Blind Glencoe grad receives Lighthouse Guild scholarship

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By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor

Charli Strawn, a legally blind recent graduate of Glencoe High School, will be attending Auburn University in the fall, and thanks to a $10,000 scholarship from Lighthouse Guild, she will be able to worry a little less.

While Strawn has faced challenges, like being legally blind or spending her first two years of life in a rural Chinese orphanage, she has turned those challenges into fuel.

“Adversity is the fuel that has driven me to be the person I am today,” Strawn said in her essay for the scholarship. “As the first and only blind student at my rural high school, I am used to facing challenges, problem-solving, and paving the way for others. I have excelled in challenging classes that would have been almost impossible for a blind student to access just a decade ago.”

Though she was born blind, Strawn’s adoptive family treated her the same as they did their sighted son.

“My parents gave me the freedom to explore the world in the same ways as my sighted peers,” Strawn said. “There were bumps and scraped knees along the way, but I learned to dust myself off and keep going. My childhood was full of activity; from swinging and climbing, to riding trikes and playing tee ball.”

Strawn is academically gifted and uses advancements in technology, such as refreshable braille displays, screen readers and optical character recognition software to level the playing field with her sighted peers.

“Occasionally I encounter teachers who underestimate my ability, but I use their doubt as fuel to drive me to prove them wrong,” Strawn said.

Strawn is a 4-H Tech Changemaker, and she has used her experiences with accessible technology to help teach digital skills to adults from underrepresented groups. She led technology workshops that helped adult learners use digital tools to improve their lives, find employment and make safe decisions online.

Strawn is one of 16 students who received a $10,000 scholarship from Lighthouse Guild.

Since 2005, Lighthouse Guild’s Scholarship Program has awarded over $2.8 million in college scholarships to students who are legally blind.

Former scholarship recipients have gone on to become nurses, attorneys, teachers, engineers, chemists, composers, musicians, neuroscientists, social workers, business owners, investors, epidemiologists, physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, journalists and computer scientists.

“Students who are visually impaired can face particular challenges as they pursue their higher education goals,” said Dr. Calvin W. Roberts, President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild. “We are pleased to support these outstanding students and provide them with a clearer pathway to success in their chosen careers.”

Roberts said that what stood out most about Strawn was her experience as a 4-H Tech Changemaker. He also said that students like Strawn and other applicants are inspirations.

“It just makes you go ‘wow, if they can do that, I can do it, too’,” said Roberts. “These young people become great inspirations to the next group of students.”

Lighthouse Guild scholarships are based on strong academic accomplishment and merit to help students who are legally blind make a successful transition to college and graduate school. The 2024 recipients will be attending some of the nation’s most competitive universities.

“We are so fortunate to be able to provide scholarships,” Roberts said. “I wish we could help every applicant and that we had more money to help more students each year. We rely on charitable donations. We want to inspire people who are visually impaired to reach their goals. The goal of many of these young people is to go to college.”

Roberts said Lighthouse Guild receives about 100 applicants per year.

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