Braille Monitor               August/September 2023

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2023 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Awards

Presented by Cayte Mendez

From the Editor: Each year the National Federation of the Blind presents thirty academic scholarships to outstanding blind postsecondary students from the fifty states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. At the annual board meeting of the NFB, this year's scholarship finalists had the chance to introduce themselves to the Federation's Board of Directors. Scholarship Committee Chairperson Cayte Mendez gave some background about the scholarship program and introduced each of the finalists.

CAYTE MENDEZ: Good morning, Mr. President, members of the board.

The National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program is one of the ways we invest in our future, the future of blind people across the nation and the future of this Federation. Every year we receive hundreds of applications, and I have to thank the dedicated folks on the Scholarship Committee for convening to select the top thirty students within this year's batch of applicants.

What makes someone stand out to the Scholarship Committee? Well, they demonstrate scholastic aptitude. So we look for folks who have exceptional track records in their academic careers, whether they're in high school or grad school. We look at their academic records, and we look for scholarship, because these are academic merit scholarships.

The other thing we look for is their leadership, demonstrated through their community involvement. This program seeks to bring new people with new perspectives into our organization. To present these folks to you every year is one of my great privileges in working with the NFB.

So without further ado, I am going to begin. I will announce each finalist by first name, last name, home state, school state if it's different, and vocational goal. Then they each will have thirty seconds to introduce themselves. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as I have! Here we go!

The 2023 Scholarship Winners: Back row: Felecia Bradford, Ashleigh Rogers, Tyler Hoppe, Zachary Ledford, Athena Scopelite, Jack Freeburg, Kamran Vora, Justin Harford, Ernest Emmanuel Peeples, Tatyana Tolliver-Hughes; Middle row: Kahmile Whitby, Sara Folsom, Avery Sallean, Joanne Kim, Nina Marranca, Zach McLean, Maura Loberg, Dan Hlavinka, Ammar Tarin; Front row: Trisha Kulkarni, Ellen Harper, Noah Carver, Roshunda Holt, Mickayla Biddle, Theresa Mendez-Booze, Ryan Menter, Mitchell Ford, and Eric Gonzalez

CAYTE: McKayla Biddle, New Mexico, teacher of blind students.

MCKAYLA BIDDLE: Good morning, everybody. One of the things that stands out about me quite a bit is my sense of humor. Everybody is constantly laughing about my puns. For hobbies I like to play a blind version of hockey. I like to write creative stories. And I put my humor in those, too. And I've been blind since birth. Thank you.

CAYTE: Theresa Mendez-Booz, Oklahoma, international health advocate for physical activity and disability.

THERESA MENDEZ-BOOZ: Hello, everyone. As Dr. Jernigan had a vision to improve global accessibility and empower blind individuals to succeed, I want to help within the disability community. Thank you so much for the scholarship.

CAYTE:Felicia Bradford, Michigan, social work technician.

FELICIA BRADFORD: Greetings, everyone! My goal is to bridge the gap between the elderly blind and our young people, because our young people are our future, and they will be standing where we are today. Thank you.

CAYTE: Noah Carver, Maine, New York, Vocalist.

NOAH CARVER: Good afternoon. Listen, I came from the Eastern Time Zone. It's afternoon. When I chose to take a leap of faith and study at one of America's premiere conservatories, Eastman School of Music, there were many unknowns, but none more terrifying to me than my inexperience with music Braille. So I taught myself. Literally. And it was very difficult. Turns out obtaining resources to learn music Braille is challenging, time-consuming, and requires much hard work. My goal, apart from my work at Eastman, is to make any score accessible, whether you compose it or whether it's written by someone else, through software called MuseScore. Visit, or come find me. Thank you.

CAYTE: All right. Sara Folsom, Georgia, biology.

SARA FOLSOM: My intention is to pursue a pre-physical therapy track to work with disabled children and athletes, which is a cause very close to my heart as a disabled athlete myself. Thank you for the scholarship opportunity.

CAYTE: Mitchell Ford, Virginia, attorney.

MITCHELL FORD: Greetings to the esteemed board and general membership. I am humbled and honored to receive this scholarship. A little bit about myself: I've had a fruitful ten-year career as an educator teaching Arabic, and now I will be transitioning to a career as an attorney to advocate for causes that I care about and to help people. Thank you very much for this opportunity.

CAYTE: Jack Freeburg, South Dakota, Indiana, capital compound expert.

JACK FREEBURG: Hello, everyone. Thank you for this great opportunity. I'm an incoming freshman at the University of Notre Dame. I plan on studying finance and accounting. I really like to run and trade stocks, but I don't really know what I want to do with my life after I graduate college. So that's why I just made up something funny on the career goal.

CAYTE: I told him last night at the NABS meeting someone will have to explain what that means, because I have no idea. I think it means he's going to get rich someday. Speaking of riches, this year's scholarship class is rich in people whose last name begins with the letter H. For the first of the six Hs, Justin Harford, Oregon, Accountant.

JUSTIN HARFORD: Thank you, everyone. My name is—wait, I'm not going to say that, because you know my name. I have had a career before this. I got my first life as a student ten years ago, got a degree in history and Spanish lit and worked for eight years in the nonprofit sector. I am looking to migrate to the field of finance, working possibly as an accountant in a nonprofit governmental organization. I am also really passionate about languages, whether the language of South America, Spanish, or the language of business, and thinking linguistically, how that can help me solve problems. For me, I'm just really passionate about my involvement in the NFB. My first time meeting blind people that I would want to be like was when I was fourteen. My goal is to support programs so that young blind kids don't have to wait that long. Thanks.

CAYTE: Ellen Harper, Michigan, Washington, DC, attorney.

ELLEN HARPER:Thank you. I am attending Georgetown Law this fall to pursue a career in public policy. Two years ago, when my doctor disclosed to me that I am legally blind, I was shocked to discover how drastically others' perspective of me changed. I discovered that many of the institutions designed to help me find the resources I need to succeed also told me that my goals were too ambitious. This type of ableism perpetuated in the systems assigned to assist people with disabilities made me realize I need to be more than a self-advocate; I need to be a community advocate. Thank you.

CAYTE: All right. Dan Hlavinka, Colorado, social worker. His name actually starts with an H. Find him in the hall and ask him.

DAN HLAVINKA: Thank you. Thank you so, so very much from the depths of the wealth of gratitude that I have. I'm very interested in end-of-life care. That's kind of where the dart hopes to end at the end of the day. And speaking of the end of things, I want to circle back to the beginning of things. And this whole place, all these people, the route that got me here through the CCB giving me the confidence to really root into this aspect of wanting to create life and come August, towards the middle or the end, we're going to push it back as much as we can, we got two twin Hlavinkas coming on the way. It's hard for me to say that as a terrified blind person. I can only say that with the confidence that I do have because of all the support that I've ever had through all of this. And to be here, standing here and saying this amongst a big group of people, it's really one of the highest highlights of my life. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

CAYTE: Roshunda Holt, Kansas, business management.

ROSHUNDA HOLT: Hello, everyone! I am so grateful to be here! I've been told that I'm positive, optimistic, and very, very loud. So I appreciate anyone that hears my voice and calls my name. I will try my best to find you and greet you and just love on you as much as I can. Being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa was the best thing that could have happened to me, because I got to be a part of this amazing community of National Federation of the Blind! So thank you guys so much for accepting me! I'm emotional too! And I'm really happy that I got to go back to school and learn how to be visually impaired. Because of my journey, my education is going to take me to start a program called Life Transitions: Assisting Individuals into Adulthood. Because I need everybody to know that even though it's hard being an adult, there's somebody out there willing to help you go through that. And because of everyone that I've encountered that's helped me get to where I am, I want to be an advocate to help others do the same. So thank you. I'm really not hoarse. I'm just emotional right now. I appreciate you all.

CAYTE: And you made a mistake telling us you're loud, because somebody is putting your name down for next year's Ambassador Committee.

All right. Tyler Hoppe, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Law.

TYLER HOPPE: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm honored to be here today. Just to give you a little background about myself, I am currently studying at Penn State as a junior, studying political science with aspirations to become a US senator in my future. I have very strong aspirations to give a voice to the voiceless and help communities in need such as ours. There's far too much discrimination that goes on in this world, and I want to be one of the people in the United States Senate that can help make a difference. I just want to give thanks to the National Scholarship Committee. I am honored to be here and be recognized as a scholarship finalist. And thanks to my beautiful girlfriend Cassie, who has helped me through this last school year. I would not be here today without her support.

CAYTE: Marco Hurtado, Texas, software development.

MARCO HURTADO: Hello! I would like to point out how apt it is that we have so many Hs, given that we are in the lovely city of H Town. I get to say that because I live here. But I am immensely grateful to be here for the week down in the searing City of Houston from the city for the blind in Austin, which has been the culmination of my efforts for the past year or so to take my independence into my own hands and live away from home, pursuing school and a degree in software development and potentially also marry my two passions: artistic expression and technology. Thanks to the support of the National Federation of the Blind, that dream can become a reality. Thank you.

CAYTE: Joanne Kim, Pennsylvania, environmental protection.

JOANNE KIM: Thank you so much for having me here. I currently study environmental science with a focus on climate and a minor in geology, which is a fancy way to say I like rocks. I am very honored to be here today. I lost my vision when I was ten due to a benign brain tumor. That day I thought my life was over, mainly because in the Korean community there's a lot of internalized ableism, and my own father was very not supportive around my vision loss. However, being here today I learned that it's okay to be confident in my vision loss and to not be fully sighted and still possible to lead a full life. Thank you very much.

CAYTE: This next scholarship finalist is one of two distinguished as a tenBroek Fellow. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek was the founding president of this organization. This award commemorates folks who have received a scholarship in the past through the National Federation of the Blind, and the standard for these folks is a little bit higher. As if the standards weren't high enough for this program, trying to find the top thirty blind scholars in the nation! To become a tenBroek Fellow and receive a second scholarship, these folks have to have really shown active involvement and participation in the organization and have turned their tremendous talents and hands to helping to grow our movement. So this next person is one such young leader. Trisha Kulkarni, Ohio, educational technology.

TRISHA KULKARNI: Hello my Federation family! This past year at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I realized one of my favorite quotes: "Confidence is not about knowing all the answers, but instead about being ready to face all the questions." I'm grateful to the National Federation of the Blind for supporting me as a blind woman in tech as I tackle questions like how to regulate artificial intelligence to not discriminate against people with disabilities. Thank you for this incredible honor, and let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

CAYTE: Zachary Ledford, Utah, sports medicine.

ZACHARY LEDFORD: Hello! I am honored and grateful to be here with all of these incredible scholarship finalists as well. Thank you for your support and your love and mentorship. I'm also honored to serve as the president of the Utah Federation of Blind Students. I love to see the growth within students, not only in Utah but throughout the National Federation of the Blind. I'm very grateful for those experiences as well as my past experiences in athletics, and I hope and intend to pursue an education in sports medicine to help further athletics around the world. Thank you.

CAYTE: Maura Loberg, Nebraska, mental health counselor.

MAURA LOBERG: Hello, everybody. Thank you for watching me go through these milestones from high school to almost graduating college in December. You guys have watched me grow and change and cry and learn and do all the good things that you do. Thank you to the Scholarship Committee. You guys are bringing me closer to my dream of helping others in so many different capacities. I will be heading off to grad school next fall. Not this fall, next fall, to pursue my master's in mental health counseling. We have grown and changed so much during the pandemic, and I hope to be one of the people that helps foster that process. Thank you so much.

CAYTE: This next person is our second tenBroek Fellow. Nina Marranca, New York, clinical psychologist.

NINA MARRANCA: Hi, everyone. I just want to say that I'm extremely honored and humbled to be standing here for a second time. I obviously do not have time to get into all the ways that I've changed since the first time I was here, but one of those is that I don't cause feedback on the mic, so I'm really proud of that today because that was in my dreams for a long time! I'm happy to be back, and I can't wait to reconnect with people from before, but also I am so excited to continue networking with new people. So feel free to say hi, and I can't wait to make the most of this opportunity. So thank you.

CAYTE: Zach McLean, Washington, Oregon, sports and leadership management.

ZACH MCLEAN: Hello, everyone. So a little bit about me, I've been playing football now for about seven years. I was recruited by over thirty NCA schools across all three divisions to play linebacker this fall. I was one of the leaders at my high school who organized and advocated for unified sports and now annual unified prom. And I was informed by Harvard Children's a few years ago that I'm currently one of two in the world with a similar undiagnosed eye condition. So thank you for this opportunity. I could not put into words how grateful I am.

CAYTE: This scholarship class represents twenty-seven different affiliates, which if you think about it, out of a class of thirty, that's pretty good. Twenty-seven affiliates! We can't get them all. The math would have to be really in our favor. But I think we've done really well. And this next one is our second from Maine. Ryan Menter, Maine, Ohio, law.

RYAN MENTER: Hi, everyone. I recently completed my double major at Southern New Hampshire University and will be attending Case Western Reserve School of Law this fall. I hope to practice as a disability rights attorney and also work as a guardian ad litem to represent abused and neglected children in the courtroom. More specifically, I hope to fight for those who have faced discrimination and also serve as a voice for children failed by the systems and by people that were supposed to protect them. Thank you to the board and the Scholarship Committee. I'm extremely grateful to be at convention and look forward to the many opportunities that await over this week.

CAYTE: Emmanuel Peeples, Illinois, actor.

EMMANUEL PEEPLES: Thank you. My artistic goals as a multihyphenate artist are to change the perception of albinism in the media through my work as both an actor and playwright. I am beyond humbled and honored to be here and excited to share more of my work with you and to join this fabulous NFB family. Thank you.

CAYTE: Eric Rivera-Gonzalez, Puerto Rico, attorney.

ERIC RIVERA-GONZALEZ: (speaking in Spanish) Thank you so very much to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind for having me here. Without you guys, I would not have this opportunity. I want to thank Tomás [Cintrón] for inspiring me. As a finalist, I'm going to be very strong as a blind lawyer in Puerto Rico to educate, to showcase that we as individuals with disabilities can do more. My dream and my passion are to showcase that everyone has a voice, a vision, and a way to do what they want in their heart. Thank you to Mr. Riccobono and the Board of Trustees for having me and the scholarship finalists here. Thank you!

CAYTE: Thank you. In this year's scholarship class there is a forty-year gap between our most senior finalists and our youngest finalists. This one is one of our youngest. She has been eighteen for—what, about two weeks now? And we're so glad that her birthday is in June so she could be here with us today. Ashley Rogers, Pennsylvania, actuary.

ASHLEY ROGERS: Thank you for having me here, everyone. In case you don't know, an actuary will be doing a blend of math, statistics, economics, and business. So that's my career, a blend of all of those. I would like to thank the NFB and everyone that made the scholarship possible for giving me this opportunity. And I'm looking forward to starting college in the fall and seeing what life has in store. Thank you.

CAYTE: Avery Sallean, North Carolina, neuroscientist.

AVERY SALLEAN: Good morning, everybody! Thank you so much for having me here, and thank you so much to the scholarship board for awarding me this amazing opportunity. I'm currently a rising sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill, studying neuroscience and minoring in chemistry. After my undergrad I want to pursue a PhD in neuroscience and do research in the field of Alzheimers and neurodegeneration. The reason that I'm interested in that is because being blind has taught me that we're not the only community that has challenges. There are many communities in our nation and in this world that have challenges that need to be addressed. And so I would really like to be a part of this community and other communities, helping in any way that I can. So thank you again so much for having me here, and I'm so excited for the rest of this week.

CAYTE: Athena Scopelite, California, psychologist.

ATHENA SCOPELITE: Thank you so much. It's an honor to stand here and tell you about myself. Since I've been to this convention, it's my first one, my pride as a blind person has just grown so much! I have noticed myself noticing all the little accomplishments that I've achieved so far in these first three days and actually recognizing them. So that's amazing, and it wouldn't have happened without the National Federation of the Blind here to show me what I'm capable of. My goal as I continue in my studies is to become a counselor, and not only be a caring ear for people who need to talk but also have the honor and privilege of helping people design their own personalized plans and steps forward as they walk along their own mental health journey. And I am very fortunate to be able to perpetuate the ever-growing concept and truth that taking care of your own mental health is integral to living a happy and healthy life. And I very much look forward to helping people along that journey. Thank you so much.

CAYTE: Ammar Tarin, Arizona, attorney.

AMMAR TARIN: All right! My friends, how is everyone doing?! Okay. If you know me, I am very proud to say that my family is originally from Afghanistan. And it's always been my dream, my passion, to not only help the refugees here coming from Afghanistan to the US, but also in Afghanistan. So I feel right now the best way to do that is to be an attorney, to do what I can in Afghanistan. So thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it.

CAYTE: Tatyana Tolliver-Hughes, West Virginia, Missouri, law.

TATYANA TOLLIVER-HUGHES: Greetings, everyone. I am currently at Washington University, pursuing a major in philosophical law and policy and double minoring in education and African-American studies. Like many of you, I've been advocating for myself within the public school system for as long as I can remember. And in my position, I was acknowledged by administration and encouraged to mentor my fellow visually-impaired students in orientation and mobility, classroom advocacy, and even pursuing interests through adventure whitewater rafting and vocalist interests. In my academic journey thus far, I have been able to acknowledge my passion for education and see the disparities across not only the disabled community but also through other minorities such as religion, linguistics, and race. It's my passion to pursue educational equality for all of these marginalized groups and eventually continue to the federal judicial system. Thank you.

CAYTE: Cameron Vora, Texas, medical doctor, bioethics attorney.

CAMERON VORA: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so very much for having me today. I graduated law school a number of years ago, and I'm currently a second-year medical student here at Texas A&M. I realize after so many years of school I probably need to find a different hobby by now! But in sincerity, this is my first convention, and it's no exaggeration for me to say that without exception, every interaction I've had so far has been an incredible learning experience. So thank you all for the wonderful honor and the very warm welcome to the Federation family.

CAYTE: Kahmile Whitby, Massachusetts, autonomous vehicle design.

KAHMILE WHITBY: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm the last scholarship finalist. I promise. I am a mechanical engineering undergrad. I hope to use my degree to advance the accessible design of autonomous vehicles to promote independent mobility. I have an interest in beep baseball and board games and fashion. Thank you for investing in me and believing in my aspirations.

CAYTE: Okay. Now we can do the applause! [Applause] And Mr. President, members of the Board, it's been my pleasure to present to you the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class of 2023!

At the Annual Banquet of the National Federation of the Blind, Cayte Mendez presented the 2023 National Scholarship Awards to this year's winners. Each received a plaque in print and Braille contributed by the Ray Kurzweil Foundation and an award of eight thousand dollars from the National Federation of the Blind.

National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: McKayla Biddle, Felicia Bradford, Sara Folsom, Jack Freeburg, Roshunda Holt, Marco Hurtado, Maura Loberg, Zach McLean
Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship: Ryan Menter
EU and Jean Parker Scholarships: Justin Harford and Ashley Rogers
Charles and Melba T. Owen Memorial Scholarships: Noah Carver, Theresa Mendez-Booz, Ammar Tarin
Edith R. and Alvin J. Domrow Scholarships: Dan Hlavinka and Athena Scopelite
Jesse and Hertha Adams Trust Scholarship: Tyler Hoppe
Jeannette T. Eyerly Scholarship: Emmanuel Peeples
Jacqueline Billie Memorial Scholarship: Nina Marranca
Mimi and Marvin Sandler Award: Joanne Kim
Pearson Award:Eric Rivera-Gonzalez
JAWS for Windows Award: Tatyana Tolliver-Hughes
NFB STEM Scholarship: Cameron Vora
Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Kahmile Whitby
Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in STEM Field: Avery Sallean
Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: Mitchell Ford
Scott C. LaBarre Memorial Scholarship: Allen Harper
American Action Fund Scholarship: Zachary Ledford
Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship: Trisha Kulkarni

Each year the recipient of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship has the honor of addressing the NFB Banquet. Here are Trisha Kulkarni’s heartfelt remarks.

Cayte Mendez, Trisha Kulkarni, and Mark Riccobono smile and pose for a picture.TRISHA KULKARNI: My Federation family, thank you! When my sisters and I were growing up, our parents wanted to give us the world. Their only requirement was that we put our hearts and minds into everything we did. We were happy. Our family was complete. But my parents knew what the world is like, that there was discrimination, that there were challenges we were not prepared for. They gave us everything we needed to be successful. The only requirement was that we put our mind and heart into everything that we do.

But then, their youngest child, in middle school, went blind. Suddenly they faced a world that they didn't understand. But they still wanted to give me the world. They fought for me to have an aide in class who would read my textbooks. They stayed up with me at night to read my assignments. They were prepared to give me the world, but it was a world they didn't understand, and I needed that understanding.

In 2018 I was called with the news that I was to receive a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship. At the time I didn't know what that meant, but I got on a flight and went to Orlando, Florida. I was overwhelmed, not only by the resources, the mentoring, the national community of students, but the love that fills every corner of this organization. The National Federation of the Blind gave me the world when they allowed me to serve our student community, and when they gave me my Freedom Bell from the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

But when you're given the world, you have to put your heart and your mind into everything you do. Tonight, to my Federation family, I promise I will put my heart and mind into everything we do in this organization. To my family back home and my family in this room, thank you so much for everything!

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