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Wichita teen’s Boys & Girls Clubs award provides life-changing experiences

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, at 7:31 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at 6:23 a.m.

Kiana Knolland’s freshman year at Howard University in Washington, D.C., has been a bit atypical.

Granted, there have been a few moments when she’s been homesick.

But she’s met a few new people since she left Wichita on Aug. 15.

In the past month, she’s chatted with President Obama in the Oval Office and has met Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, both former Secretaries of State.

On Monday, she will get to meet singer Gladys Knight and hear her perform.

And on Saturday? Wichitans will get to see her along with an estimated 10 million to 20 million other people when she delivers the ball at the pitcher’s mound of Game 3 of the World Series in St. Louis.

They’ll also catch glimpses of her when, in the coming days and weeks, she makes guest appearances on the “Today” show and talks with Oprah Winfrey.

Last month, Knolland was named the national Boys & Girls Clubs of America Youth of the Year. On Sept. 18, when she was named the recipient of the award, she received $60,000 in college scholarship funds from Tupperware Brands, the official sponsor of Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

She is “now a rock star,” as Jeff Jacobs, chief professional officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas in Wichita, says.

“I’m really excited to deliver the ball,” Knolland said Sunday and confessed she was a bit worried and had a few nervous jitters when she learned that as the organization’s new teen spokeswoman, she would be appearing at the World Series. “I don’t know how to play baseball. But I just put the ball on the mound and wave.”

The 18-year-old joined the Boys & Girls Clubs when she was 5.

“She was the daughter of a single mom who adopted her,” Jacobs said. “She is remarkable. She’s the finest young person I’ve ever met. She’s overcome all the challenges that have faced her. She’s embraced our staff and programs and guidance and just ran with it. On a national level, she is getting a lot of attention. I don’t think Wichita yet understands the magnitude of what she’s faced with. It’s kind of like winning Miss America.”

The president told her to keep striving for greatness.

She will. Her goal is to become a federal prosecutor and work up the ladder.

“I want to be the first female African-American Supreme Court justice,” she said Sunday.

In the meantime, there are moments when the experiences of the past month have been overwhelming.

“I look at the pictures almost every day and think, ‘Wow, this really happened.’ ”

She tells people she’s from Kansas.

“They think it is in the middle of nowhere. I tell them it’s great,” she said.

She also tells people to not let obstacles define their lives.

“Whenever you have a problem, you have to keep pushing forward. I believe I can accomplish anything through determination and faith. God has been with me every step of the way.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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