Future Reflections         Convention Report 2008

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California Dreaming

by Vejas Vasiliauskas and Kyra Sweeney
Student Panel Presentation
NOPBC Annual Meeting, Tuesday July 1, 2008

Editor’s Note: It has become a tradition to include one or more youth speakers on the program at the annual meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. This year, we asked two high-achievers from California to share their dreams with us--hence the title. Here is what they had to say:

Vejas VasiliauskasHi, my name is Vejas Vasiliauskas. I’m eleven years old and will be starting middle school this fall. My hobbies are reading and writing. Sometimes people ask me what my favorite book is. It is a very hard question to answer because there are so many fantastic books out there. Last year my favorite books were John Adams by David McCullough and Esperanza Rising. This year it’s a tie for my two favorite books, Things Not Seen and An Unlikely Friendship: A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley.

I am really excited to have the opportunity to talk to you today about California dreaming. Growing up, I listened to or read many stories about children doing all sorts of different activities. These stories inspired me to try different sports and activities, including skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, rock climbing, surfing, and boogie boarding.

I started to dream of surfing when I was five years old. I finally convinced my parents to sign me up for lessons. I actually had a real nightmare the night before my first surfing lesson. In that dream, my surf instructor was really mean and I didn’t catch any waves at all. But that’s normal. Whenever you have a big event, you may feel nervous at first. Fortunately, when it was time for my surf lesson, the surf instructor, Miguel, was really nice. After practicing a lot on the beach, my instructor said that it was time to move the lesson to the water. On my first try, I not only managed to stand up on the board, but I rode my first wave right past my dad, all the way to the shore. I don’t know who was more surprised: my dad, my instructor, or me. When I started first grade that year, everyone was blown away that I had actually gone surfing, because most of them hadn’t tried it yet. I have had a couple more surf instructors since then. At one point my dad asked me who my favorite surf instructor was and I said that Miguel was because he had the highest expectations of me.

Another challenge was our school science fair. In fourth grade I was really busy with lots of homework and just didn’t have enough time to do the science fair. In fifth grade our teacher, Mr. Ahrens, informed us we had to do an experiment in order to graduate. I teamed up with two of my best friends, and we came up with our science experiment, which involved carbonating fruits and vegetables. We were really excited about our topic so we thought, “Hey, why shouldn’t we do the science fair?” It took a little extra writing, and we had to put together a PowerPoint presentation and a poster. But in the end it all paid off because when we came to our assembly that announced the winner of the science fair, we won first place! So it was definitely worth putting in the extra work to participate in the science fair.

Looking to the future, I have lots of dreams. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m thinking about possibly being a teacher, an author, or a scientist. I do know that to make these dreams come true, I need to focus on my schoolwork and my blindness skills so that I’m prepared when I go to college. Then one day I hope to marry, have kids, and be a great dad, just like so many of the grown-up Federationists here at the convention. I want to wrap things up by emphasizing that it’s important to dream, to pursue your dreams, and to make these dreams come true. Thank you.

Kyra SweeneyHi everyone. My name is Kyra Sweeney. I’d like to start by saying that the NFB has been a very important part of my life. I don’t remember my first convention well, because I was only four-years-old, but my parents have told me about it. It was then that they [my parents] realized that I needed better cane skills, and I got my first NFB cane. Since then I have gone to almost all of the conventions, and they are always fun and informative. For three summers I went to the Buddy Program at BLIND, Incorporated in Minnesota for a month. This gave me a chance to get to know other blind people my age, and I made several friends from around the country with whom I still talk a lot. This summer, I’m going to the [NFB] Colorado Center for the Blind and Camp Ureka in Montana.

I’ve just graduated from John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica, California. Middle school was mostly a great experience. I had some good teachers, and some not-so-good teachers. I made a few great friends, and began to realize that procrastinating is not the best idea. Also, I got to go to Washington, D.C., with about thirty-five other eighth graders. In the fall, I will be going into ninth grade at Santa Monica High School. The campus is very big and there are about 3,000 students, but I’ve been having some mobility lessons, so I think I’ll survive. I’ll be taking three honors classes, which will be an interesting challenge.

Music is basically my life. My main instrument is the flute. I was in the John Adams Middle School wind ensemble and chamber orchestra, and I am still in the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra. In high school, I will be in a concert band. I’ve gotten some great opportunities in music this year. In November, I played at Disney Hall with the LA [Los Angeles] Youth Orchestra. Two weeks ago, I was given the chance to perform at the Hollywood Bowl with thirty other flute students and a famous flutist named James Galway. I also sing in a choir and play the piano.

In the future, I am planning to go to college, and I’m definitely considering majoring in music. However, I also want to find out about other possibilities that I might not know much about now. Whatever happens, I will know that the NFB has helped me achieve my goals by keeping me from being limited by my blindness.

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