Shortly after moving to Bellingham and entering Squalicum High School, Keandra McDonald was elected vice president of the freshman class last fall.
Two years earlier, she was the only girl participating in a Little League baseball program in Hawaii.
Such spunk explains much about how McDonald recently earned top five honors in the U.S. Coast Guard branch of the national Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year competition. The competition began with thousands of nominees among children of members of the five branches of the U.S. military.
Stacy McDonald-Flores and Christopher Flores, a career Coast Guard member stationed in Bellingham, are her parents. She's their only child.
The Coast Guard winner, announced March 5, was Amanda Wimmersberg, 18, of New Jersey.
Question: Keandra, what was your reaction to making the top five?
Keandra: I didn't know I had been nominated until my mom told me. The family that nominated me lives on Guam (where she lived before moving to Bellingham). Two years ago I made the top 20, but I was surprised and shocked to make top five. I found out on Dad's birthday (Feb. 15).
Stacy: Keandra had a lot of people on Guam rooting for her. While we were waiting for Chris to get new orders, we returned to our homeland on Guam. One of the things they look at is how the children of service members cope with their parent's deployment, because it can be so hard.
Q: How did you get to know your fellow students so quickly?
Stacy: Here's what Christina Stevens (freshman class adviser at Squalicum) wrote about Keandra: "(She had) the best campaign I have ever seen a student pull off ... with incredible posters and an outstanding speech. ... 'Wow' is all I can say after writing all I have seen Keandra do in such a short time. I cannot wait to see all she has yet to accomplish."
Q: Keandra, will you stay at Squalicum all four years?
Keandra: Yes. I'm so happy that (Christopher) will be stationed here while I'm in high school. Squalicum is my eighth school!
I love being involved at Squalicum (in Future Business Leaders of America, among several clubs). I'm planning to run for junior class president and student body president as a senior; you can only run for office three of your four years.
Q: How hard was it for Keandra to cope with Christopher being gone for so long before you received orders to Bellingham?
Stacy: She had never experienced this living arrangement before and she feared it was going to tear our family apart. ... Keandra's resiliency kicked into high gear and that strength of character she's best known for emerged.
She demonstrated acceptance, confidence, courage, responsibility and independence in her daily life, in school and in the community. She turned all her emotions toward positive things to focus on.
Keandra: I've spent a lot of time volunteering with both senior citizens and little kids.
Q: Keandra, do you already have a career in mind?
Keandra: I want to attend college and I'm considering becoming a veterinarian.
Q: Chris, what's your reaction to Keandra's honor?
Christopher: I'm so very proud of all of her accomplishments and how she has taken me being away for so long. I don't know many kids who could take it as well as she has.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.