Future Reflections        Convention Report 2012

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Meet the 2012 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class

Presented by Patti Gregory-Chang

Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, August/September 2012

The 2012 scholarship winners
The 2012 scholarship winners (left to right): Back Row: ShaQuantaey Mack, Cody Bair, Elizabeth Troutman, Michael Foster, Brandon Terry, Rylie Robinson, Brandon Keith Biggs, Sierra Gregg, Monica Villarreal, and Michael Sipes. Middle Row: Chrys Buckley, Jennifer Shields, Christopher De Jesus, April Scurlock, Emily Pennington, Rachel Grider, Nallym Bravo, Robert Campbell, Briley Pollard, and Matthew Bowers. Front Row: Valeria Paradiso, Trey Lewis, Kyra Sweeney, Brandy Woods, Harriet Go, Stephanie O’Donnell, Jordyn Castor, Alyssa Munsell, Rose Sloan, and Kimie Beverly.

From the Monitor Editor, Gary Wunder: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind's scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors for the members of the current scholarship class. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future. On Thursday evening, July 5, toward the close of the banquet, Patti Chang, the chairperson of the NFB Scholarship Committee, came to the podium to present the year's winners and announce which scholarships each had been awarded. Each winner shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil before taking a place at the back of the platform. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each winner received a $1,000 check and a plaque recognizing outstanding achievement from Ray Kurzweil and the Kurzweil Foundation; an iPod Touch, which is able to run Blio, the e-book-reading software available from K-NFB Reading Technologies; and a certificate for the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems. This package of gifts added $2,500 value to every scholarship award.

Earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-eight 2012 NFB scholarship winners and two tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving their second NFB scholarships, came to the microphone to speak directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Patti, who announced their home and school states after each name.

Cody Bair, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, everyone. I am Cody Bair. I currently live in Greeley, Colorado, and attend the University of Northern Colorado, where I will be a sophomore in the fall, majoring in business administration with an accounting emphasis. My career aspirations are eventually to earn a master's in accounting and become a certified public accountant (CPA), specializing in tax. Hopefully I will get some experience working for a corporation and then start my own accounting firm. This is my second national convention, and I have really enjoyed getting to work with all the mentors. I feel that they have definitely helped me develop as a young leader in the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you, everyone, for everything that you have given to me.

Kimie Beverly, Nevada, Nevada: Hello. My name is Kimie Beverly, and I am from Las Vegas, Nevada, where I will be starting law school in the fall as a public interest fellow and working full time at the Office of the Attorney General for the state of Nevada in the Bureau of Litigation, Department of Personnel. I was first introduced to the National Federation of the Blind in 2003 when I was awarded my first scholarship. Since that time I've become more active with the Federation by holding five positions, including state secretary, Las Vegas chapter secretary, legislative coordinator, fundraising chair, and membership chair. My career aspirations are to continue working in the Office of the Attorney General, and, after I get my juris doctorate degree, I want to become the first blind deputy attorney general for the state of Nevada. From there I hope to become a supervising deputy attorney general, and maybe a chief of one of our departments. Thank you.

Brandon Biggs, California, California: I was told by my coach that I would never play basketball. I didn't believe him. I was told by my theater instructor that I would never navigate a stage safely and that I couldn't sing. I didn't believe him. I was told by my honors astronomy instructor that I would never pass his class without help. I didn't believe him. If somebody tells you you can't do something, don't believe them. I was told by a conductor that I would never sing without help in front of an orchestra. I am getting my music degree at Cal State-East Bay, and I will see you at the Metropolitan Opera.

Matthew Bowers, Tennessee, Indiana: Greetings, Federationists. I come to you all today from the Dynamical Predictability Laboratory at Purdue University, where I am currently working on my PhD in atmospheric sciences. Eventually I intend to become a research scientist and a professor of climatology. Through my research I want to deepen our understanding of Earth's climate, how our behavior as humans affects it, and how it in turn impacts our ability to survive on this planet. I'd also like to serve as a mentor to other aspiring young scientists, blind and sighted alike. So thank you very much for this opportunity and this honor.

Nallym Bravo, Florida, Florida: Good morning, Federationists. I am so inspired and so honored to be here. I'm a student, a senior, at the beautiful Florida International University, getting my degree in English. Afterwards I intend to pursue a master's in higher education administration and student affairs so that I can work at college campuses and work with students on their personal development, their professional development, and civic engagement. Right now I am a director for a nonprofit called Strong Women, Strong Girls. I also work in our disability resource center on campus as a student assistant. I've had the honor and privilege to be trusted to be on our affiliate state board as well as my local chapter board, and also I have had the honor of serving as president of FABS [Florida Association of Blind Students]. I am currently vice president. I am inspired by each and every one in my scholarship class. I am excited for this week, and congratulations to my peers.

Chrys Buckley, Oregon, Oregon: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am the president of the Oregon Association of Blind Students and treasurer of my local chapter. I studied premed at Portland State University with a minor in physics. I plan to go into an MD/PhD program and specialize in internal medicine. For work I tutor science classes, including biology, genetics, and organic chemistry. In my spare time I do a lot of creative writing. I am really, really grateful to be here, so thank you.

The next gentleman suffered through a cancelled flight and arrived late, so he gets the award for starting his convention most stressed out. He is Robert Campbell, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone. I am currently a third-year student at the University of Akron School of Law. I am getting ready to graduate, so I am happy about that. When I graduate, I hope to specialize in federal income tax or secure transactions. After I practice law for a few years, I would like to become a professor at a four-year university, where I would specialize in federal income tax and Constitutional law. I hope to become a scholar in that area, so that's why I have authored three articles. Hopefully they will get published in the upcoming year in a law review, and that's all I have.

Jordyn Castor, Michigan, Michigan: Hello, Federation family. I am a sophomore at Michigan State University, studying computer science. I hope to be a software developer as well as to provide feedback to major companies about the accessibility of their software. This is my fourth national convention. I am the president of the Michigan Association of Blind Students, and I am deeply honored and grateful to be here today and to have this wonderful opportunity. Thank you.

Christopher de Jesus, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. My name is Christopher de Jesus. I will be majoring in psychology and premed in the fall as a junior. I aspire to get my MD degree as well, and I hope one day to serve the military veterans coming back from active duty. In my down time I play beep baseball, so I know what it means to be part of a team. I truly believe that, in order to change this world for the better, all of us need to cooperate as a team, and I look forward to doing that as a psychiatrist. Thank you very much for this opportunity.

Michael Foster, New Jersey, Pennsylvania: It's such an honor to be here with all of you today. I am a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, studying finance. Last summer I interned at TD Bank working as a credit analyst. This summer I am interning at Google in Mountain View, California. It's an amazing experience. I love it so far; it's the summer of a lifetime exploring San Francisco. It is an honor to be here. Thank you so much.

Pennsylvania has two in a row. This one is a tenBroek fellow, Harriet Go, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I enjoy teaching children. It has always been my passion. When I was an undergraduate student, though, preparing to enter the student teaching of my degree program, some people believed that, because I am blind, I wouldn't be able to handle my duties as a teacher. They tried to take my assignment away. Both the university and the partnering elementary school wanted me not to participate. They asked me to describe how I would handle certain classroom situations, without first giving me a chance to try. However, with the support of my family and my friends in the National Federation of the Blind, I got through that difficult and discouraging time in my life. For that I will always be grateful. Today I am a seven-year veteran of the school district of Philadelphia, teaching elementary special education students. [Applause]

Sierra Gregg, Missouri, Missouri: Good morning. When I was a little girl, my mother told me, "Grab hold of every opportunity that comes your way, and never ever let it go." Over the past few years I've done just that, traveling to Washington, DC, for an internship at the National Archives two summers in a row, proposing, organizing, and promoting a disabilities resource webpage that will be uploaded on the National Archives website sometime this month. But, above all, I believe that the decision to come to my very first national convention has been and continues to be the best opportunity of my life.

Rachel Grider, California, Maryland: Hi. I am so excited to be here today. I am a master's student at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and I am getting a double master's in vocal performance and theory pedagogy. I am going to teach theory at a college. This is my first national convention. I am very excited to be involved with you guys. Last night I joined a couple of committees of the student division, and I am excited to join more committees. Thank you for having me.

Brandon "Trey" Lewis, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Good morning. I am a student at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma. I am getting a degree in music and business to pursue a career in being a talent agent. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

ShaQuantaey Mack, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, my Federation family. I am currently a student at the University of Georgia pursuing a master's in social work. I also serve on the Georgia Association of Blind Students board. I am here today because several members of the NFB saw something in me that I didn't see in myself, and they decided to take a chance and roll the dice on me. This convention has presented several firsts for me: first time winning a national scholarship and the first time in the wonderful state of Texas; and I am enjoying myself immensely. I'm honored to be a 2012 NFB scholarship recipient. Thank you.

Alyssa Munsell, New Hampshire, Massachusetts: Good morning, everyone. I graduated from Keene State College. I have a BA in psychology and a minor in criminal justice, and I graduated with a 3.8 GPA. I am going to be going to Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, to get my master's degree in social work. I chose social work because I want to dedicate my life to being a strong advocate in achieving security and equality for everybody that I work with hopefully. Thank you very much. I look forward to meeting all of you.

Stephanie O'Donnell, New Hampshire, New Hampshire: I would like to thank Dr. Maurer, the board, the scholarship committee, and the NFB for having me and showing me great wisdom and leadership. I go to Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. I am majoring in elementary education. I cheerlead there. I am also a resident assistant. I hope to go on to graduate school and do either special education or higher education working in disability services, because I believe all children deserve an equal opportunity within education. Thank you.

Valeria Paradiso, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. I am attending Hunter College in Manhattan, and I am currently double majoring in psychology and premed studies with a double minor in creative writing and classical music. I hope to go on to med school. I'd like to go into psychiatry or other branches of medicine, maybe pediatrics. I've thought about teaching on the college level. I teach Braille. I teach Nemeth and the music code, encouraging both sighted and visually impaired individuals to learn. I work closely with the chief of the NLS Library. I am very honored to be here, learning a lot, and this will certainly not be my last convention. Thank you for having me.

Emily Pennington, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, board members and fellow Federationists. I recently graduated from high school with a GPA of 4.271, and I plan on attending Xavier University to pursue a major in accounting, a masters in business administration, and ultimately go to law school. Even though I don't have nearly the experience that a lot of my fellow winners have, because I haven't even gone to college yet, I aspire in my academics, my personal life, and in my future career to be an ambassador to blind people and show that my disability does not limit what I do. I work very hard, and I try to do everything as best I can. Thank you all for having me.

Briley Pollard, Virginia, Virginia: Over the past year I have too often heard bright young people say to me, "I want to learn Braille, but the school system said no." I stand here today as a graduate student at George Mason University studying education policy because of a mother who fought for Braille; Barbara Cheadle, who taught her how; and blind people like Pam Allen, who have modeled for me what it means to push for what you want, for change with dignity and grace. It is my turn to be that voice for change for children and adults who have none. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

Rylie Robinson, Indiana, Indiana: Wow! I am so excited to be here. We are changing what it means to be blind right here in this room. Sometimes it is hard to define what it means to change what it means to be blind. Can it start with the individual? Well, I believe that it can. I will be a sophomore at the University of Indiana/Purdue University Indianapolis, majoring in secondary English education. My goal after graduating from there is to get certification in the education of blind students. Changing what it means to be blind can start by instilling potential in the hearts of blind students. This is where my passion lies. After attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I realize that one of the many issues facing blind students today is Braille literacy. I know that working with middle school and high school students in the public schools will be difficult, but I am up for this challenge. Changing what it means to be blind is also on the organizational level. This is where I would like to thank those who made it possible for me to be here. I am proud to be a scholarship winner, and I am honored to help all of you in the NFB change what it means to be blind. Thank you so much.

April Scurlock, Arkansas, Arkansas: Good morning, guys and gals. I am currently a fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher of middle school, so yes, Rylie, it is difficult, I promise you. I am working on my master's degree to teach special ed for grades four through twelve. I'm not sure how I feel about the high school, but I will deal with that later. Yeah, I'm a little nervous. I'm a wife and a mother of two (twelve and fourteen). I am busy all the time; I don't rest. That's part of life, I guess, as we get older. I'd just like to thank everyone. I can't believe I'm standing here. I'm just excited.

Jennifer Shields, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, fellow Federationists. This is my fifth national convention. I have just graduated from high school, and in the fall I will begin my freshman year at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, where I will be studying English. I hope to become a children's book author, and I want to be an editor for a publishing company. I hope that, by doing so, I will help children understand the value and the importance of literature in their lives, whether they are blind or sighted. Thank you for this opportunity.

Michael Sipes, Missouri, Louisiana: Good morning, or as they might have said in ancient Rome, salvete. I plan to go on down to Tulane University to study law. About six weeks ago I graduated from the University of Missouri with two degrees: one in classical languages, as you might have guessed, and one in American history. I am proud to say that I graduated summa cum laude, and I was also the president of a fraternity there, Delta Alpha Pi, the Beta Beta chapter, and we worked to recognize the accomplishments of all disabled students. I was also the vice president of the Mizzou Sight Club, in which we worked with local high school students in trying to steer them toward a college education. I am very happy to be here, and I want to thank you for having me. Good luck to everyone.

Rose Sloan, Illinois, Illinois: Hello, everyone. My name is Rose Sloan, and I am a senior at Northwestern University, where I study social policy. I hope to become an advisor or advocate of education policy one day. I have had many experiences with these types of things, and I just think it's a path I want to go down. I had an internship in Washington, DC, last summer, and this summer I will be working for a state senator in Illinois. In my spare time I love to do gymnastics. I am the president of the Northwestern Club Gymnastics team. I also serve as the vice president of the Illinois Association of Blind Students. Thank you so much for having me here. I'm having a great time.

Kyra Sweeney, California, California: Hello, everyone. It's so great to be here at my lucky thirteenth national convention. This fall I'll be starting my freshman year at Pomona College in Claremont, California, where I will be majoring in English and psychology. I'm considering a career in either psychology or public interest law. My main goal is to be able to make a positive difference in people's lives, much like the NFB has done for mine.

Brandon Terry, Utah, Utah: Good morning, my Federationist family. I stand here truly humbled in the greatness. I am so grateful for everything that has gotten me to this point in my life, the NFB being one of the very strong things in my life supporting me. Only recently I have been elected as Utah Association of Blind Students president. It's a wonderful opportunity, and I am so grateful to serve. I'd just like to say that I am so excited to be graduating next December and will be rolling into a career as a successful young manager in the construction industry. Thank you.

Elizabeth Troutman, North Carolina, North Carolina: Good morning. My dream is to reshape American public education so that all Americans can have the knowledge and skills they need to define their own lives. I graduated with honors from Princeton University. I've worked on legislation, advocated for children's rights, and served on community boards. Currently I am second in my class at the University of North Carolina School of Law. At the same time I am pursuing a master's in public policy at Duke University and giving my heart and patience to my almost-two-year-old. I stand on the shoulders of those who have fought before me and those whose insights I draw on today, and I am ready to lift up the next generation on our shoulders.

Maria Monica Villarreal, Texas, Texas: Echoing the voice of my state president, "Howdy, y'all!" I currently live in Austin, Texas, where I go to the University of Texas. Go Longhorns! I am currently pursuing a double major in political science and American studies, and I will be a junior next fall. I have a great interest in advocacy and public policy, and I am currently interning in Washington, DC, under the director of public policy and advocacy for the nongovernmental organization called Safe Kids Worldwide. I intend to become a lawyer and pursue my interest in advocacy and public policy. I am truly honored to be here, and I thank all of those who made it possible.

Brandy Wood, Alabama, Alabama: Hello. I attend Auburn University in Alabama, and I am majoring in rehabilitation and disability services. I intend to go on to get a masters degree in rehabilitation counseling and teaching. My free time? I don't have any. I have a husband and two children also, so they are it. This is my first national convention, and I am really excited to be here. Thank you.

At the end of the scholarship presentations at the annual banquet, Chrys Buckley, winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, came to the podium to speak a few words. This is what she said:

Chrys Buckley: Hi, everyone. I want to thank everyone in the Federation, and especially the people on the scholarship committee, for believing in me. I feel really, really honored to be a part of this scholarship class. Everyone has been welcoming and genuine and inspiring. I think we're all going to go on to be leaders and do great things with our careers. I'm also really thankful for all the mentoring I received this week from the assigned mentors, and also from people throughout the Federation. I feel these lessons will stay with me for a long time, and I think we've all made connections that will last for years to come. In the fall I will be starting my last year as an undergrad, and then this time next year I'll be applying to MD/PhD programs, so I think this scholarship will be a tremendous help in achieving my dreams. The only thing I think of to say is thank you so much. [Applause]

Following is the complete list of 2012 scholarship winners and the awards they received:

$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Cody Bair, Brandon Biggs, Nallym Bravo, Robert Campbell, Jordyn Castor, Christopher de Jesus, Michael Foster, Sierra Gregg, Rachel Grider, Brandon Trey Lewis, Alyssa Munsell, Valeria Paradiso, Emily Pennington, Briley Pollard, Rylie Robinson, April Scurlock, Jennifer Shields, Michael Sipes, Rose Sloan, Kyra Sweeney, and Brandy Wood

$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owens Memorial Scholarship: Stephanie O'Donnell

$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Harriet Go

$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Kimie Beverly, Matthew Bowers, and Monica Villarreal

$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: ShaQuantaey Mack and Brandon Terry

$10,000 (NFB) Marvin and Mimi Sandler Scholarship: Elizabeth Troutman

$12,000 (American Action Fund) Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Chrys Buckley

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