The head of the scholarship committee, Patti Chang, introduced the 2017 Scholarship Class with these words:
Thank you, Mr. President. I love the fact that we just talked about bringing money in; now we're going to talk about sending it out.
Now, I want to tell you just a bit about this class. This class is especially interesting; we certainly have a variety of people in it. We have very few lawyers in it, for one [laughter]. We have a whole lot of people who want to be psychologists or therapists—don't see that very often—wishing Jeannie was here to mentor all of them, but I'm sure she will over the year. This is a class that I have to dub as The Class Who Does Not Know How to Be Brief, so I'm hoping that they'll prove me wrong. But when we asked them to briefly describe their career goals, one of them did it in less than three lines, and I think a third of them went way over their time. So please, please, please guys, prove me wrong on this one.
Each scholar was introduced with their name, the state that they are from, and the state in which they will be attending school. “tenBroek” indicates that they have previously won scholarships from the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what they have to say about their hopes, plans, and the lives they want to live:
Jackie Anderson, Georgia, Georgia, tenBroek: Through my involvement with the first BELL Program in Maryland in 2008, I've learned the importance of parental involvement in developing Braille literacy. This is what I will continue to study as I pursue my doctoral degree, where I'll be focusing on parental involvement and its impact on Braille literacy. I want to thank the Federation for believing in me. Thank you.
Lindsay Ball, Maine, New York: I will be attending SUNY Brockport [State University of New York] this fall to earn my second bachelor's degree in adaptive physical education. I was a Paralympic athlete in Sochi, so I will be helping other blind and visually-impaired students learn that they can be athletes and physically active. I do that as a volunteer right now—I'm the vice president of the main organization for blind athletic and leadership education.
Cricket Bidleman, California, California: First I'd like to thank Patti Chang, President Riccobono, and the scholarship committee for believing in me and awarding me the scholarship. Life is about sharing stories, so here's mine. I was adopted from China when I was three. China, where if I had been unlucky enough to have a career, it would have been in prostitution. In America I have so many opportunities, but I still recognize the unique problems that blind people face every day because I am one of you. The NFB has taught me to advocate for myself and to teach others to live the lives that we want. Next year I will be attending Stanford University with the goal of attaining a PhD and becoming a college professor so that I can teach other people to live the lives they want. Thank you.
Katherine Brafford, California, California: Good morning. I'm fascinated by the intersection between science and religion. I'm majoring in plant sciences at the University of California-Davis and minoring in religious studies. I hope to become an Episcopal priest specializing in ecological issues. I'm really thankful to the NFB for all the decades of work that have gone on before I was born, as well as the specific support I have received. Without the NFB my dreams would just be fantastical impossibilities, but instead they are tangible. I want to pass on the help that I have received. As part of that I have become vice president of the Southern Oregon chapter and president of the Oregon Student Association. I'm having a wonderful time at my first convention and learning a ton from all you amazing people. I'm so honored to be a scholarship finalist and look forward to continue learning here.
Aneri Brahmbhatt, Illinois, Tennessee: Hi, everyone. This is my first convention, and this fall I will be starting my freshman year at Belmont University in Nashville. I am pursuing a degree in music and entertainment business, so if you want a record deal, hit me up in four years[laughter]. I am so excited to be here at my first convention. This place is amazing. I love everyone's enthusiasm for our cause here, and I look forward to getting to know all of you over the next many, many decades.
Shannon Cantan, Hawaii, Hawaii: Hello, fellow Federationists. Thank you, Scholarship Chair Patti Chang, President Riccobono, and the scholarship committee. What does, "Live the life you want," mean? At seventeen years old I believed it meant girls, junk food, sports, and accepting that blind people could never be parents or ever have a job. At twenty-seven years old I'm helping raise my baby nephew, I'm reading him Braille books almost every single day. I'm pursuing my master's degree in business administration, and I am an active member of the National Federation of the Blind, and I am living the life I want and living the life I deserve [applause].
Melissa Carney, Connecticut, Massachusetts: Hi, everyone. I'm a rising junior at Mt. Holyoke College, double-majoring in English and Psychology. I want to start by thanking the scholarship committee for this honor. This is my first national convention, so it's been a great experience, and I'm taking every opportunity to further my independence. Ideally in the future I want to become a clinical psychologist, and I feel that the NFB has given me chances to be more of a leader, so thank you.
Trinh Ha, Arkansas, Arkansas: Hi, everyone. It is a huge honor to be here today. I moved to the US from Vietnam in 2012. I'll be going into my second year at the University of Central Arkansas, studying nutrition. I want to be a registered dietician or a chiropractor. Yes, I'm blind, and yes, as Ms. Chang said, I'm a little shy, but I have not and will never let my blindness or my fear stop me from making my hopes and my dreams become reality. Thank you everyone, and have a great convention.
Afton Harper, Missouri, Missouri: Well, I'm fresh out of high school. I will be going to Missouri State University in the fall as a freshman with some college credits, and I will be pursuing a major in journalism with a minor in photography. I've had a lot of struggles with my photography career, but I've found adaptive technology that I'm actually able to use for my camera, so that's wonderful. I hope to meet some more of you throughout the week. Thank you.
Qusay Hussein, Texas, Texas: Thank you, everyone. Thank you, Ms. Patti, thank you, Mr. President. As I mentioned before, when I lost my vision in 2006 I was studying to become a plastic surgeon. But I lost my vision, and I switched to psychology, and I am studying right now to become a psychologist. I study at Austin Community College. I serve on the board for the Austin Chapter, I serve on the board of the student affiliate in Texas, and I am a mentor in the College Prep program in Texas.
Catherine Jacobson, Minnesota, Minnesota: I just graduated from Hamlin University with a double major. I am really proud of my 3.9 GPA, but I believe that most of my growth came from outside of the classroom. I've held ten leadership positions in my university, including being editor-in-chief of our literary and arts journal. I've had life-changing internships at the Jernigan Institute and the United States Senate. In the fall I'll be starting my master of public health at the University of Minnesota, and I hope to conduct nonpartisan health care policy analysis. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Cassandra Mendez, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, Federationists. This fall I'll be continuing my bachelor of science at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, in the computer science engineering program. I've been honored to serve in the National Organization of Albinism and Hyperpigmentation as a writer for the quarterly magazine for three years. Ultimately I would love to go into the field of access technology to help us all live the lives we want. Thank you.
Tabea Meyer, Colorado, Colorado, tenBroek: Good morning. Thank you, scholarship committee and national board. I am a master of social work student at the University of Denver to serve youth and marginalized communities. I am honored, grateful, and humbled to be here. I've served the Colorado Association of Blind Students and the Denver Metro Chapter. I deeply appreciate you, our leaders, on whose shoulders I stand, benefiting from your sacrifice, learning from your wisdom, and continuing your legacy as an activist on whose shoulders I truly hope future generations stand with confidence. Thank you.
Ibeth Miranda, Texas, Texas: Hello, everyone. I would like to begin by thanking the scholarship committee again for giving me the opportunity to be here today—thank you. I am currently working on a doctoral degree in developmental education at Texas State University. My goals for the future are to be an educator and a researcher to help students in postsecondary education persist and complete their educations. Thank you.
Regina Mitchell, Nevada, Nevada: Thank you, Patti Chang, and thank you, scholarship committee for investing in me. I really appreciate it. Currently I am a nontraditional college student attending the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and I am majoring in psychology as well as neuroscience. My goal is to become a cellular immunologist. I would like to research and have a treatment for autoimmune deficiency diseases. Thank you so much for investing in me, and I hope to have a lifetime fellowship here with the Federationists, and I'm just so proud to be here. Thank you so much.
Maureen Nietfeld, Colorado, Colorado: I had no confidence in myself as a blind person before receiving the message of the National Federation of the Blind while receiving my training at the Colorado Center for the Blind [cheers]. I am now able to share that message with my students at CCB and also through my YouTube channel BreakingBlind, where I have over 15,000 subscribers. I am studying human nutrition and dietetics at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and I hope to empower others through health and wellness. Thank you to the committee and to the National Federation of the Blind.
Efose Oriaifo, Virginia, Massachusetts: Good morning. I would like to thank Ms. Patti Chang, the scholarship committee, the NFB, and the board of directors for giving me this wonderful opportunity. For a long time my life has been all about overcoming the odds from my racing and taking part in my school's mountain bike team to leading my high school's science Olympiad team. Just like my fully sighted peers, like Nelson Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." In ten years time I see myself in a research lab investigating therapies for cancer and other genetic diseases. Once again I'd like to thank the scholarship committee for believing in me so much.
Chelsea Peahl, Utah, Utah: Hi. I first want to start out by thanking both the scholarship committee as well as my own affiliate, who has pushed me to be the person that I am today. I am a junior at Utah Valley University, studying behavioral science with an emphasis on family studies, with the ultimate goal to go into law and advocacy. I know how it feels to feel like I don't have a voice, and I plan on spending the rest of my life being a voice for those who need one. I read a quote once that said, "Great leaders don't start out with the mission to be a great leader; they just start out wanting to make a difference." That's all I want to do. I thank you so much for investing in my future; I promise to show you that you won't regret this. Thank you.
Gloria Rodriguez, Washington, Washington: Maxine Hong Kingston once said, "In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; or a peaceful moment.” Positively positive. This is the quote I live by, and maybe I take it a little too literally, because I seek to study destructive natural disasters, prep, and recovery. I grew up as low-income, first-generation, and blind. Absolutely nothing was expected of me. But I quickly learned that anybody can create something and create their own legacy, no matter who they are. Thank you very much. I love you all.
Luke Schwinck, Kansas, Kansas: Thank you, everyone. Thank you to the committee. Thank you for everyone in the NFB who has taught me that it is in fact respectable to be blind. This has led me to a career in what I think I excel at; that is, talking a lot. That talking is used for sport marketing. I love going out and making new relationships, I love facilitating needs that I can discover, and you can't discover those needs unless you talk to people. I am routinely yelled at by my wife and my superiors that I stop and talk too much. I would encourage you all to stop me and talk to me because I don't care. Thank you.
Carla Scroggins, California, California: Good morning. First of all, thank you to the scholarship committee, to the board, and hello Federation family. I will be attending the University of California-Davis in the fall as a junior, political science major. I intend to then continue with a concurrent degree program to reach a law degree and a master's in political science, ultimately reaching my goal of a PhD in international relations. I hope to work in the international community, potentially—hopefully—policy analyst, something like that. I appreciate very much the investment that's been made in me by this fantastic organization, and I look forward to spending a long time just giving back. Thank you so much.
Alyssa Shock, New Jersey, New Jersey: Go New Jersey! Good evening—or good morning—oh my goodness! I want to thank the scholarship committee for giving me this opportunity, because I'm studying to be a mental health counselor. I'm studying psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and to that end I am also currently answering calls on a hotline for people who are suffering from struggles with sexual violence. Also, recently I have been tutoring a student in fourth grade, helping her. I'm hoping that those opportunities will help me live the life I want as a mental health counselor, and thank you to the NFB for helping me along to this goal. Thank you so much.
Heather Simmons, California, California: Good morning. I would like to extend my gratitude to the President and scholarship committee for bringing me to my first convention. I just graduated with my bachelors in English from CalState-Bakersfield, and I will enter the master's program at CalState-Stanislaus this fall. I am quite active in both journalism and theater in my community and on my campus. And one day I hope to be a literature professor. Thank you.
Thomas Smith, Maryland, Maryland: Morning, everyone. I would like to first thank the board of directors, Patti Chang, and the scholarship committee for this wonderful opportunity. I am going to the University of Maryland hoping to—or I will—gain a bachelor's degree in both computer engineering and electrical engineering. I hope to work with people like Cassandra to increase the technology that we have at our disposal to help us with accessibility. Thank you very much.
Andrew Sydlik, Ohio, Ohio: Hi, everyone. I am a PhD student at the Ohio State University studying disability studies and American literature. I teach students about the misconceptions and prejudices toward blindness and other disabilities. When I graduate next year, I hope I continue to do that working with students. I've presented my research all around the country and world, including recently in Paris, France. I have been involved in founding a student disability group. This is my first convention, and hopefully the first of many. Thank you.
Sophie Trist, Louisiana, Louisiana: A few of my fellow scholarship finalists have come to you with wonderful, inspiring quotes and words that have been passed down. I am going to be a rising sophomore at Loyola University New Orleans, where I'm pursuing a degree in English with a focus in writing. I hope to use my words and my talent to make the dreams of the National Federation of the Blind a reality. I want to thank the NFB for helping to make my dreams a reality.
Rachel Wellington, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, everyone. I just graduated high school. In high school I served as captain of my school's dive team for three years, and for two years I was the leader for a student-lead youth group. I'm entering the University of Georgia with a major in biological engineering with a focus in assistive technology, and I hope to enter law school to study patent law. This is my very first convention experience, and my very first experience with the NFB. That being said, I am ready to join the ranks of blind people who overcome obstacles and shatter expectations. Thank you.
James Yesel, North Dakota, North Dakota: Hello, everybody. I would like to say thank you to the scholarship committee and the Federation in general. I'm going to be attending Dickinson State University. I will be a senior this semester. I'm going to be majoring in business administration and human resources, and my goal is to be an entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs will tell you that you should do what you want to do; the more you hesitate, the more the opportunity could be missed. I think the NFB would agree with that. I think we should do what we want to do, and we can do what we want to do. Thank you.
Zeynep Yilmaz, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning, my Federation family. I am originally from Turkey and am still hoping that we would have a convention in Istanbul [laughter]. In Turkey, unfortunately, we do not have many opportunities for blind people to have core blindness skills and even career options. But I was really lucky to have my blind mentors who believed in me and really supported me to become an independent person who does not listen to others, especially the ones who have low expectations like my teachers. In 2011 I came to the United States. I received my master's in rehabilitation psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Right now I am pursuing my PhD in rehabilitation counselor education at the University of Arizona, and my ultimate goal is to train future rehabilitation counselors who will not have low expectations. Thank you so much to the scholarship committee for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I am really honored to be one of the scholarship recipients, and thank you so much.
Ayoub Zurikat, Texas, Illinois: Good day to all of you. I am originally from the Middle East. I am Jordanian. I got my undergraduate degree in theology and philosophy and then a master's degree in human services. I intend to get another master's degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College, and I hope it will lead to a PhD. For the past twelve years I have had the honor of serving troubled teenagers and university students all over the Middle East, and I hope to be able to do that here as well through my master's and then leading to the PhD. I want to quickly thank two groups of people: in this movie called The Shawshank Redemption, there is this one line that I had carved on a plaque, and the line goes like this: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." So first, I want to thank the NFB for teaching me how to turn a disability into a hope. And the second group of people I want to thank—by disability I am family, but by race I am an outsider—so I want to thank Americans. I have lived here for two years. And I have been welcomed by nothing but kindness and love and honesty. Thank you, NFB, and thank you, America, as well.
At the banquet Maureen Nietfeld won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. Here is what she said:
Oh my God, this is a surreal moment for me [cheering]! When I lost my sight I dreamed of being confident, and I dreamed of being independent and successful. I dreamed of being able to go back to work and go to school. Thank you to the Colorado Center for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind—my dreams became a reality! Thank you so much to my husband David, for your love and support. Thank you to the scholarship committee for your mentorship and your investment in all of us. Thank you to all the members of the National Federation of the Blind for giving me love, hope, and determination. Let's go build the Federation! [cheers, applause]
Following is a complete list of 2017 scholarship finalists and the awards they received. In addition to the awards listed below, each finalist also received: $1,000 and additional prizes personally donated by Dr. Ray Kurzweil; $1,000 from Google and the newest Chromebook; and a $1,000 certificate to the purchase of Independence Science technologies, specifically the new Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest.
$3,000 NFB Scholarships (14): Lindsay Ball, Aneri Brahmbhatt, Melissa Carney, Trinh Ha, Afton Harper, Qusay Hussein, Catherine Jacobson, Ibeth Miranda, Efose Oriaifo, Gloria Rodriguez, Alyssa Shock, Sophie Trist, Zeynep Yilmaz, and Ayoub Zurikat.
$3,000 Expedia Scholarships (2): Cassandra Mendez and Thomas Smith
$3,000 Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: Andrew Sydlik
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Carla Scroggins
$3,000 E. U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: James Yesel
$3,000 Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship: Cricket Bidleman
$3,000 NFB Science and Engineering Division Scholarship: Rachel Wellingon
$3,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Heather Simmons
$5,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship (2): Shannon Cantan and Tabea Meyer
$5,000 Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Luke Schwinck
$5,000 Pearson Scholarship: Chelsea Peahl
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field: Regina Mitchell
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Katherine Brafford
$10,000 JAWS for Windows Scholarship: Jackie Anderson$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Maureen Nietfeld