among blind students. The folks I'm going to introduce to you this morning exemplify these qualities in spades. I'm going to introduce each scholarship finalist in this fashion: first name, last name, and then two states. The first state is their home state; the second state is the state where they will be attending school. Now, last night at the NABS board meeting the students did a really wonderful job of following these directions, so today I hope the folks in the audience can follow them as well. [laughter] Please reserve your applause until the end. There are thirty scholarship finalists, and if we clap for all of them, we're going to be here until next Tuesday. They're all wonderful and deserve our attention, so let's please clap for them at the end. Now the students could follow these directions—so the audience at the board meeting, I hope you can as well.
Our first scholarship finalist this year, alphabetically, is one of only thirteen men in this class. Once again the numbers are skewed toward the ladies.
Naim Abu-El Hawa, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning, Federation family. It is my most sincere pleasure to be here this morning with ya'll and to be honored with the value of being a scholarship finalist. Little bit about me: I am studying international relations with a Middle East politics concentration. A fun fact about me: I am proud to identify with my activist status, no political implications within—actually, lots of political implications within. I cannot reiterate enough the honor that has been placed in my hands being a scholarship finalist, and I hope to live up to the expectations that the National Federation of the Blind has placed in my trust and care. Thank you fellow Federationists.
Alexandra Alfonso, District of Columbia, District of Columbia: In the fall I plan on attending Catholic University, where I will major in music education and pre-law. One day I hope to be a teacher of the visually impaired and a practicing lawyer in juvenile courts. I went to a school for the arts for three years, where I majored in vocal music, which motivated me to do music education. Thank you.
Tasnim Alshuli, Arizona, Arizona: Hello, everyone. Thank you. I'm so honored, first of all, to be here and to be one of the finalists in the 2018 scholarship class. I am a doctoral student in education. My focus is mathematics and visual impairment. I have faced a lot of exclusiveness and inaccessibility as well as discrimination in my education career. I have met a lot of you that have also faced the same in either K12 or higher education. I am devoting myself to research how blind students learn mathematics, and with your help my NFB family—brothers and sisters—we will do it together. Thank you.
Millad Bokhouri, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Hello NFB. I'm getting my master's in health care administration, specializing in disability services in medicine. The projected stats for the blind population in the United States are that it will grow by 30 percent. Seventy-five percent of that will be ages fifty-five and older, and I personally believe that they have a more difficult time adjusting to their vision loss and blindness than our citizens starting at a younger age. My motivation is that the blind people in this country need to break into health care and make an active change there. I'm hoping that by implementing and learning about administrative services, I can be a better advocate for not only the blind but also the sick and the ill. I'm also hoping that by next year when I come back to the 2019 convention—wherever it is—that I would also be able to potentially develop a health care committee to create transparency for not only health care individuals in medicine who are blind, but also within the immediate community.
Tyron Bratcher, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning, Federation family. This coming fall I will be completing my final year of undergraduate studies at Coppin State University in Baltimore. I am studying social work, and I have a rehabilitation services minor. After I am finished at Coppin, I am planning on pursuing my master's degree in social work, doing work that helps people who are not only blind but people with all types of disabilities realize what most of us here already do, which is that no matter what's going on, what type of disability you have, whatever the case is, it doesn't have to automatically stop you from living the life that you want. I am truly honored to be here. I have attended many conventions, but it is an honor to be here this year as one of the national scholarship finalists. I'm not only involved in things in the Federation but also in my school. And one of them that I am looking forward to this year is I may possibly have an opportunity to join my school's executive board of student government association this coming year as a representative to the University System of Maryland's student council, which has the opportunity to make recommendations to our chancellor and our board of regents on different issues including appointments of student regents and different things like that. I'm looking forward to that, and even if I don't get that position, I may have the opportunity to join in a different executive board position. I truly enjoy being part of the Federation, and I definitely use what I’ve learned here to help me with other things that I'm involved in at school as well as in my community. I thank you for all the support that everyone has given me over the years, and I look forward to continuing to be active in helping to build the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.
Our next finalist is also a tenBroek Fellow. That means that she has previously won a National Federation of the Blind scholarship, and this honor is named after Jacobus tenBroek, a renowned leader in our organization's past. So, without further delay I'm going to introduce all of you to Chrys Buckley, Oregon, Oregon:
Good morning, NFB. In a month from tomorrow I will be starting medical school, and it was a long journey to get to this point. I earned degrees in micromolecular biology, biochemistry, and arts and letters, and worked as a chemistry tutor and tutor coordinator. When it was time for me to take the MCAT, the NFB intervened to make sure that I got testing accommodations. I love science, and I love working with people, so I'm really excited for this new journey and also really excited and so grateful to be here today.
Ozgul Calicioglu, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, NFB. Thank you for welcoming me here. I obtained my bachelor's and master's degrees in environmental engineering in Turkey and another bachelor's in business management in Russia. Currently my PhD studies at Penn State involve converting waste into valuable products and biofuels. I conducted some part of this research in Switzerland last summer, and this summer I am interning in the UN in the food and agricultural organization headquartered in Rome, Italy. My work there is about assisting countries to attain the global sustainable development goals of the UN. I'm very passionate about sustainability as much as disability advocacy, and I aspire to a career in academia to raise environmentally-conscious and socially-aware citizens.
Olivia Charland, Massachusetts, Vermont: Hi. So this is my first time attending an NFB convention. This week was my first time traveling alone, and this was sort of my first time being independent. I'm not a naturally outspoken person; I'm not that outgoing. I've never been very open about being visually impaired, so this convention was a really critical first step in breaking some of those restraints I had been unwittingly putting on myself because I am blind. I'm going into a STEM field, and I'm hoping to do research in biology and biotech. I know it's going to be a challenge, but I know that the NFB is going to be behind me and that I'm going to have support from this community and that with that help I'm going to be able to achieve my dreams. Thank you for having me.
Purvi Contractor, Texas, Texas: Good morning, President Riccobono, members of the board of directors, and fellow Federationists. This fall I will be attending the University of Texas at Dallas and pursuing a bachelor's of science in physics. My goal is to be a scientist at NASA or conduct research at the university. Last year I completed a quantitative case study analyzing bird strikes with airplanes for the Dallas-Fort Worth and the Dallas Love Field airports. During my high school career I had advocated for the rights of the blind. When I was in ninth grade I presented a prototype of a Braille label on Pepsi products. I would like to thank you for this opportunity. For parents and teachers, I would like to encourage you to encourage your child or student to apply for this scholarship. Thank you.
Kenia Flores, North Carolina, South Carolina: Good morning, fellow Federationists. It is truly an honor to be recognized as a scholarship finalist. I am a rising junior at Furman University, majoring in politics and international affairs. I recognize that my rights as a woman who is Hispanic and blind would not be possible without individuals who came before me. After graduating from Furman I plan to attend law school so that I can become a civil rights attorney and protect the rights of individuals who fall within protected classes. I look forward to continuing to build the National Federation of the Blind alongside you and continuing our efforts to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind. Thank you.
John Harrison, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: Good morning, y'all. It's good to be back to my second convention. I'm having a great time; I hope you are too. Next year I'll be a sophomore majoring in English, creative writing, and psychology. I love reading and writing, so if you have any good book recommendations, hit me up. I am just fascinated by psychology. Next year I will get the opportunity to be my campus LGBTQ peer educator, and I'll be able to go into classrooms and help people through education, sitting on panels, and just being an advocate for them. I think that's great practice, because the life I want to live is helping others live the lives they want through education and advocacy. I'd like to thank you all for helping me live the life I want, and I look forward to talking to you all. Have a good day.
Now these next two finalists (I just have to share this with you) have the same birthday—not the same year, but they were both born January 15. So the first of them is Eric Harvey, California, Massachusetts:
Good morning, and thank you for this phenomenal honor. I am in the final year of my PhD, finishing up my dissertation in Near Eastern and Judaic studies at Brandeis University. In my research I study the history, religion, and literature of the ancient Middle East. This means everything from the epic of Gilgamesh in Babylonian to funerary inscriptions in Phoenician to the Dead Sea Scrolls in Hebrew and Aramaic. And let me tell you, if you think information accessibility is a problem today, phew. [laughter] I study the religious past, but I don't want to keep it in the past. My goal is to become a professor because I think right now that religious literacy is one of the most important skills for the world we live in to understand the history and traditions of our own religion and to understand the religions of our neighbors and friends, both locally and across the globe. Thank you so much for supporting my last year of studies, and hopefully I will never need to apply for this scholarship again.
Justin Heard, Georgia, Georgia: Hello. I just want to say, the Federation love for students is both awesome and terrifying, so thank you. I'm literally controlling my breathing right now. I'm attending Georgia College and State University seeking a bachelor's degree in psychology, and then afterward I will either attend Louisiana Tech to get a master's in teaching blind students, or I will attend Orthodox Christian Seminary—so, Lord knows what's happening. [laugher] I have been president of the Georgia Association of Blind Students for the past four years, and I have been a board member of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia for almost a year. I am a graduate of BLIND, Incorporated [cheers] from Minnesota, both the prep program and the adult program, and I'm also working at the Colorado Center for the Blind [cheers] this summer as a technology instructor and residential counselor. I believe that is all about me.
Jeff Humphrey, Michigan, Michigan: Ladies and gentlemen of the National Federation of the Blind: Next year I shall finish my bachelor's degree at Olivet College in sociology/anthropology, and also my double minors in political science and religious studies. After that I shall go on to Case Western Reserve University in Ohio [cheers], and I shall complete my master's degree in ethnomedicine and global health. My goals are to ensure that people are cared for and that I can become a holistic healer and help bridge the gap in our medical system and treating our people with compassion. I also wish to start a global educational exchange where cultures can share with one another all the different histories that they have so that we can learn from one another, respect one another, enjoy each other for who we are, and stop fighting so many wars. My other goal is to ensure that the advancement of Braille literacy continues, so after this I shall go and submit my name for the Braille committee. In high school I was always a member of SGA [Student Government Association]. I was even a member of the National Honor Society. In college I served on our Student Government Association for three years, two years as our activities liaison. I am the community service representative for Elite, or the Alpha Xi Omega social fraternity at Olivet College. I was also a founding member of this group called the Disability Rights Council, which is a group that advocates for all disabled students on campus for accommodations and to ensure that they can do the jobs that they wish to do. Thank you for giving me this opportunity as a first-time conventioneer and even as a newly-made NFB member. I did not expect to receive this honor. We must remember: we must educate to liberate.
Trisha Kulkarni, Ohio, California: In addition to yesterday being the national celebration of our country's independence, this first week in July has also come to have significant personal meaning to me. Last year at this time my family and I worked tirelessly to organize a fundraiser that raised over $70,000 for retinal research to help others with unstable eye conditions live the lives they want. Today I am also celebrating my one-year anniversary with my guide dog Liberty, my first national convention, and my newfound membership as a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind. [cheers] I will be attending Stanford University in the fall and majoring in symbolic systems with the hope of becoming a software engineer. Thank you so much for welcoming me to the NFB family.
Amanda Lannan, Florida, Florida: Good morning. I believe that education is the foundation for our future. Therefore my journey started long ago when I was diagnosed as being blind, but my parents really pushed me. I tried anything and everything, and because of their efforts, I have journeyed, and I find myself now at the University of Central Florida pursuing a PhD in exceptional student education. My focus though is on new teacher preparation. My goal is to help those teachers to understand that high expectations will lead to success. My purpose in life is to educate all children with hope, equality, and resourcefulness. I wanted to also share that I am a huge advocate. I will be leaving early Monday morning right after this amazing convention to go for the Student Exceptional Leadership Summit. I will be in Washington; I’ll be on the Hill. I have been doing a lot of research, but I will be advocating for many of our efforts here in the NFB: the AIM High and all of those initiatives. Additionally, I will be in Washington again for another summit at the end of July, and then I am really looking forward to going to Maryland and volunteering with the STEM EQ because I love to hang out with students, and I cannot wait to empower them with some STEM learning. Finally, my research involves augmentative and virtual realities, and we're working on how those technologies can benefit the accessibility of STEM for students who are blind. I really appreciate the honor, and let's go continue to build this amazing Federation.
Shane Lowe, Kentucky, Kentucky: Amanda, that's great. I'm here for the check. [laughter] No, not that check, the reality check, because there are so many misconceptions around the NFB. And in case you guys didn't know, as a member of the NFB you are allowed to ask other people for directions. When I'm not here, I'm an incoming freshman at a university you've never heard of, majoring in business administration and cyber security to reform the way that blind people analyze cyber threats so that we may live the lives we want and not the lives the guy who nicked our social security numbers want. I also want to combat these in the corporate world. I am a software engineer for Pearson, I'm a published author, and I've had the privilege of working with Kentucky's commissioner of education to enhance both my geographic and demographic community. On a more exciting note for some of you, tomorrow you will get to see me in a different light. Tomorrow evening I will have the honor of performing with Precious Perez at the welcoming concert, and I still suspect that they will make me buy a ticket. See you there; thank you so much.
Seth Lowman, Idaho, Montana: Okay, I want to begin by asking you how many of you are tech-savvy musicians? [scattered cheers and applause] All right, well, you're in luck. I'm studying music technology over at Montana State University and am paving the way for future music tech students in that field. My goal to help the NFB is to eventually advocate for better accessibility in the music tech world. So in the future we will have no more synthesizer inaccessibility, no more Soft Sense inaccessibility, etc., etc. You guys know the field; you know what I'm talking about. And I also want to be able to bring resources that already are accessible to the blind. Thank you.
Sara Mornis, Vermont, Vermont: Good morning. I am truly honored to be recognized as a scholarship finalist. And as a first-time conventionist I want to thank you all for being welcoming. I am attending Johnson State College as a senior this fall, studying English and psychology. I plan on pursuing a master's in counseling after that. I have passion for reading, writing, and helping others. So thank you.
Connor Mullin, New Jersey, Louisiana: Thank you, everyone. Joe Ruffalo, as a fellow New Jerseyan, I was wondering if someone could go pick up my vehicle donation; it's currently sitting over the Hudson River. [laughter] Famous O&M thinker and teacher Joe Cutter and others talk about how independent travel and learning independent travel skills are some of the most important things to encouraging blind people to go out into their world, literally and in an abstract sense to explore and achieve. Having the privilege of learning from Joe Cutter at a young age helped me when in my college years I began to build my independence. Getting involved with the Federation helped me to conduct an original research project of all state justices of supreme courts throughout the country, and it also helped when working with blind students in the Employment Development Guidance and Engagement Program run by Dan Frye, and now in my current endeavor as a graduate student in the cane travel instruction program at Louisiana Tech. I look forward to continuing to benefit from these insights with my connections with the Federation to give students the gift of independence. Thank you.
Our next finalist is also a tenBroek Fellow. This is Sarah Patnaude, Virginia, Virginia:
Good morning, Federation. As a cosplayer [a contraction of the words costume play], I know the importance of a good sewing machine, the ability to create patterns, and the importance of a good attitude in creating and embodying a character. The Federation has given me the necessary tools, skills, and confidence to become the individual, leader, and advocate I aspire to be. With my master's in social work I hope to become an advocate for those who so often do not have a voice and to empower others to awaken their inner hero or villain, just as you have done with me.
Menuka Rai, North Dakota, North Dakota: Good morning to you all. I have always dreamt of working in the medical field, so I'm studying physical therapy at the University of North Dakota. I have realized now that it is not always easy to turn our dreams into reality. Sometimes I get frustrated, and I feel like giving up. But then I think of the potential that I have and all the people who I will be able to help in the future by facing and overcoming all of the challenges. So that's what keeps me going. I would like to thank the NFB for encouraging me to move forward, and thank you for this wonderful opportunity.
Elizabeth Rouse, Iowa, Iowa: Hello everyone whose names I haven't learned yet. To add on to what Cayte has told you about me already, I am going to be a junior this fall at Central College. We are the Dutch. (I don't understand the mascot, either.) I have a lot of various campus activities in and outside the classroom. I'm an English/theater double major with a religion minor, and on any given Thursday night you can find me in Kuyper Athletic Center with my forty-five pseudo-big brothers also known as the Dutch wrestling team. Keeping forty-five college-age boys under control is a lot harder than you think. I also enjoy my job as a writing tutor; they're a lot quieter over there. Anything else you want to know, please ask; I'm here all week.
Yasmine Sarraf, Arizona, Arizona, and before she speaks I have to tell you that she is the last of eight finalists whose birthdays are in February. That's almost a third of the class. I don't know what's going on in February, but that's a good month. Go ahead, Yasmine: Good morning, everyone. This is my first convention, and I'm honored to be here. This year I will be majoring in forensic science in the Barrett Honors Program of Arizona State University. What really attracted me about this major was the variety of fields that it encompasses that I'm interested in, such as criminal justice, psychology, and the sciences—especially biology. I've known that I wanted to do forensics ever since I was eight years old and first heard about it. And I knew I wanted to do biology even before that, when I saw my first microscope in sixth grade. But the thing I really love about forensics is that I will be able to help people in so many ways, more than what I've been able to do in my community service projects in high school, because I will have learned all of what I need. What I've done before is the Welcome to America Project, so I've helped refugees, and I've worked at the Foothills Animal Rescue Shelter, where I helped care for abandoned and neglected animals. I've really loved being at this convention and seeing how my legal blindness can be used as a way to connect with people instead of isolating me from them, and being able to meet other blind people as hard-working and dedicated as I am and want to continue to be. So thank you.
Caitlin Sarubbi, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. It's an incredible honor to be here with you today. I was born with a rare syndrome which left me legally blind, hearing impaired, and having undergone over sixty-five surgeries. This is what initially sparked my passion for medicine. I graduated from Harvard in 2015 with a degree in social and cognitive neuroscience, and I'm currently earning a master's degree and applying to medical school this summer. I am also a United States Paralympian and competed in alpine ski racing at the 2010 games in Vancouver. I love to volunteer, teaching other children and veterans with disabilities how to live the lives that they want through sports. Thank you guys so much.
Rilee Sloan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: In the fall I will begin university as a history and political science major. I intend on becoming a lawyer specializing in disability advocacy, though I am also very passionate about other forms of advocacy. For example, LGBTQ+ advocacy and mental health awareness is also something I'm passionate about. I also work for the ACLU Smart Justice Campaign which is a national initiative to promote criminal justice reform and reduce the prison population by 50 percent. While attending university I hope to use those experiences to strengthen my leadership skills. I hope that by developing these skills I can serve my community more effectively.
Harry Staley, Texas, Texas: [cheers] Thank you my Texas family. I am currently attending Texas A&M San Antonio, majoring in computer science. My vocational goal is to become an autonomous vehicle engineer. I currently serve this country as a systems analyst for the United States Army. And in that role the biggest thing that I have learned is that accessibility needs to be baked in, not bolted on. [cheers]
Matthew Turner, Idaho, Massachusetts: Good morning, members of the board, Federationists. I'm Matt. I'm a rising sophomore at MIT, studying computer science and economics with a 4.9 GPA. My underlying mission in life is to inspire others to learn, dream, grow, and achieve. I have done this through leadership in my student council, where I helped us overcome an $18,000 budget loss, as well as through service in Mamelodi, South Africa, where I traveled with a team to educate high school students so that they could go on and pass college entrance exams. This summer I am currently interning at HP, and I am excited to begin research on a virtual assistant that will function similarly to Aira this fall at the MIT computer science and artificial intelligence lab. This is my first NFB convention, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am excited to get to know all of you more. Thank you.
This class ranges from eighteen to fifty, and this next finalist (and I won't tell you where on the continuum she falls), but she celebrated her birthday here with us on the third. This is Cathy Tuton, Oklahoma, Oklahoma:
Hi fellow Federationists. I am a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I am currently attending the Oklahoma State University Oklahoma City campus, working on my associate's degree. Then I will be going to the OU Health Sciences Center to get my bachelor's and master's in dietetics to be a registered dietician. As a small child all I wanted to do was to be in the medical field, but I was always told that because I'm blind I can't. I am very proud to say that I am fifty, I am the oldest one here, but I will tell you that with all of the obstacles that I've had to climb over, go around, and figure out a way to get through, I want to help other people, blind, sighted, and otherwise, to learn how to be healthy, to live a healthy life, not to be sick and die young because of their illnesses that can be prevented by healthy eating and exercise. I already have an associate's degree in personal fitness training that will go great with my degree that I'm working on now. Thank you very much.
Paige Young, Maine, Maine: Hi. I'll be a junior at Husson University this fall. I'm studying to receive my master's in business administration through accounting. As well as being blind, I'm also a type 1 diabetic, and over the last eight years I've coordinated the annual walk-a-thon in my county. It's fun to do that as well.
At the banquet Harry Staley won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. Here is what he had to say:
Fellow Federationists, I had some words prepared, but I honestly did not think I would be standing up here. But one thing I can tell you is that I am surrounded by leaders who poured their lives into us as students. I'm constantly surrounded by people like Norma Crosby [cheers] and Glenn Crosby, some of the first folks that I met in coming back to the Federation two years ago. I thought I was a big dreamer before, but every day that I'm in the Federation, my dreams get pushed. I have a wonderful wife; I thought I was living my dream until I came and got involved in the National Federation of the Blind. And it's so true: my dreams are becoming a reality because I am involved in this organization, and I am pushed to dream bigger every single day. [applause]
Following is a complete list of 2018 scholarship finalists and the awards they received. In addition to the awards listed below, each finalist also received: $1,000 and additional prizes donated by Dr. Ray Kurzweil and the Kurzweil Foundation; $1,000 from Google and the newest Chromebook; a generous certificate from Cary Supalo and Independence Science toward the purchase of a Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest; a complimentary nine-month subscription to Aira; and a KNFB Reader courtesy of the NFB.
$3,000 NFB Scholarships (17): Naim Abu-El Hawa, Alexandra Alfonso, Millad Bokhouri, Tyron Bratcher, Olivia Charland, Purvi Contractor, John Harrison, Justin Heard, Jeff Humphrey, Amanda Lannan, Seth Lowman, Sara Mornis, Connor Mullin, Menuka Rai, Yasmine Sarraf, Rilee Sloan, and Paige Young
$3,000 Expedia Scholarships (2): Tasnim Alshuli and Caitlin Sarubbi
$3,000 Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: Eric Harvey
$3,000 E. U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Sarah Patnaude
$3,000 Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship: Matthew Turner
$5,000 NFB STEM Scholarship: Cathy Tuton
$5,000 Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Elizabeth Rouse
$5,000 Pearson Scholarship: Shane Lowe
$5,000 JAWS for Windows Scholarship: Kenia Flores
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field: Ozgul Calicioglu
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Trisha Kulkarni
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Chrys Buckley
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Harry Staley, Jr.