Originally published in Kitsap Daily News - September 23, 2021
Hold on to your hat, because nine-year-old Ilyannie Tuason-Gonzalez has plans. One of which includes becoming President of the United States.
But that will have to wait until this wisp of a girl reaches the minimum age of 35 in order to take the presidential Oath of Office. In the meantime, the little Port Orchard fourth-grader with big ideas and the oratory skills of Maya Angelou is knocking down her goals and objectives list about as quickly as she sets them.
Ilyannie, who was a student at Lighthouse Christian School in Gig Harbor, participated in — and won — spelling bee competitions for two consecutive years. Then came the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting shutdown that confined her family — which includes mother Roannie Tuason-Gonzalez, a pharmacist who elected to stay at home with Ilyannie and her 4-year-old brother Rohan — at home.
The restless girl found herself bored at home and looking for “challenging things to do, something to entertain me since the [coronavirus] started,” she said. The pandemic prompted the highly intelligent, analytical achiever to switch schools and enroll at Washington Virtual Academy’s online program.
The change has been a success, mom and daughter volunteered. “We just wanted to try it out and see if it would work instead of going to a brick-and-mortar school,” Ilyannie articulately explained. “I was surprised because the online school is very advanced and I am enjoying it.”
Her next challenge at the school was to take part in the academy program’s K12 spelling bee competition.
“I really like challenging competition. And I won,” she said. “After that, I moved on to the regional spelling bee in February for all the western states, which was then followed by the [spelling bee] nationals — the first-ever K12 Stride National Spelling Bee — at Herndon, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.”
Ilyannie practiced her spelling skills nearly every day for two months with her mother before the nationals competition. She participated virtually at the competition in May as the representative from the western states. And — you guessed it — the whip-smart girl won that contest, defeating the other contestants by correctly spelling the words “gratingly” and “mutate.”
“She was the youngest student to participate in the K-12 spelling bee. That’s why we were so proud of her,” the beaming mom said. Still, Roannie Tuason-Gonzalez said, her daughter wished the competition had been a little more strenuous and had hoped to compete against older students at a higher level.
Coping with a loss
Ilyannie also hoped to take her mind off what likely was her first tragedy — the loss of her grandfather, who succumbed to the deadly COVID-19 virus. And she wanted to somehow bring a sense of calm over her distraught family.
“My grandpa passed away in the middle of the pandemic, so I wanted to comfort my family in this harsh time,” the articulate, wise-beyond-her-years child said. “So I decided to write a book about somebody who was young and strong to inspire children like me.”
Here’s the dedication she wrote in honor of her grandfather:
”Grandpa, I still remember the first story you told me about an elephant, you named her Elephanta. I remember how you smile every time I sing, recite a speech or write a story. I remember you told Mama that I am like you whenever you are so proud of me. I remember every memory of you. I will do my best to make you proud. I am like you! I love you Grandpa. This book is for you.”
Authoring a book at the age of 7? Certainly a challenge, but not insurmountable for the fearless, inquisitive girl who, not surprisingly, finds that writing comes easily to her. A lover of words and language, she first started writing at the age of 2, her mother said.
“I used to do short, simple stories to read to my family,” the young girl said. “First it was just picture books and word games.”
But with the pandemic in full swing and spare time in abundance, Ilyannie decided to write a book “about somebody who was young and strong to inspire young children like me.” What transpired was the creation of a book titled “Pumpkin” about a little Arabian horse that “learns the value of courage, strength and friendship” through her connection with two children, as described in the book’s Amazon page liner notes.
Not only did Ilyannie write the book in a matter of days, she also colored the illustrations. But unlike authoring the contents, which came relatively easy for her, she found the picture painting aspect more difficult.
“My aunt’s friend illustrated the book and I got to color it. But it was challenging because sometimes I got frustrated with my work or my family had different opinions about it. But it all came together in the end.”
A second book coming
Another book is in the works, the youthful author said by telephone on Monday. It will be a continuation of Pumpkin’s adventures, she said, only this time written in the form of a novel. Ilyannie said she also enjoys reading works by others, including her current read, “Gulliver’s Travels.” Her favorite books so far include those from the popular “Harry Potter” series.
She’s also a top-drawer achiever in other endeavors. The young girl has won a mathematics Olympiad and was recognized with high honors from Johns Hopkins University after taking the educational institution’s Center for Talented Youth exam. She’s now taking enrichment classes through the university and will be enrolled in its program once the pandemic ebbs. Meanwhile, Washington Virtual Academy is tailoring her school curriculum to match her academic ability, Ilyannie’s mother said.
But don’t think this young prodigy is a one-trick literary pony. While she’s definitely a bookworm, Ilyannie said she just as easily could be outdoors enjoying catching butterflies, riding her bike, gardening or “just spending time with my family.” Or working hard to master Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the piano.
So what does the future hold for this interesting and inquisitive youngster? Most likely it will involve the field of medicine. Her father, after all, is a physician and psychiatrist at the Everett Clinic.
Still, there’s no urgency to decide since she’s in elementary school. But don’t forget. Ilyannie is a planner.
“Well, I’m still thinking about it, but there are some things I would like to do,” she said, pausing only briefly. “I’m thinking about becoming a cardiologist or a cardiothoracic surgeon.”
Then another pause. “Actually, I want to be a POTUS when I grow up.” When asked to clarify, she said, “I want to be President of the United States … it’s possible.” Then she giggled.
And like every smart politician, Ilyannie ended the interview with a final message directed to children: “Keep going, be strong, and it’s never too early to fulfill your dreams.”
To learn more about Washington Virtual Academies, visit wava.k12.com