So I didn’t win the scholarship,” Keondra Pierre figures. “I can still attend the ceremony. I can cheer for the student who did.”
So off to the Broward County Convention Center she goes. Keondra, a 16-year-old Hollywood Hills High junior, was one of 37 South Florida students vying for the annual Youth Achiever award. The four-year scholarship to Florida State University, sponsored by JM Family Enterprises, goes to an African-American student who has overcome obstacles to succeed.
Keondra, who made A’s this year in computer programming, chemistry, French and advanced music, was nominated by a teacher who admired her school spirit. She is section leader and treasurer of the Hills Marching Band. Serves on the Student Council. Was named Miss Junior by her classmates.
Write an essay about your life, teacher Angela Bastian urged.
“This is hardest to write about,” Keondra writes, after detailing her achievements. “I live with my mother, a single parent, unemployed and raising five children alone. I have an older and younger brother. We also have with us twin cousins, whom my mother took in after their mother died.
“We have moved from house to house since I can remember. Some of the places have been awful. But we are on Section 8, and must live where they will accept us. I have stayed up late, worrying if the rats have gotten our food, or are coming after me. I worry if someone has broken into our house while I am at school, and taken what little we have. My mother tells us not to worry, because no matter what they take from us, we will still have each other and be together.”
“I work almost every day to help my family. Sometimes I feel I’m living the life of an adult, instead of the teenage life I should be living. At night I cry, thinking of the things that have happened, things I haven’t even told my mom about. It seems that even people we trust don’t always protect us. But I don’t want anyone to get mad at me, or stop loving me. I am proud of myself for not letting this hold me back.”
Keondra did not win the scholarship. Still, she wants to attend the ceremony. “You won’t be upset?” her teacher asks.
“That’s not me,” Keondra replies. “That’s not good sportsmanship.”
Now, at the ceremony, her lips form a small ‘o’ as the accomplishments of the winner, 18-year-old Angela McPherson of Pahokee Middle Senior High, are rattled off:
Legally blind. National Honor Society. National Outstanding Cadet of the Year, Air Force Junior ROTC. Recognized for excellence in the Science and Technology Summer Program at Florida Atlantic University. Plans to study zoology and architecture.
“Oh my,” Keondra whispers to her Aunt Annette, beside her. “She deserves it.”
“That young lady never gives up,” Annette Pugh whispers back, nodding. “That’s the key.”
Keondra is first on her feet, claps loudest for the persevering, deserving Angela McPherson. So happy is she for the Pahokee student, in fact, that she nearly misses hearing Kathy Eggleston, of JM Family, tell the audience she has a surprise.
That The Rale Foundation, of Hillsboro Beach, Fla., sent good wishes, as well as $2,500. That it will go toward college for the runner-up, Keondra Pierre.
Me? Keondra’s bottom lip trembles, her lashes flutter. To unrelenting applause, Aunt Annette and teacher Angela Bastian push her forward. JM Family Chairman Jim Moran kisses her forehead; his wife, Jan, gathers her into her arms.
“Like I said,” Aunt Annette says, with a wink. “Never give up.”
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