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The Great Hall of the Massachusetts State House was filled with the sounds of laughter, music, and inspiration in the afternoon of August 11th. The people gathered were there to celebrate the accomplishments of 85 interns, who had found internships this summer through the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). All interns with the program are legally blind and range in age, from those still in school, to those that are older and want to explore new career options.

“I really like this program. It gives us the opportunity to experience a wide range of jobs without discrimination,” said Emily Pepi, who interned at the Central Mass Employment Collaborative. “It helps that MCB works closely with employers”.

Before the official start of the event, attendees networked amongst themselves at the tables while MCB’s Jim Badger, who is himself legally blind, played guitar on the balcony in the Great Hall.

Over a 13 year span, the internship program has produced more than 700 internship opportunities, half of those in the last 4 years, with 330 private and public employers. More than half of the former interns who have graduated from school have achieved employment, with an 88% job retention rate. “The program continues to vibrantly grow” stated MCB Commissioner Paul Saner in his opening address.

One of the strongest business partnerships is with Dunkin’ Brands, which also received the MCB Employer of the Year award. Debbie Syvil who interned for the company also spoke; she came away from her experience interning with the life lessons of “There’s always ways to work around stuff”, and “Never be afraid to ask a question”. Debbie’s supervisor at Dunkin’ Brands, Jaime LeClair-Roy also spoke, and praised Debbie, saying her “hard work and determination resulted in her getting a full time position with our company”, and then turning to Debbie, she said “Thank you Debbie”.

Paul Parravano, the Co-Director of the Office of Government and Community Relations at MIT, was the keynote speaker for this year’s ceremony but was late due to a transportation mishap, he poked fun at his misfortune saying, “I got an Uber bright and early, and it was downhill from there”. In his address Parravano talked of the support provided by his family and assistive technologies that help him through school and his professional career. He praised the interns’ participation in the program and their determination, “A good job is liberating” Parravano said, “You have to decide what you’re good at, what drives you, and you can get a decent living wage with.” He also encouraged the interns to “Draw strength from opposition you’ve had, turn it into a future. Find a way to blossom and shine from belief in yourself.”

Accompanying the internship was a chance for the interns to participate in the Reach for the Stars contest in which they could answer the question “What strategies would you use to change public perception towards people with disabilities, including those who experience blindness?” in any medium they felt most comfortable with. The 1st place winner was Juna Gjata, a senior at Harvard, and the two runner-up winners were; Jennifer Tylock, is a senior at MIT; and Mikayla Kenneway. Gjata and Tylock both chose multimedia approaches to their submissions, Gjata with a podcast, and Tylock with a music video.

At the end of the ceremony, each intern in attendance was honored with a certificate. Each of the interns’ names and internship placements were called to the applause of the crowd.

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