by Cayte Mendez
From the Editor: These remarks were made by Chairperson Mendez to honor the thirty recipients of the National Federation of the Blind’s annual scholarships:
For the past few years, it's been my privilege to stand at the podium on banquet night and celebrate the tremendous achievements of our NFB scholars. Each year the thirty students selected by the community impress us all with their drive and the desire to live their best lives and to improve the lives of others. Throughout the convention the members of the organization get to know them through their public presentations at NABS, the board meeting, and through interacting with them in the hallways and during meetings.
From year to year our scholarship winners are stars of the convention experience. It's been my privilege for the last few years to introduce them to all of you. This spring, even before the official decision was made to take the convention virtual, President Riccobono, the committee, and I had already begun thinking about how we could make sure our 2020 scholarship finalists could be guaranteed the best convention experience possible under the unique and challenging conditions in which we all suddenly found ourselves. We made it a priority to ensure that each of the thirty scholarship finalists would have the most impactful, engaging, and interactive experience we could create as they got to know the committee and the Federation through the various convention events and their surrounding networking and social opportunities.
We knew that the true gift of the NFB scholarship program is the Federation itself, above and beyond the dollar amounts, and we were determined to ensure that the 2020 finalists would get to experience everything that our organization has to offer.
I'm so pleased to tell you all that this amazing group of finalists has dived into our remote convention experience with the kind of gusto and enthusiasm that I've always admired in our scholarship winners. They've immersed themselves deeply into our convention activities throughout the past week and have shared their questions and feedback with their mentors via Zoom, text, WhatsApp, email, and a few good old-fashioned phone calls. They've stayed connected to the committee, to one another, and forged new friendships and contacts throughout these past five days. Despite the time differences and the long hours behind devices, they've carried on the perennial scholarship tradition of twenty-hour-plus days with very little sleep as they have soaked up Federation philosophy, community, and activism.
To you guys, the scholarship class of 2020, we've all been delighted to get to know you. You've impressed me, the committee, and the membership of the organization with your tremendous stories of struggle and success, your passion for diversity and inclusion, and your commitment to advancing the future of others as well as achieving your own lofty goals.
I am really sorry to see that our time together is drawing to a close. However, this just means that we'll have more things to learn about one another and to share with one another when we do finally get a chance to meet in person.
Back in May we announced that travel and public health restrictions permitting, there will be an in-person event for all the 2020 scholarship finalists in February 2021. That will be taking place in Baltimore. The details for this event are still in the works, but we know how important it is for the members of each scholarship class to develop in-person connections with one another, with their mentors on the committee, as well as with other Federation members and leaders. The money that you guys will all win as scholarship finalists will eventually be spent. But the relationships that you'll build with one another and with the members of the Federation as a part of your scholarship process will last for a lifetime. And to give you an example, I'm still friends with my scholarship roommate, and that was nineteen years ago! So right now, our in-person event is scheduled for the weekend of February 4, 2021. Please save that date. Dr. Kurzweil, that might be a lovely time to do that handshake that you were lamenting having missed this evening.
As you all know, each year our thirty NFB scholarships range in value from $3,000 to $12,000. These scholarships are also augmented by additional grants and prizes so that at a minimum each winner leaves our convention with $5,000 plus gifts including a beautiful plaque from Dr. Kurzweil and the Kurzweil Foundation and a Chromebook from Google. In the video we aired earlier this evening, we thanked our generous donors and partners for their support. But I'm going to take this opportunity to say one more time: thank you. Thank you so much. Your support helps make it possible for these future leaders and scholars to achieve their dreams and to live the life they want. So, sincerely, from all of us, thank you.
Traditionally the determination of which of the thirty finalists will receive the eight scholarships with base values exceeding $3,000 has been made on the final night of convention after a week where the finalists get to know the scholarship committee and the committee members get to know each of the finalists. This year, given the challenges and potential inequities of adhering to our usual protocol, the decision was made to award our scholarships a little differently. In May we announced that each finalist who participated fully in the remote convention will be receiving a $3,000 scholarship plus all the additional cash and prizes. The determination of which finalist would be awarded the eight amounts exceeding $3,000, including our prestigious Kenneth Jernigan Memorial scholarship, will be made at the in-person event in February, where, again, public health and travel permitting, the committee and other Federation members in attendance will be able to get to know each of these inspiring scholars without the barriers of screens and headphones and weird internet stuff.
So, in closing this evening I have the honor to introduce one more time in full the scholarship class of 2020. Now, usually at this point when I start reading names, I'd have to tell you please hold your applause and please wait to cheer. But this year because you're all in webinar mode, I definitely encourage you to cheer, hoot, holler, scream, yell, and carry on as loud as you please while I read the names of our fabulous 2020 scholarship winners. I'll read everybody's name, first name, last name, home state, school state, and vocational goal.
Deiascha-Britte Bancayanvega, Rhode Island, California, healthcare inclusion.
Rob Blachowicz, Arkansas, Arkansas, counseling.
Chris Bove, Rhode Island, Rhode Island, public service.
Bri Broadwater, Maryland, New Jersey, psychology.
Sean Carlson, Oregon, Oregon, teacher of blind students.
Natalie Charbonneau, Oregon, Oregon, animal genetics and conservation.
Moreblessings Chikavanga, Texas, Texas, law and policy.
Kevin Darcy, Colorado, Colorado, professor of anthropology.
Matthew Duffell-Hoffman, South Carolina, South Carolina, electrical engineer.
Paxton Franke, North Dakota, North Dakota, forensic pathology.
Elaine Hardin, Georgia, California, higher education student administration.
Kat Hippe, Wisconsin, Michigan, linguistics and special education.
Emily Kiehl, Ohio, Ohio, technology and business.
Josh Loebner, Tennessee, South Carolina, advertising and academic faculty.
Sara Luna, Illinois, Illinois, museum accessibility.
Victor Marques, Michigan, Michigan, rehabilitation.
Griffin Miller, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, actuary.
Jillian Milton, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, software product development.
Brian Mucyo, Arizona, New York, human rights law.
Marissa Nissley, New Jersey, District of Columbia, law.
Sherry Pablo, California, California, health policy and management.
Precious Perez, a tenBroek Fellow, congratulations Precious on your second NFB scholarship, Massachusetts, Massachusetts, music education.
Teresita Rios, California, Indiana, law.
Dannielle Schutz, Nebraska, Nebraska, biomedical research.
Nick Spohn, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, mechanical engineer.
Logan Stenzel, Minnesota, Minnesota, finance and entrepreneurship.
Marie Villaneda, Indiana, Indiana, orientation mobility instructor.
Monica Wegner, Minnesota, Minnesota, corporate law.
Alek Wolfe, Vermont, Vermont, broadcasting.
Brayan Zamarripa, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, media production accessibility.
Folks, I hope you're still cheering and making a ton of noise, banging your cups and plates and cutlery—whatever you have—in celebration of the scholarship class of 2020. See you all in February.