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Wichita teen wins national award, honored at White House

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013, at 6:36 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at 6:23 a.m.

— Kiana Knolland of Wichita is a freshman at Howard University in Washington who one day hopes to become a federal prosecutor.

On Wednesday, she got a chance to tell the president of the United States of her ambition.

“He said, ‘That’s great,’ ” Knolland said moments after her Oval Office visit with President Barack Obama.

“It was an amazing moment. He was easy-going and laid back, and if you had any nervousness, he made you feel relaxed.”

Wednesday morning, Knolland found out she had won the annual “Youth of the Year” award from Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The award recognizes young people who have remarkable stories of triumph, academic success and community leadership.

Knolland is now the Boys & Girls Clubs’ national teen spokeswoman, advocating on behalf of its 4 million members. She will receive more than $60,000 in college scholarship funds from Tupperware Brands, the national sponsor of the initiative.

Knolland, 18, joined the Boys & Girls Clubs when she was 5. Adopted into a single-parent home, she said the Boys & Girls Club helped her grow up and develop a sense of right and wrong. She said it also helped her develop valuable life skills.

She said she knew from age 9 that she wanted to be an attorney. She graduated from Wichita Collegiate School in May and completed an internship this year Foulston Siefkin, a Wichita law firm.

At Howard, she’s majoring in public relations with a minor in political science. And even though she’s been out of school for a couple days for events surrounding the award and White House visit, she’s hopeful her professors will cut her some slack for any absences.

Knolland visited the White House with five other students who had advanced to the top levels of the annual youth of the year competition. She said the Oval Office meeting lasted about 15 minutes, and the students introduced themselves and told Obama of their goals.

“That was an amazing opportunity,” she said. “It was such a breathtaking experience.”

Before coming to college, Knolland had only visited Washington once, during a spring break trip in her senior year of high school. That’s when she checked out Howard and “fell in love with the area.”

“I feel like I’m right in the political arena,” she said.

Her mother joined her in Washington to attend some of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ events. But she was not able to accompany her into the Oval Office.

Knolland did, however, buy her mother a Christmas ornament from the White House gift shop.

“It’s been a really crazy day,” she said.

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