SCHOLARSHIP SPOTLIGHT Part 1: Meet Some of Our 2016 Scholarship Class: Johna Wright, Jameyanne Fuller, Donna Posont, Precious Perez, Nathan Clark

From the Editor: This month, NABS is proud to share a myriad of reflections experienced from our national scholarship winners during the 2016 National Federation of the Blind National Convention. Each year, 30 finalists are selected to attend our National Convention, be matched with mentors each day, and gain some financial gain toward the pursuit of higher education. If you are hooked immediately, or interested in learning more, please visit our scholarship page to learn more! Please join us in reading some personal stories from our new and seasoned as we marvel over their accomplishments!

Johna Wright

Johna joined us for her first Convention after recently graduating high school. After boarding a plane for her very first time, she independently traveled from Atlanta, Georgia to Orlando, Florida with high hopes of an exciting week. Once she earns her degree, Johna plans on giving back to our community by becoming a Teacher of Blind Students. Meet Johna!

My first NFB convention was such a life-altering and amazing experience that will affect me for the remainder of my life. I feel honored to have been in the presence of such powerful and inspiring people, and even more honored to have been there as a scholarship finalist! Although there were a few theoretical bumps in the road and a lot of anxiety over the scholarship process, I would not trade this experience for anything. Everyone was united; I felt accepted. That feeling of belonging is quite foreign to me, so I wasn't sure how to react at first. However, I learned very quickly to simply relax and enjoy the people I was surrounded by. This comforted me, and soon the anxious feelings and nervousness were abated to nothing. There are so many opportunities within this organization, and everyone has somewhere that they fit in perfectly. I became a part of so many divisions, including Community Service, the National Association of Blind Students, and a myriad of other groups. While this convention was the first experience I've had with the Federation, it will most certainly not be my last. I plan to use my strengths as a teacher, a leader and an advocator in order to open up so many more opportunities to the members of the NFB. Let's go build the Federation!

Jameyanne Fuller

Jameyanne is an avid writer, vivacious blogger, and energetic enthusiast! Aside from traveling around Italy with her Seeing Eye pup and publishing articles on her personal blog, she is busy writing books and exploring the world around her. This fall, Jameyanne will be starting law school at Harvard Law. We are proud to welcome her into our Federation family. Meet Jameyanne!

This was my first NFB national convention, and my first experience with NFB. I’d heard a lot of negative information about the NFB, so I arrived with low expectations and plans to Tweet sarcastically through convention, take my scholarship money, and run as far and as fast as I could. At first, it was overwhelming—all the sweeping canes, the huge hotel, the barrage of people and information I was somehow expected to remember—but within a matter of hours I began to realize that most of the information I’d been given was either an exaggeration or completely wrong. More than that, I realized that NFB was working to make progress on issues I myself was passionate about, as well as issues I’d never knew were issues. It took me maybe a day to come to the conclusion that I didn’t want to stand to the side making jokes: I wanted to be involved. So I jumped in with both feet, participating in as many sessions and activities as I could fit into my schedule. Once I was open to it, I learned a tremendous amount at Resolutions, the Board Meeting, General Sessions, and the panel on self advocacy in higher education. I also took a 1Touch self-defense class; learned to waltz, swing, and salsa; and played accessible board games with the creators of 64 Ounce Games. The only thing I didn’t do that much of was eat and sleep. I know it’s a cliché, but the scholarship money I won was not the most valuable thing I took away from the convention. The scholarship will help with my law school tuition, certainly, but I feel better prepared to enter law school with what I learned at convention (especially since I plan to focus on disability rights), and the rigorous schedule of the scholarship program gave me a thorough introduction to the NFB and allowed me to find my Federation family. I hesitated to apply for the scholarship, and then when I found out I was a finalist, I hesitated about coming to convention at all, but I am so, so glad I did, and I am so, so glad I let myself be open to learning about the NFB and even enjoying myself. I’m definitely planning to attend the 2017 convention, but next year I’ll dress for the New Hampshire winter the hotel secretly wants to be.

Donna Posont

Donna is one of our most honorable non-traditional students. After being involved in our Federation family for more than three decades, she never let blindness hold her back from gaining the educational experience she desired. The scholarship class was blessed to have her among the finalists, and we are so glad to learn from her personal story. Meet Donna!

After thirty years of membership in the National Federation of the Blind I found the courage to return to academic life in 2008. I still wanted to study the natural sciences and while doing so I started the Birding by Ear and Beyond program at the University of Michigan. When I was selected to participate in the 2016 scholarship class I was a little concerned that I could not keep up with all those young energetic students. In addition to being more than 35 years older than most, I was still recovering from back surgery in April due to being run over by a car in December. After engaging, experiencing and thoroughly enjoying my interactions with the members of the 2016 scholarship class I would like to leave my fellow students with one thought. If for any reason you get rerouted on your educational journey don’t ever give up on living the life you want filled with joy, love, hope and determination. Lean on others in your federation family and continue to rub shoulders with others who are blind and you will gain strength and courage to finish the race.

Precious Perez

Precious is a recent high school graduate with her huge heart on her sleeve. She is ambitious, joyful, and full of love. Currently, Precious serves as the 1st Vice President of the Massachusetts Association of Blind Students. This fall, she will begin her college career at Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Precious is not new to our Federation family, yet continues to grow each year. Meet Precious!

I have been a part of the National Federation of the Blind since 2012, when I attended the Leadership and Advocacy Program held at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. it was in the year 2013 that I became involved with my State Affiliate, stepping up as a member of the NFBMA Board of Directors and as the President of the Massachusetts Student Division. I attended my fourth national convention this past week at the Rosen shingle Creek resort in Orlando, Florida. although things like the tapping of hundreds of canes or the cheers of many empowered Federationists are familiar to me, there were a few things that made this convention experience new and unique. at the 2016 National Convention, I attended as one of 30 NFB scholarship finalists, which meant being organize, staying on schedule, and coordinating with mentors I met with each day. oh, and the hotel was much larger than the Rosen center, which meant it seemed a little more daunting. I was excited and nervous all at once, but all anxiety aside, there were no words to describe how thrilled I was to embark on this week of fun and learning. I spent each day of convention learning new things, meeting new people, and reuniting with friends. I proudly wore my purple “Live the Life You Want” wristband and purple ribbon, because not only did they represent me being a finalist, but also purple is my favorite color and I was way too excited about it. I got elected as a Board Member of the Performing Arts Division, and I also sang at the Opening General Session, which has been a Federation dream of mine for a while. Whether I was discussing my newfound knowledge of Kenneth Jernigan with Barbara Pierce, discussing my musical aspirations with Everett Bacon and James Brown, spending money at the Exhibit Hall with Kathy Jackson, briefly greeting Jennifer Dunnam at the scholarship breakfast, or showing my introspective Syed in conversation with Bob Kresmer, there was always something to be gained, always something to take away, and always so much love and hope to give and receive. if there's one thing I can say about #NFB16, it's that I feel like my Federation family only continues to expand. My attendance as a scholarship winner was both a whirlwind and a blessing. all of the inspiration and empowerment I feel when I'm surrounded by thousands of blind people living the lives they want is almost as rousing as the love that envelopes me and the hope that stirs within my heart whenever Federation leaders, like president Riccobono and Dr. Maurer speak. as grateful and humbled as I am to have received a national scholarship, the true reward has been the love and support expressed by all that I have met this convention and all that I have reunited with. I want to thank everyone who believed, and continues to believe, in me and made this possible, and I promise that in my future pursuits and throughout college, I will never cease to help transform dreams into reality. I will live the life I want and teach others to do the same, because I will forever be a Federationist. all in all, I just love everybody, and I hope to achieve my new Federation dream of giving Diane McGeorge a hug in future years to come. Thank you NFB for never failing to make my heart smile.

Nathan Clark

Nathan is a resident in the state of Maryland. He attends Towson University and is a proud graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He serves as the Vice President of the Maryland Student Division; and has high hopes of pursuing a profession as a probation officer. Nate is a seasoned Federationist, yet a first time finalist. We are very proud of his great work within our movement. Meet Nathan!

As a national scholarship winner this year, it was an amazing and educational experience for me. Although this was my eleventh NFB National Convention, which made me one of the most veteran student in the scholarship class, I learned a lot about both our mentors and the Federation in general. Having a mentor every day allowed me to interact and communicate with great leaders within the organization from across the country that I would not have probably had the chance to encounter, unless I was a scholarship winner. I learned about how many of our leaders found the Federation and what role they play in the organization. It was a humbling experience walking around with my mentors and meeting new people from different states, especially during the general sessions. For example, when I was with Ron Brown of Indiana, I had many of the Indiana state leaders and friends come up to me during the general session and I got to talk to them about my experiences in college and what I want to do professionally. I enjoyed talking to my mentors and observing their excitement and enthusiasm that they had regarding the Federation and the convention as a whole. On Sunday, when I had Ron Brown, he was screaming, cheering and clapping the entire time during the opening ceremony of the General Session and during the veterans’ ceremony. Finally, when I had Gary Wunder on Tuesday, when the resolutions were being discussed, I got the chance to talk about my philosophy and beliefs with Gary and how they compared to his opinions and attitudes on policy issues for the organization. I want to thank the NFB as a whole and the scholarship committee for giving me this wonderful and fortunate experience this past week at the NFB National Convention in Orlando, Florida. I am proud to be a member of the greatest blindness organization in the world because I know that we, in the NFB, are changing the public's perception of the blind so that all blind people can live the lives we want. I will always consider myself a Federationist and I have and will continue to consider the NFB part of my family. Let's go build the Federation!