Makenzie Kirstein finished high school with near-perfect grades, is already enrolled in college, has a clear idea of what’s in store for her future, and the means to get there are within reach.
But Kirstein, 19, is no stranger to adversity, and it came in the form of a blessing two days after she finished classes and gave birth to her son, Coen.
Coen was born on time, but not without incident. The newborn spent 18 minutes without oxygen, then eight days in the neonatal intensive care unit at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
As Kirstein wrapped up her high school classes, earning her diploma was a high priority, but her focus bore two weights, as Coen’s birth delivered her a sizable slice of reality.
“Anything (can) happen,” Kirstein said. “Anything can get taken from you at any time.”
Kirstein, who finished classes in December, enrolled at Three Springs High School, after having previously dropped out, to finish up the six courses she needed to graduate and go to beauty school. She’s enrolled at the International Beauty Education Center in Airway Heights.
Kirstein’s past was laden with delinquency, juvenile detention and drug abuse, which resulted in her bouncing from one family member to the next.
“My sister didn’t want to talk to me, everyone was upset with me,” she said. “I decided I needed to get clean so I decided to move in with (a friend) and get clean.
“I was like ‘Why am I doing this,’ ‘This is so hard,’ ‘I don’t want to have to deal with all of this,’ ‘I’m just going to go back to it,’ but I decided not to because I had a family that I wanted to get back in touch with.”
But it was her decision to get clean as a 16-year-old that set the stage for a change in trajectory. She then moved to Spokane and in with Amanda Meirndorf, a family friend who’s become like a mother.
“It was a really rocky road and it was a hard road for us to get Kenzie where she is right now,” Meirndorf said. “So it’s been pretty amazing to see that she gets to be valedictorian of her class and is being rewarded for all of her hard work.”
By graduation she will be a licensed manicurist. Afterward, the cosmetology program, then the esthetician and master’s esthetician gantlet, until finally she will earn an instructor license, in hope of owning her own salon.
Kirstein has a jump-start on beauty school and plans to move into her own apartment with her 4-month-old baby, catapulting her into the real world. But she has one last thing: graduation.
Kirstein admits she would not have wanted to attend her own graduation.
But Kirstein’s decision to attend was made easy for her after receiving a call from the Three Springs High School principal’s office. She had been named valedictorian.
“I was actually shocked,” Kirstein said. “Why the heck would anybody choose me to be valedictorian?”
Nowadays, Kirstein lives a life not many her age can relate to. She spends Tuesdays through Saturdays in classes at IBEC, Sundays with Coen and Monday is saved for his doctor’s appointments.
For Kirstein, it’s the “tummy time” she cherishes with her son now, and as she looks toward their future, he shapes her goals and aspirations.
“I want to make sure he has a stable home,” she said. “I’m going to do everything I can to have that. Hopefully teach him from my mistakes.”
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