by Justin Salisbury
From the Editor: Justin Salisbury is a senior at Eastern Carolina University working on a major in mathematics and a minor in economics. He plans to earn his PhD in economics and become a university professor. He is the president of the North Carolina Association of Blind Students and one of the members of the 2011 scholarship class. While his article clearly explains his journey to becoming a scholarship recipient by growing as a person and a Federationist, it is important to remember that Federation membership is not a criterian for receiving a scholarship, and many students are first introduced to the organization through the program and their attendance at the national convention. Here is what he has to say about his experiences as a winner:
For four years I applied for the National Federation of the Blind scholarship program. For three years I saw a list of winners that did not have my name on it. Finally I did something right.
In the early years I was hurt that a scholarship committee wouldn’t pick a blind, multiracial, first-generation college student with SAT scores over 2100. Now I understand why. I had to grow as a person, a blind person, and a Federationist before I was ready to be a national scholarship winner. In the early years I carried scholarship committees on a climactic story of how I had the world in my hands, lost it with my vision, and still persevered to above-average achievements. That was easy to do because other scholarship selection committees rewarded it. I’m glad ours didn’t.
Now that my head was finally in a place where the sun does shine and my essay reflected that fact, I waited anxiously for the deadline for the announcement of winners. I was in the middle of a dinner date when my phone announced a call from our national office, and I met my primary mentor from the scholarship committee, Charlie Brown. He double-checked my eligibility and congratulated me on my selection. He made sure that I knew that I was required to attend the entire national convention; it would have taken a requirement to keep me away!
I received an email from my alumni mentor, whose name is Tara. She introduced herself and offered herself as a friend and resource throughout the convention whenever I needed one. I realized from her email that I had been a Federationist longer than she had, and I offered the same thing to her in return.
I soon learned that I was one of three winners from Connecticut, and the other two were quite new to our Federation family. I assumed the duty of introducing them as well as I could. We all traveled to convention together and found ourselves on the same flight as our state president, treasurer, and one board member. It was a great opportunity for us to start the week with a little Connecticut pep rally.
We arrived in the lobby of an unsurprisingly enormous hotel filled with the sound of cane tips on marble like rain on a still pond, and I knew I was home again. It was only my second national convention, but I had already been hard-wired to love it. On the first night the scholarship winners and committee gathered in a beautiful meeting room in the hotel. On the way into the meeting I noticed members of the committee teasing each other and really having a grand old time. I had the opportunity to greet scholarship winners I already knew from previous events and to make new acquaintances. We all settled down and heard from President Maurer and Patti Gregory-Chang, scholarship committee chair. I could tell that the leaders of our Federation family were very proud to have us with them.
I set off to get dinner with my first scholarship committee mentor Charlie and his wife. While he and I were waiting for his wife to join us, we talked about my future plans, and he offered me advice on how to pick the right graduate school. I was surprised to notice that Charlie didn’t always use his cane. I had previously thought that all Federation leaders used their canes as a matter of principle.
I really enjoyed the food, and even more I enjoyed Charlie and his wife. They were just friendly people who wanted to get to know me and help me make the most of my week. Before we parted ways that night, Charlie was very clear with me that I was welcome to contact him for anything I wished, including after the convention.
As a scholarship winner my week was filled with a few speaking engagements, scholarship class gatherings, a breakfast with the scholarship committee, a gathering with scholarship alumni, and of course a little less than just enough sleep to function. My mentors for that week were Jim Antonacci, Garrick Scott, Bennett Prows, Sharon Maneki, and Gary Wunder. I could tell that my batch of committee mentors had been hand-picked so that they created a diverse subgroup. I got to know each of them for a day. One took me out to breakfast. Another bought me a beer. Two of them ate lunch with me. I sat with them in general sessions, and life was good.
Mentoring, on the whole, was a group effort. I had an alumni mentor and a handful of committee mentors, but it takes a community to raise a child. I found that I learned just as much--if not more--from the people I met spontaneously as I did from the people who were assigned to mentor me formally.
During the day that Jim Antonacci was my mentor, he pushed me hard to think philosophically. I like that kind of thing, and he really made me dig deep. Later in the day I opened up to him about my plan to step down from a leadership role that I was holding because I felt that I was doing too much work with too little support. Without missing a beat, he told me that doing all of the work oneself in any situation is not leadership, and he gave me a simple decision tree for what to do if certain situations arise. Thanks to him, I returned to that leadership position for another term, and I cherish the experience greatly.
Garrick Scott was definitely the most entertaining of my mentors, but I didn’t get to know him that well at convention. If I had let convention be it, I would have missed out on a great connection. I volunteered for a week at Youth Slam seven days after convention, and Garrick was my boss there. I had a medical emergency during Youth Slam, and I spent dinner time in the E.R. Garrick had a boxed dinner waiting for me when I returned. Working alongside him, I realized how much he cared about everyone on that campus and how many details he remembered from our lunch conversation at national convention.Since the convention I have stayed in touch with all of my mentors for one reason or another, and I cherish the backstage pass to hang out with the coolest people in the Federation. They really are mentors in the purest sense of the word. I know that I received a check and some phenomenal technology in the form of a gift, but my experience was priceless.