What Being a Scholarship Finalist Taught Me
I applied for the National Federation of the Blind scholarship program in 2018 just to say I did and get some of my friends off my back. I never thought I would be selected as a scholarship finalist, but I can say, without hesitation, that the experience changed my life.
This blog is not going to be cheesy or cliché, if I can help it, but I am going to be completely honest.
As soon as I got the call alerting me to the fact that I was a finalist, I purchased my plane ticket for the national convention in Orlando, Florida and then called my mom. She was thrilled, but my level of excitement far surpassed hers. For the rest of the school year, I counted down the days until I would take off for Florida.
On the day I arrived in Florida, I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. I'd heard rumors about how big the hotel was and how busy my coming week would be. However, I quickly made friends with some blind people I met in the airport. We traveled in a cluster to the hotel, and after a hasty shower, I met with my first scholarship mentor.
My first meeting was welcomed because I needed food, and the hotel was brimming with restaurants. The interview was casual, but there were some intense questions. I found myself taking into consideration not only my opinions but also the fact that I was in a scholarship competition. This fact put a little pressure on my conversational skills. Luckily, at the required meeting later that evening, our scholarship committee chair reminded us to just be ourselves. I tried my best to follow her direction the rest of the week.
After a night full of informative meetings, I threw myself into networking. The National Association of Blind Students organized events to encourage communication among scholarship finalists and general attendees. While I didn't stay long for fear of collapsing with exhaustion, I had a great time putting names, faces, and voices together after working with the majority of the NABS board for some time.
Each day of the week was filled to the brim with meetings, mentor appointments, and delicious meals. I met so many people that I couldn't name them all if I tried. The friendships I made, and renewed, at the national convention will last for the rest of my life.
In addition to the networking, I learned a great deal about myself. Being surrounded by thousands of blind people renewed my faith in my own abilities. I met successful individuals and people who worked in my desired field, which is law. I witnessed firsthand the life that awaits me in a few years. I learned that hard work and determination are among the necessary skills to become a successful attorney. Eyesight is not part of the necessary skill set. Anything I hope to do is a possibility if I'm not afraid of a challenge.
One of the largest changes I can note in myself is my recently adopted willingness to use my cane. Before the national convention, I used sighted guides or my limited vision to get around. Many people who saw me couldn't even tell if I was blind. They mostly just thought I was clingy. Thankfully, seeing others use their canes without shame encouraged me to embrace my own independence. Ever since I returned from Florida, I have used my cane more than ever. I take pride in who I am and the community I belong to. Being blind does not make a person less. In fact, I think being blind makes a person so much more. Blind people accept the challenge of changing perceptions every day. I am thrilled to call myself a proud member of the National Federation of the Blind.