Although Kiana Knolland was named Youth of the Year, Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s representative Meeri Shin is not leaving the experience empty-handed.
“It has just made me grow as a person. It has made me more developed,” Shin said of her experience in D.C. “It has made me really aware there is always someone watching what you are doing.”
Shin was one of six finalists to rise through the Youth of the Year ranks and compete for the national honors in D.C. Monday.
She described everything as a steady blur of events.
It also may have been one of the most stressful weeks of her life and not because of the competition.
“I almost missed my flights three times,” Shin recalled. “We were running late for every connecting flight.”
A cold robbed Shin of her voice one of the days. Being sick was the main aspect of the competition Shin said she wished she could change.
All six contestants had an opportunity to bond Friday through Sunday. Their activities began with a visit to the adult arcade Dave and Busters before Saturday’s media training day. Sunday found the contestants posing both side-by-side and alone for a large photo shoot.
Charlie Sutton, BGCC executive director, Wyatt Bevis, George Johnson Teen Unit director and Shane Lawson accompanied Shin to D.C. They were there to offer moral and professional support as Shin took on the competition.
The official competition was held Monday with Shin and the other contestants presenting their speeches. Individual interviews were held with the judges as well.
Those competing with Shin were Jessee Friedman, Midwest Region; Yossymar Rojas, Pacific Region; Kiana Knolland, Southwest Region; Martaluz “Martha” Olang, Northeast Region; and RaShaan Allen, Military Youth of the Year.
Each had an opportunity to share their stories.
Youth of the Year winner Knolland had, “a childhood peppered with injustice,” as told by the BGCA official website. She rose above her circumstances with the help of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas.
According to her Youth of the Year biography, “As a sophomore, she took the initiative to ensure a quality education when she applied for and received a full scholarship to a local private school. Kiana’s drive led to mentoring by the local district attorney and an internship with one of Kansas’ largest law firms.”
She became a member of the club at age 5.
The organization constantly reminded the contestants everyone is a winner. Shin said the contestants had a hard time accepting the phrase. After all, each of the six contestants was fighting to become the Youth of the Year winner.
Shin made sure to keep her initial goal for the competition in mind.
“I just wanted to have fun when I came here and I did. I accomplished my job,” Shin said. “None of us were upset when they announced Kiana as the Youth of the Year.”
Shin explained she will not be going home empty-handed. Every contestant received gifts, like a new Kindle Fire, business cards from top businessmen and political leaders, and several scholarships.
All six contestants were kept running on Tuesday as the judges debated over who to choose. Each met their congressional representatives and had their pictures taken with them. They also had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama.
Shin described the experience as surreal.
“We were all standing in a darkened hallway and then the Oval Office door opened and there he was,” Shin said of the initial meeting.
Tuesday night found the young competitors socializing with a variety of leaders from Hollywood to the White House.
When asked her favorite memory from the competition, Shin chose being introduced at the gala by Condoleezza Rice. She even had the opportunity to speak with her hero for several minutes prior to the introduction.
Shin will soon be flying back to Berkeley University in California.
“I am relieved,” Shin said of the competition being over. “I am excited to get back to school so I can catch up with my homework.”
Added Shin, “I am happy I came. I got to talk to a lot of incredible people.”