The Braille Monitor                                                                               August/ September 1997

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PHOTO/CAPTION: 1997 Scholarship winners (left to right, back row: Jason Ewell, Nathanael Wales, Eugene Skonicki, Darrin Pagnac, Steven Hagemoser, Bill Petrino, Stewart Jenkins, Rachel Ragland, and Kenneth Silberman. Middle row: Keri Stewart, Stacy Hayworth, Sumara Shakeel, Latawnya Muhammad, Michelle Lauer, Ameenah Ghoston, Rebecca Hart, and Jody Lee. Front row: Tonia Valetta, Laura Biro, Diana Knox, Marina Eastham, Samantha Shlakman, Ivette Valdes, Mariyam Cementwala, Angela Sasser, and Katharine Chavez.


The Scholarship Class of 1997

From the Editor: Twenty-six men and women from Maine to California arrived at the Hyatt Regency, New Orleans, as members of the National Federation of the Blind scholarship class of 1997. Not counting their expense-paid trips to the convention, this year the class divided $88,000 in scholarship awards, which were made at the close of the Friday, July 4, banquet. This year's class is a remarkable group of students--bright, energetic, and eager to change the world. They met the full convention during the meeting of the Board of Directors on Tuesday morning. Peggy Elliott, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee, introduced each of them by saying the student's name, home state, and school state. This is what first she and then each of them had to say:

Peggy Elliott: My friends and fellow Federationists, I once again have the pleasure of introducing to you a new scholarship class. As I read to you the names of the Scholarship committee, think with me about how many of these people came to us through the scholarship program. I am going to read to you now the names of the people who are serving on the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee, and the list is headed by Dr. Adrienne Asch, Massachusetts; Michael Baillif, District of Columbia; Bryan Bashin, California; Rich Bennett, Delaware; Steve Benson, Illinois; Charlie Brown, Virginia; Carol Castellano, New Jersey; Pam Dubel (a former scholarship winner), Louisiana; Priscilla Ferris, Massachusetts; Michael Gosse, Maryland (won a scholarship); Ever Lee Hairston, New Jersey; John Halverson, Missouri; Allen Harris, Michigan; David Hyde, Colorado; Carl Jacobsen, New York; Judy Jobes, Pennsylvania; Kristen Jocums (former scholarship winner from Utah); Reggie Lindsey, Tennessee; Sharon Maneki, Maryland; Jim Marks, Montana; Lynn Mattioli (won a scholarship), Maryland; Carla McQuillan, Oregon; Homer Page, Colorado; Barbara Pierce, Ohio; Joyce Scanlan, Minnesota; Steve Shelton, Oklahoma; Debbie Stein, Illinois; Mark Stracks (tenBroek Fellow, won two), Connecticut; Larry Streeter, Idaho; Ramona Walhof, Idaho; Melissa Williamson (former scholarship winner from Alabama); Jim Willows, California; Joanne Wilson, Louisiana; and Gary Wunder, Missouri. Those are the people who serve on the Scholarship Committee.

As you know, we give twenty-six scholarships ranging in value from the lowest, $3,000, to the highest, which is ten thousand dollars. One of these people you are about to meet will leave this convention with ten thousand more dollars than he or she had at the beginning of the convention. This is a wonderful scholarship program that helps with the financial need of going to college or graduate school, but it also helps us to meet these wonderful men and women and for them to meet us.

I have told them all, and I'll tell them again that there are 3,000 people who want to meet you, so please wear your purple ribbons so you can be found. My friends in the audience, I would ask you to hold your applause until we are done. You will have plenty of time to applaud these people both here and in other places.

Laura Biro: Michigan, Michigan. Good morning, fellow Federationists. I'm currently a graduate student at Sienna Heights College. In addition, I'm doing the certification in orientation and mobility at Louisiana Tech University in the summers. I hope some day to combine those two careers somehow and work with the adult population. I also hope to become a streetwalker, in that I mean to walk the streets and spread the word about the NFB. Thank you.

Meriyam Cementwala: California, California. Ladies and gentlemen, hello. I could bore you with the fact that I'm going to be a Regents' Scholar at UC Berkeley and tell you all about that, but rather than that, I'll try a new strategy. I'm going to be bluntly honest with you (a strategy that never worked with my parents). What I would like to say is that I'm so impressed and overwhelmed with the scholarship committee that selected me and the people that are my fellow competitors and my fellow scholarship winners that in the words of Willy Wonka--and those who know me know this best about me; I love chocolate and I'm a chocolate fiend. So in the words of Willy Wonka, "NFB, the tension's killing me, and I hope it lasts."

Catherine Chavez: New Mexico, New Mexico. It has been quite an honor to represent the National Federation of the Blind for four years. I am a former Vice President and President of the New Mexico Association of Blind Students, and as of last night I am a newly elected board member of the National Association of Blind Students. I am currently attending New Mexico Highlands University and am studying social work. In the fall I will be completing my junior year and want to continue my education. Thank you very much.

Marina Eastham: New Mexico, Connecticut, and this summer D.C. Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am from New Mexico. I attend Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. I'm studying political science and also getting my certification in education. I would like to pursue a career in education as well as become a federal legislator. I would like to lead the Federation in federal legislation. I have gained so much from the Federation, and I would like to share my knowledge with all of the future Federationists of this nation.

Jason Ewell: Ohio, Ohio. Good morning everyone. Earlier this month I graduated as the valedictorian of my class at Norwalk High School, and I will be attending John Carroll University in the fall. My first experience with the National Federation of the Blind occurred while I was in attendance at the Ohio State School for the Blind when one of my friends and I wrote a letter concerning a matter of advocacy with which we were involved to Dr. Jernigan and Mrs. Pierce. That letter was in the Braille Monitor in August of 1989. Dr. Matson found it worthy of inclusion in the Epilogue of Walking Alone and Marching Together. So I hope that I may continue in the future to help to work for all the goals and policies of the Federation, and also I hope to develop some policies that could serve us all through our lives. Thank you.

Ameenah Ghoston: Illinois, Illinois. Hello. My name is Ameenah Ghoston. I'm in Chicago at Roosevelt University. I believe in making dreams possible. I'm a very big dreamer. I push myself to the extreme (sometimes killing myself in the process). My lifelong dream is to receive a Nobel prize in computer science. I am dedicated to do that. Thank you very much.

Steve Hagamoser: Originally from Iowa, now from Kentucky. Thank you. I'd like to thank the Scholarship Committee for this wonderful opportunity. I'm going to be pursuing my doctorate for my fourth year this fall at the University of Kentucky in a pretty competitive clinical psychology program. Right now the model number of publications for psychologists, blind or sighted, is zero. Right now I have two, while still in graduate school, and I'm working on a third. I think I can safely say by objective standards that I'm doing okay. I'm what you would call an Iowa Department of the Blind Adult Orientation Center success story. I came in insecure, self- and life-loathing, and since then I've been able to do what I've been able to do. Thank you very much.

Rebecca Hart: Virginia, Virginia. Good morning. This fall I will be attending Radford University in the southern part of Virginia. For those of you who know where Virginia Tech is, it's close. I can date the guys there, but I don't have to do any of the work. I do not know what my major is yet. My university has a pre-major program that I'm in. I have a lot of interests, but I don't know where that's going to take me. I would like to work with the space program. My ultimate goal is to become an astronaut.

Stacy Hayworth: Iowa and Nebraska. Good morning, one and all. I am a graduate student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (not New Orleans). I plan on getting my Ph.D. in business health administration and follow in the footsteps of Dr. Asch. My concentration is in pediatric medicine. Unlike this morning's rendition, I cannot carry a tune, but fortunately, every day of my life, I carry three extra organs. Thank you.

Stewart Jenkins: Georgia, Georgia. Good morning. This fall I will be continuing my undergraduate years at Georgia Tech. I will be majoring in physics and computer engineering. I plan to go into graduate school studying physics. After all those years of listening to college professors lecture, I plan to do it myself. Let me say that I've only been with the Federation a short time, but during that time my experience has been a positive one that I hope will continue to be that way. Thank you all.

Diana Knox: Maine, Maine. Good morning. I'm a junior at the University of Southern Maine. I'm majoring in psychology. I must confess I came here because I had a very good incentive--scholarship money. Well, I've been with you for four days, and a lot has changed. I don't intend to take the money and run anymore. You Federationists are just wonderful people. I intend to be active in my local chapter and spread the NFB philosophy. Our philosophy now is just wonderful. I'd like to thank you for your hospitality and generosity. Thank you.

Michelle Lauer: Kentucky, Indiana. I recently graduated from the University of Kentucky in May. This fall I'm going to start law school at the University of Notre Dame. When I was three years old, I was scared about my brother riding the bus to school. After months of confusion, I rode the bus myself and realized that you did not sit on the roof of the bus, but you climbed into the bus. However, everyone had said, "Look at Brian get on the bus." Since I couldn't see it clearly, I assumed you climbed onto the roof. The perspective is different for a blind person and a sighted person, and I appreciate the multitude of perspectives that I have learned from all of my friends in the Federation this week. I hope everyone has a wonderful time. Thank you.

Jody Lee: Florida, Florida. Hi, everybody. I'm happy to be here today. I'm about to make a big career change in my life. I am presently employed by the State of Florida, and in the fall am about to begin to work in the orientation and mobility, rehab teaching master's degree program at Florida State. I'm legally blind, and it wasn't until after I had already made all these plans to make these changes, had been admitted to school--everything--that I learned that apparently there is controversy in this field. I know this is going to be one of the things that people expect me not to be able to do, but I'll prove them wrong. I am looking forward later this week to getting my first cane travel lesson from a BLIND, Inc., teacher.

Latawnya Muhammad: Illinois, Illinois. Good morning. I have something very special to share with you all today. First I should tell you that I go to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Second, I wanted to share with you that I was born into a Muslim family, and when babies are born into the family, they give them names that reflect attributes that they would like them to have. I was the first blind child in my family, so they really didn't know what I would be capable of. Upon telling my father that I received a scholarship from the NFB, sending him literature and explaining how important the NFB was, he decided to give me my name. So next convention I will be officially Alea Miriam Muhammad. Alea means a star that is rising, Maria means Mary from the Bible, because my father says that I'm an exceptional mother.

Darrin Pagnac: South Dakota, South Dakota. Hello. I'm a master's student at the South Dakota School of Mines, studying vertebrate paleontology. My work involves the meticulous reconstruction of fossil remains in a laboratory setting as well as the search for new fossil remains in the field, which involves such great activities as spending weeks on end living out of a tent; working long hours in the hot, searing sun; and experiencing such wonderful things as poison ivy, falling rocks, barbed wire, stinging scorpions, and biting rattlesnakes. It's an interesting life. This is my first NFB convention, and it's been a very positive experience. Above all else, I am extremely impressed with the incredible spirit demonstrated by the Federation and all of its members. Thank you all very much.

Billy Petrino: Louisiana, Louisiana. Good morning. I'm an entering junior at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, majoring in mathematics education. Louisiana is the forty-ninth state I've been in more than two months. People often ask me why I moved so much. It has taken me until this last year to realize I was looking for a home and a family, and I found both at the NFB. Thank you.

Rachel Ragland: Missouri, Missouri. Hello, everyone. First I would like to start by saying the Federation is very new to me--this is actually my first convention. So far I've learned so much exciting stuff and met so many of you. Thank you very much. I am attending the University of Missouri at Rolla. I am majoring in nuclear engineering with a strong emphasis in environmental engineering. After I graduate from college, I hope to work with nuclear propulsion and to work with radiation waste management, and if I'm really lucky and if I spend a lot of hard hours at the nuclear reactor, I might be my very own light bulb.

Angela Sasser: Louisiana, Louisiana. Good morning. In the fall I'll be a freshman at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, and I'll be studying art history. I hope one day to get a job either as a professor or in a museum. I am currently a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and I'm teaching art to the Buddy kids in the kids' program. I'm also a newly elected board member of the National Association of Blind Students.

Ken Silberman: Maryland, District of Columbia. Hello, everybody. I'm sort of making a career change or augmenting it. I'm combining my engineering background with a law degree in attending the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University this fall. I currently work at NASA's outerspace flight center and hold a master's degree in aerospace engineering and a bachelor's degree in astronomy. I serve as President of the Southern Maryland Chapter--Hi, Maryland, and I serve on the Board of Directors of Volunteers for the Handicapped, an agency in Silver Spring, Maryland. I would just like to get personal for a second and thank everyone here for the last twelve years in helping me to change my life. When I applied for a scholarship the first time, I was really heading for a life of dependency and great difficulty. I met people who believed in me and inspired me and helped me; and it turns out that you were very proud of me. I just want to say that I love you all very much and thank you.

Gene Skonicki: Illinois, New York. Good morning, my friends. I am a recent graduate of the Illinois Math and Science Academy and will be attending the University of Rochester, New York. More than that, though, this is my first convention experience. I am reminded of a story that, I think, embodies the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind. Once Winston Churchill was at a party late at night and found himself a bit intoxicated. A noble woman in the room commented to him, "Mr. Churchill, you are quite drunk."

He responded in kind, "Madam, I may be drunk, but you are ugly. In the morning I will be sober." Thank you.

Sumara Shakeel: New Jersey, New Jersey, Delaware. Hello, NFB. I am currently nearing the completion of my undergraduate work in music therapy at Montclair state University and would like to pursue a master's degree in occupational therapy and combine the two disciplines in my work someday. If there is one piece of advice I can give to you newcomers, it's network, network, network. Because I have learned from personal experience that that is the way to education and empowerment. Thank you.

Samantha Shlakman: New York, District of Columbia. When Dr. Jernigan spoke to the Scholarship Class of 1997 on Sunday, he stated that blind people should never be handed anything on a silver platter. We should and have to work just as hard to accomplish comparable goals with all other people. I have never been handed anything on a silver platter--not to mention any other type of platter--and I know from first-hand experience the type of hard work that Dr. Jernigan is referring to. This coming fall I will become a freshman at George Washington University, but that's not the special part. The memorable part of my story comes when I tell you that at George Washington I am enrolled in a seven-year BA/MD program, and next year will be my first year. This program enables me to do three years of undergraduate work and then automatically enter medical school. There were only eight people out of six hundred and thirty applicants who enjoyed being selected this year. I can tell you as well that I will become the first blind person ever to attend George Washington Medical School. I would like to thank the Board, the people that selected me as a scholarship recipient, and I would like to commend all of these hard-working blind people out there who are continuously not asking for things on platters but earning them through hard work and determination. Thank you.

Keri Stewart: Missouri, Missouri. Good morning, fellow Federationists. Thank you, I would like to say that I am very proud to be a member of the Federation. I am attending the University of Missouri, Columbia. I'm getting my master's in social work and planning and administration with an emphasis on disabilities. I started my leadership skills back in high school when I was a drum major for our high school band. Some of you out there heard me yesterday yelling down the hall where the student seminar was. I didn't need a microphone yesterday, and I didn't need one back then. I would like to say, though, that I was a leader then; I'm a leader now; I will be a leader in the future; and I'm thrilled to be a part of this wonderful organization, changing what it means to be blind. I want to be a part of it.

Ivette Valdes: Wisconsin, Wisconsin. Good morning. I am very happy to be here. This is my first NFB convention. It's very exciting. I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I am in the French Department, working on a dissertation which focuses on women writers from the French-speaking Caribbean Islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. I chose my geographical area very carefully since I know I will be having to do research there in the future. I hope to be finishing within the next year, and I hope to follow the example of Professor Asch and go on to teach and do research at the university level. Thank you very much.

Tonia Valletta: Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico. I feel deeply indebted to the members, especially to the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, for stretching my thinking by challenging me to answer the question, "What does it mean to be a truly independent blind person?" I have now often asked myself that question. It has many answers, and I have learned some of them, but I hope to learn many more with your help. Thank you very much.

Nathanael Wales: California, California. Good morning. I'm a student at the University of California at Davis. I am majoring in civil engineering, and after I finish my undergraduate work, I would like to go on to law school and enter a career combining both engineering and law. I started my studies at the University of California at Davis this past April. I did that shortly after graduating from the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston. At the Louisiana Center I not only gained confidence in myself as a blind person, but I also received very valuable training in many skills including Braille, cane travel, computers, independent living, and the proper technique for eating Scottish bonnet in the jambalaya at the House of Blues at the French Quarter and learning to live to tell about it. Thank you.

Stacy Hayworth, the 1997 $10,000 American Action Fund schlorship winner.

Stacy Hayworth, the 1997 $10,000
American Action Fund scholarship winner.

Peggy Elliott: And there, fellow Federationists, is the class of 1997. [applause]

As you can see, we have an impressive group of scholarship winners this year. Here are the awards they received:

$3,000 NFB Scholarship: Katharine Chavez, Marina Eastham, Ameenah Ghoston, Steven Hagemoser, Rebecca Hart, Stewart Jenkins, Michelle Lauer, Latawnya Muhammad, Rachel Ragland, Sumara Shakeel, Samantha Shlakman, Keri Stewart, and Tonia Valletta.

$3,000 Frank Walton Horn Memorial Scholarship: Eugene Skonicki

$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Ivette Valdes

$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Kenneth Silberman

$3,000 Humanities Scholarship: Diana Knox $3,000 Mozelle and Willard Gold Memorial Scholarship: Mariyam Cementwala

$3,000 Educator of Tomorrow Scholarship: Bill Petrino

$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Darrin Pagnac

$3,000 E. U. Parker Memorial Scholarship: Laura Biro

$3,000 Computer Science Scholarship: Nathanael Wales

$4,000 NFB Scholarship: Jason Ewell and Jody Lee

$4,000 Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Angela Sasser

$10,000 American Action Fund Scholarship: Stacy Hayworth