Braille Monitor                                                 August/September 2007

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Awards Presented at the 2007 Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind


From the Editor: In the National Federation of the Blind we present awards only as often as they are deserved. This year two were presented during the annual meeting of the NFB board of directors. Four more presentations were made during the banquet. Here is the report of what happened:

Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
by Sharon Maneki

Sister Meg Fleming and Sharon Maneki holding her award stand together on the platform.Good morning, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. The committee of Allen Harris, Joyce Scanlan, Dr. Edwin Vaughan, and I are pleased to present a distinguished educator of blind children. Many of you know this individual because you have heard her speak. She gave an eloquent speech at the parents of blind children division meeting on Saturday. But we didn’t pick her because she could make a good speech, although that’s a nice quality to have. This woman is a person who believes in and fosters independence of blind children, not once in a while, but every day. She is a woman who has high expectations. She is a woman who believes in the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. As she makes her way to the stage, let’s greet Sister M. Margaret Fleming, who is the principal of the St. Lucie Day School for Children with Visual Impairment and Blindness in the great state of Pennsylvania—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. [applause]

Now Sister Meg is what she wants her friends to call her; and of course we are friends of Sister Meg in the National Federation of the Blind. She has been a teacher for thirty-five years. She has been the principal of the school for many years, since 1995. I just want to tell you one little fact about the school. There are many things we could say. Her school has fifteen hundred Braille books in the library; that shows you the kind of school it is. So, Sister Meg, I have for you first of all a check in the amount of $1,000. Then I am going to present a plaque to you. The plaque reads:



Sister Meg: Sharon did say to me I had to talk for a whole minute. I’m not going to talk for a whole minute, but I am going to take these few seconds out to say a huge thank-you to NFB for being there when we need you. There is never a time that I don’t call Jim or Lynn from the Keystone Chapter in Pennsylvania of NFB that they don’t get back to me, that they don’t help us, that they don’t support us. For this I am very grateful. In tomorrow’s readings for church, it says, “You are strangers and aliens no longer, but I call you friends.” This is my opportunity to say to NFB, “I call you friends.” And because you are a friend to our children, you are there for us. You help us to achieve independence; to encourage our own self-esteem; and to work very, very hard to do what their dreams are. For that I thank you. [applause]

Blind Educator of the Year Award
by David Ticchi

David TicchiThank you, President Maurer. It’s a pleasure and an honor to chair this committee. I would like to thank the committee members—Judy Sanders, Ramona Walhof, and Adelmo Vigil—for their help with the committee this year. This award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators to pay tribute to teachers’ classroom performance, their notable community service, and their uncommon commitment to the Federation and Federation philosophy.

In 1991 this became a national award beyond the division because of the importance and impact that good teachers have upon their students, upon the faculty, upon the community, and really upon all blind Americans. It’s in the spirit of our founders, who nurtured the NFB: Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and President Maurer. Through their teaching, their leadership, their advocacy, and their guidance, we are who we are today. This is truly a very, very prestigious award.

This year we received many nominations for this award, and the winner exhibits all that I stated before: good teaching and commitment in the community, the Federation, and beyond. This individual is a role model within the blindness community and outside it. Our selection will not come as a surprise to you. Not to keep you in suspense, I am now going to tell you the winner of this award, and ask this individual to come up here and to say a few words. I’ll tell you a little bit about the individual. You will notice I have been very careful about my pronouns, not to say whether it’s a he or a she. The winner of the Blind Educator of the Year Award for 2007 is Sheila Koenig. [applause]

Sheila, if you would make your way up front to say a few words. Many of you know Sheila, but I want to tell you a little bit. It was very interesting to read the material which had been submitted by people for her nomination. Briefly, without reciting her resumé, she has a bachelor’s degree from Cardinal Stritch College and a master’s from the University of Minnesota. I would like to point out that her grade point averages were 4.0 and 3.98 respectively. Sheila, I want to know what happened with that 3.98!

She holds professional certification in a number of areas, has done internships, professional conferences. I want to pause here for a moment to say that, when I mention certification of a blind person as a public school teacher, we must remember that fifty years ago this wouldn’t have been possible. During the 1950s and ’60s many of the states in this country had visual acuity requirements for a public school teacher. The National Federation of the Blind changed those requirements, just as we have many others. [applause] Even once those restrictions and regulations had been changed, there were still many hurdles for blind people to become certified, trained, and employed as public school teachers. There were universities in this country that would not accept a blind person to major in education. If the blind person was accepted as an education major, they were often not permitted to become a teacher, to get a student teacher assignment. The thinking was that, even if you became a student teacher, you would not get a job as a teacher anyway, so it was detoured.

This has been a major area of work over the years for our National Federation of the Blind and why we in the NFB and the organization of blind educators really cherish this award and recognize how prestigious it is. Sheila has done all that and more. Her principal, Mr. Johnson, speaks very highly of her. The two words that came through in his conversation and the information he shared with me were “autonomy” and “passion.” She is autonomous in all she does in the school, and she is integrated into the faculty at the Southview Middle School in Edina, Minnesota. But she is also passionate about her work. Sheila’s material included a presentation that she did in Missouri at a children’s vision summit. It is entitled “Embracing a Vision of Success.” I just want to give you a couple of touching details. In her presentation Sheila talked about times in her life when she was a young woman that she would read straining to see her paper, not using any technical assistance, not using a white cane. In essence, she tried to pass. She went to camps with other blind students but just didn’t feel comfortable and wasn’t sure yet how to turn that around. Later in her life BLIND, Inc., came into being. She attended the program and graduated, and she spoke very passionately about that experience. One of her last O&M solo assignments was to deliver some Braille menus to the Green Mill Restaurant. Sheila didn’t want to do it. She didn’t feel up to it. In the morning she didn’t do it. The day went on, and she still hadn’t done it. Finally, she picked up the menus and delivered them to the Green Mill Restaurant. In fact the manager was so happy to get them he offered Sheila a martini. I will point out here that she did not have the martini. She walked back to BLIND, Inc., and completed her solo. Sheila, you may want to celebrate this evening with some of your friends because, along with this award and along with this plaque, there is a check for $1,000.

Throughout her material a woman comes through who is a role model, who has expectations for herself and others, but knows the value of a good work ethic and discipline. I will now present this award to Sheila, and I will read what it says:

JULY 2, 2007

Congratulations, Sheila.[applause]

Sheila KoenigSheila Koenig: Thank you, Dr. Ticchi and the committee, and thank you to all of you in the National Federation of the Blind who have shared your experiences, your strategies. The Federation has just opened so many doors of opportunity for me. When I was in college, I fell in love with literature, and each year, when I get a new group of students, I hope to inspire within them an awe of the power and beauty that language possesses.

One of my favorite characters for them to meet is Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus has an unwavering conviction; he is willing to take on the challenge even though he knows that it is going to be an extremely difficult one, an unwinnable one. Other characters say of Atticus that he is the same in his house as he is in the public streets. Not only do I hope to teach my students to become good scholars and good citizens, but I really want them to understand that their integrity is an invaluable asset that they carry with them throughout life.

One of my very fond memories from a few years ago is as a couple of students were leaving the classroom, one girl said to another, “When I have kids, I am so naming my little boy Atticus.” It’s in those moments that we see a glimpse of the sparks we ignite. And even though initially I fell in love with language and literature, I quickly realized that the kids and being a part of their world energized me just as much.

Thank you so much for this tremendous honor.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Ramona Walhof and Jim Omvig stand together with Ramona’s daughter Laura behind them.]
Jacobus tenBroek Award
by James H. Omvig

It is a humbling experience to follow speakers such as Drs. Maurer and Schroeder on this dais, but it is also an honor and privilege for me to make a special presentation this evening. You will notice that Dr. Schroeder took great pains to reveal nothing about why I am up here. I venture to say that my remarks will be somewhat unusual among National Federation of the Blind special banquet presentations--certainly among any of my own--in that I thought I'd begin by playing a brief guessing game with you. So put your thinking caps on, and see if you can figure out two things--first why I'm up here tonight and second who I am talking about as I recognize a unique and deserving person among us.

This person is blind (which should tell you a lot) and is also a longtime, active member of the National Federation of the Blind.

Let's narrow the field a bit. The person I'm thinking of was born blind and has two blind siblings. Talents and abilities were recognized early when this person was named high school graduating class valedictorian. Then this person received proper training following high school graduation at one of America's finest orientation and adjustment centers for the blind. Any ideas yet?

Now let's narrow the field even further. This individual has been passionately committed to the philosophy, the vision, and the unending hard work of the Federation throughout adult life and continues in the cause today without question or hesitation. The person I'm thinking of has been active at the local and state levels, serving for a time as a state affiliate president. This person has also served on our national board of directors. Perhaps this final fact will help narrow the field even further: The person I'm thinking of has also been an agency for the blind director.

Ladies and gentlemen of this great Federation family, please join me in a hearty welcome for the recipient of the 2007 National Federation of the Blind Jacobus tenBroek Award, Ramona Walhof of Boise, Idaho.

Most in this audience tonight are aware that Ramona Walhof has served as chairman of the tenBroek Award Committee for several years now, and she has made presentations at many of these banquets. It complicates things a bit when the chairman of an award committee deserves to be the recipient of that very award. For this reason it was necessary this year, with Dr. Maurer's help, to engage in a bit of subterfuge and skullduggery to make Ramona believe that no tenBroek Award would be presented at all during this banquet. The slightly reshuffled tenBroek Award Committee for 2007 consists of Joyce Scanlan of Minnesota, Jim Gashel, and me.

Dr. Jacobus tenBroek's birthday is July 6, so this is a particularly fitting time of the year to remember and honor him. He it was who founded this movement, and his spirit continues to be with and guide us every day of the year. The tenBroek Award itself was established by the Federation in 1974 as its highest honor not only to keep Dr. tenBroek and his noble vision alive in our hearts and souls, but also as a means of thanking and honoring Federationists who have shown outstanding commitment and leadership within the organization and who have also made invaluable contributions to it.

Most of you will recognize the names and work of many of those who have been previous tenBroek Award winners, staunch Federationists such as Don Capps, Diane and Ray McGeorge, Dick Edlund, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Betsy Zaborowski and Jim Gashel, Joyce and Tom Scanlan, Barbara Loos, Joanne Wilson, Betty and Bruce Woodward, Sharon and Al Maneki, Allen Harris, Charlie Brown, and I myself was blessed with this award in 1986. What greater tribute can we pay to Dr. tenBroek than to remember him through the lives and work of dedicated leaders such as these?

The person we honor tonight is again one of our very best. Ramona Walhof joined the movement before many of you here tonight were even born. She grew up in Iowa as Ramona Willoughby, attended and graduated as class valedictorian from the Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School, and was one of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan’s early students at the Iowa Commission for the Blind.

By the middle 1960s--because of Dr. Jernigan's pioneering and revolutionary work there--Iowa was already becoming a safe haven and a good place for blind people to be. At almost the same time--at the height of the Soviet threat against America--Georgetown University in Washington, D. C., had come to understand that lots of Russian translators would be needed, and it developed a program in Russian language to assist in the effort.

Dr. Jernigan believed strongly that blind people could be interpreters--including doing work with the United Nations--and, with a bit of his loving and gentle nudging, the young Ramona Willoughby left the security of Iowa and headed for Washington to join the new Georgetown program. As a part of her educational experience, she also spent a year living and traveling in the Soviet Union, studying the Russian culture and mastering the language. At that time in our history it was not at all common for American blind students to study and travel abroad.

Instead of going to the United Nations in New York following her schooling and her travels, however, Ramona Willoughby met and married Chuck Walhof of Idaho and moved to Boise. Before long, daughter Laura and son Chris came along. At much too young an age, Ramona's personal strength and character were tested profoundly when Chuck became ill and passed away, leaving the young mother alone to support and raise her two children. Ramona passed the test with courage and grace and is now not only the proud mother of Chris and Laura, but also the buttons-bursting grandmother of four beautiful grandchildren.

Ramona has had numerous employment experiences as a single mom over her illustrious career. She worked in the vending stand program, was a teacher in the Iowa Orientation Center, worked at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, served for a time as director of the Idaho Commission for the Blind, and owned and operated her first business, the White Cane Bakery in Boise, before becoming an executive, owning and operating her second business, conducting public relations and community outreach programs for the blind. Through this public relations and educational effort, she raised significant funding for seven Federation affiliates and also helped spread the truth about blindness far and wide across America.

Ramona Walhof has been one of the stabilizing anchors and wise counselors within the Federation throughout her adult life. She has had many local chapter and state affiliate responsibilities, serving for several years as president of the NFB of Idaho. She has served on many national committees and has also been a member of our national board of directors, including work for a time as NFB secretary.

Her most recent significant national assignment was serving as a member of the committee that has overseen the final development of the National Literary Braille Competency Test--a test to make certain that future teachers of blind kids are qualified to teach Braille. Her responsibility, as Dr. Maurer told me, was to help blind children to become truly literate by making certain that the Braille competency test was not dumbed down. It wasn't!

Through the years--in addition to raising her children, working at her many jobs, and giving back through her relentless volunteerism--Ramona has also written widely for the Braille Monitor and our Kernel Book series. Many may not be aware, however, that she has also written several books: Beginning Braille for Adults--A Teaching Manual; Questions Kids Ask About Blindness; A Handbook for Senior Citizens: Rights, Resources, and Responsibilities; and A Technical Assistance Guide for Employers.

How could we find a more deserving honoree? Ramona, we are proud to recognize you this evening with our 2007 Jacobus tenBroek Award as a means of offering tangible evidence of our thanks and appreciation for all you have done and continue to do. With the plaque I am about to present, we show you our admiration and respect, but, even more important than either of these, we give you our love.
The engraved walnut plaque we present to you this evening reads:

JULY 5, 2007

Ramona Walhof: Thank you. I guess that’s really the main thing I have to say. There are so many things I’d like to say. A person should be suspicious in this organization; I’ve seen people get this award when they should have suspected and didn’t. I’m the same—I never dreamed. When Dr. Maurer and I decided we weren’t going to give it, I just went on about my business. Luckily Mr. Omvig likes to talk a little bit, so I had time to think a minute. I have to say (he’s pulling my ear) that the Federation is a wonderful organization. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to retire from my company because there are so many other things I’d like to do both in the Federation and out of the Federation, and I hope to have the opportunity to do them. But more than anything else, I have received more from you, more from the National Federation of the Blind, individuals, and as a body than I could ever give back in three lifetimes, or five. And I keep that in mind as I go about my activities, because it’s a wonderful thing to have this resource available to me and to be able to pass on in bits and pieces what I can to you. Thank you. Thank you.

When the photos had been taken, Jim Omvig had one more presentation to make to Ramona:

Ramona, don’t go away. We have one more present for you. Behind you are Chris and Laura [Ramona’s two adult children]. [applause]

Tribute to Don and Betty Capps
by Mary Ellen Jernigan

After being honored at the banquet, Don and Betty Capps came to the microphone to offer thanks. Here, Don is speaking with Betty beside him.The term “unique” is an interesting word in the English language. In common usage it has come to mean extraordinary or very special. The grammarians among us, however, regard “unique” as an absolute term, saying that a thing is either unique or not unique. That is, to be unique, something must be the only one of its kind, without an equal or equivalent, unparalleled. Remembering that Dr. Jernigan, as most in this audience know, was a grammarian extraordinaire, I shall use the word “unique” in the presentation I am making this evening in its absolute sense.

For tonight we honor two people who in the history of our Federation are truly one of a kind, without equal or equivalent, unparalleled. For those of you still following the grammar thread of all of this (or perhaps I should say the mathematical thread)—yes, I did say that two people are one. Exactly and precisely what I meant to say. For who among us does not think of Don and Betty Capps in the same breath, does not know that they are one heart, one mind, one treasure of the Federation!

Fifty-eight years ago Don married the girl next door, and the Don and Betty team set forth to meet the world—and when that world was not what it ought to be—particularly when it was not what it ought to be for blind people, they worked to change it. Consistently, tirelessly, persistently (some might say, stubbornly) Don and Betty have chipped away at injustice, discrimination, inadequate education, poor rehabilitation, and the societal structures that institutionalize poverty.

South Carolinians through and through—the driving force in the building of our powerhouse South Carolina affiliate, mainstay of national leadership—longest serving ever officer and member of the national board, ambassadors to the world—indispensable advisors in the World Blind Union general assemblies: these descriptors are inadequate to capture the immeasurable contributions Don and Betty have made in their more than five decades of service to this organization.

During this convention we have been fortunate to enjoy the presence of Lord and Lady Low of Dalston. Some months ago I attended a reception in London celebrating Colin’s elevation to the British House of Lords, and I was moved by what he had to say--not about himself, but about the collective nature of the personal honor embodied in the title, Lord of the Realm.

I am about to bestow titles upon Don and Betty Capps--unique titles, one of a kind, unparalleled in our history--titles which symbolize the love, honor, and esteem this organization holds for them. In honoring Don and Betty, we in one sense honor ourselves. Through the granting of these titles, we say to the world:
This is who we are.
This is what we do.
This is how we live.
This is our best.
This is the National Federation of the Blind.
Betty Capps: The National Federation of the Blind herewith bestows upon you with love and gratitude the title, Keeper of the Spirit of the Federation. We present to you this jeweled treasure chest—symbol of your title and the jewel and treasure you are to all of us.
Donald Capps: The National Federation of the Blind herewith bestows upon you with respect and admiration the title, Doctor of the Federation. We present to you this doctoral hood—symbol of your title and of the wisdom and guidance you give to all of us.
Members and friends of the Federation: I present to you, Keeper of the Spirit of the Federation Betty, and Doctor of the Federation Donald Capps. [applause]

Don Capps: After attending fifty-two consecutive NFB convention banquets, I thought I knew it all. I thought I had heard it all, and I had no idea that this was even being thought of. I am just so overwhelmed. It is very meaningful that Betty should be involved in this honor because she has been by my side the entire time. This is a special honor to us. But it also came from a very special lady, Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan. She has been a friend for a long time, and she means so much to the National Federation of the Blind and to the blind of the nation. We appreciate this honor. Honey, do you want the last word?

Betty Capps: I am not much of a speaker. (Don comments: You do a lot of speaking around the house. [applause]) Just thank you so very much.

The Gashels Honored
by Fred Schroeder

Fred Schroeder (left) presents awards to Jim Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski. The scales of justice and the crystal sculpture are displayed on the table in front of them.It is my honor and privilege to express on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind our sincere gratitude and appreciation to two individuals who have served the National Federation of the Blind in distinct roles and who will soon be transitioning to new roles, no less important, no less vital, and with no less contribution to the work of the National Federation of the Blind, yet new roles. These two individuals have been members of our organization for all of their adult lives and most recently have held positions at our national headquarters. I would like this evening to ask Jim Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski to come forward. [applause]

As they make their way forward, I would like to say a couple of things about each of them; then we have a small symbol of our appreciation to present to each one of them. First I would say to Mr. Gashel, for all of the years that I have known you, you have embodied the very best of the National Federation of the Blind. Mr. Gashel is not a lawyer, but (interjection by Jim Gashel: thank goodness) he knows more about the Social Security program as it relates to the blind than anybody else in this country. He knows more about the details of the Rehabilitation Act, more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, more about the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and more about the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act than any lawyer around. [applause]

So in recognizing Mr. Gashel as he leaves his current role as the executive director for strategic initiatives and moves to Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Technologies, it seems only fitting that we find something that symbolizes his efforts to achieve justice for the blind. So, to my left, I am about to unveil the scales of justice in gold. In one of the trays of the scale are the letters “NFB” because it is the National Federation of the Blind that has created the opportunity for blind people to achieve justice and first-class status in our society. Inscribed on the base of the scales is the following, “Presented to James Gashel by the National Federation of the Blind. July 5, 2007.” Then a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle, the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Mr. Gashel, we present to you the scales of justice and thank you for all of your efforts and work on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. [applause]

Now since Mr. Gashel is unaccustomed to public speaking, I’m going to give him a moment to think of what he might say. He might look at those scales of justice over there. Also we have then to present a token of our appreciation to our own Dr. Betsy Zaborowski. As you all know, Dr. Zaborowski is a clinical psychologist. She has worked in private practice, but more recently she took on the challenge of becoming the first executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. When she became the executive director, she took our hopes and dreams, our confidence and belief that, by applying our philosophy to programs of research and training, we could change opportunities for blind people. So now let me unveil a beautiful piece of art made of glass. Embedded in the glass are small bubbles rising that symbolize creativity and imagination, symbolize our hopes and dreams for a future that is bright with promise for blind people everywhere. Inscribed on the base is the following: “Presented to Betsy Zaborowski, Psy.D. by the National Federation of the Blind, July 5, 2007,” then the following quote, “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but dream, not only plan, but believe.” I now present to you James Gashel and Betsy Zaborowski. [applause]

Jim Gashel: Thank you, Dr. Schroeder. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking and being mindful that this is a very long banquet, I was about to defer to Betsy. Working for all of you in the National Federation of the Blind has been the labor of a lifetime, the dream of a lifetime, the love of a lifetime. Now we have to find a new role in which to do that. Because this is a time of transition, as I said earlier today, we will make that transition. But one thing we will bear clearly in mind as we do that—we will never live long enough to give back to all of you all of what you have given to us, but we will try to do it every single day as long as there is breath in our bodies. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. [applause]

Betsy Zaborowski: I think that Jim said it very well. Our commitment continues to grow, and it has been an incredible gift and a gift of real meaning in our lives to be a part of this organization. In 1981 I won a scholarship, and I remember that convention so well because I made a pledge to myself then that this is where I’m supposed to be, and this is where our work is. Our work will continue with your help and your optimism and your support. Thank you so much.

Fred Schroeder: Well thank you to both of you. We appreciate your contributions, we respect you as colleagues, and we love you as dear and cherished friends.

Newel Perry Award
by Marc Maurer

Ray Kurzweil addresses the banquet audience after receiving the Newel Perry Award while President Maurer looks on.Newel Perry was a predecessor to Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. Newel Perry was a blind man who had an education in mathematics to the Ph.D. level, who had written astonishing documents about mathematics, and who, because he was blind, was unable to find a job in his chosen profession. He took up the task of teaching blind students at the school for the blind in California. His teaching brought the life of Jacobus tenBroek into a kind of fire, a kind of determination, a kind of recognition of the need for independence that has furnished the basis for the National Federation of the Blind from the time of its beginning.

Consequently, we have created the Newel Perry Award, which symbolizes the work of the teacher of the founder of the Federation. The Newel Perry Award stands for independence, for commitment to change, for comprehension of the abilities of us all. We do not give the Newel Perry Award each year, but only as often as we find a person worthy of receiving it; and we have such a person with us at this banquet. You know the person; you have heard his presentation now for thirty-two years.


JULY 5, 2007

I could say many things about Ray Kurzweil. I could recite the numerous degrees he has received. I could remind you that he is a part of the Inventors Hall of Fame, that he has received a Presidential Medal, that he has been recognized throughout the world for his pioneering work, that he has created numerous companies that have produced astonishing technology, that the technology that he has envisioned has modified the thinking of the population of the world, that he has been described as a thinking machine, that he has written many books, that he has contemplated changing the nature of intellect in our society; and it’s all true. He is the most imaginative thinker that I have ever met. He is a very practical inventor.

But he has changed more than a technology; he’s changed a method of thought for us; he’s helped us to live a kind of dream that we would never have known without him. And, besides that, he’s demonstrated that he cares about us. He has the degrees I’ve talked about. He has the companies. He has many demands upon his time. He has many opportunities to do other things, yet he is with us tonight. He is working on projects that we find of value. He is, as we say, our brother on the barricades. It is an honor to present to you the Newel Perry Award, Ray Kurzweil. [applause]

Ray Kurzweil: Well it’s quite a shock; I wasn’t expecting that at all. This award means a lot to me, but your friendship and collaboration and enthusiasm I have received here for thirty-two years have been terribly meaningful. I give a lot of thought to the small decisions of life, what to eat, what route to take on my daily walk, what emails to respond to. I find the big decisions a lot easier. I don’t give much thought about what inventions to embark on—like the Kurzweil Reading machine, or the reading machine we just worked on. These projects just seem to happen and recruit me along the way.

A little over thirty years ago I met my wife. We were engaged a few months later. We are now coming up on our thirty-second anniversary. Well, so far, so good. We’ve collaborated on two wonderful children, among other projects; and she has been one of the blessings in my life. So it has been with my relationship with the National Federation of the Blind. I never gave much thought to having a long, intense, multifaceted and devoted collaboration and friendship with the National Federation of the Blind. It just happened. It has also been one of the blessings of my life.

Why do I consider my relationship with the National Federation a blessing? I can think of many reasons; I’ll just mention two. One is the amazing enthusiasm I experience among all of you. That’s definitely one of the reasons I’ve been coming to these conventions for the past thirty-two years. I just flew in last night; I’m actually a little jet-lagged from France, where I had the opportunity to present to four thousand female entrepreneurs from Russia and Kazakhstan. They had recently overcome their own form of oppression in overcoming Communism. They were also very enthusiastic, so it made me think of you. But no group I’ve ever known comes close to the enthusiasm of all of you. So that’s one reason I consider my thirty-two-year relationship with all of you a blessing.

The second reason is the leadership. I’ve known two presidents of this organization. I already told you my reflections and feelings for the first of these two individuals. As I mentioned, Dr. Jernigan in my mind was one of the great leaders in American history. He was to blindness and disabilities what Martin Luther King was to the civil rights of Afro-Americans. But for all of Dr. Jernigan’s accomplishments--and there were many--there is one that stands out in my mind. It’s an accomplishment that few other leaders in history were able to accomplish. Actually, I can’t think of any, although many have tried. Martin Luther King, for one, was not successful in this regard. That accomplishment was to have the humility and insight to identify his own successor. I think you will agree with me that, as in so many other things that Dr. Jernigan did, he did a great job at this.

I first met Dr. Maurer when he was head of the student division. While he was impressive then, it’s been an inspiration to me to have witnessed for the past thirty years how Dr. Maurer has followed in Dr. Jernigan’s footsteps, has become one of America’s great leaders. Over the past decade the NFB has enormously expanded its resources, its influence, and its programs while maintaining its clear vision. That has resulted from Dr. Maurer’s outstanding leadership. [applause]

So I’m going to continue to give thought to all the little decisions in my life, but the big ones, like continuing this thirty-two-year relationship for another thirty-two years, I’m just going to let fate take its course, and I look forward to another half decade, another century of friendship and collaboration in this wonderful organization. Thank you. [applause]

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