PORT ORCHARD – Hold on to your hat, because nine-year-old Ilyannie Tuason-Gonzalez has plans. One of them includes becoming President of the United States.
But that will have to wait until this bit of a girl reaches the minimum age of 35 to take the presidential oath. Meanwhile, the little fourth-grader from Port Orchard with big ideas and Maya Angelou’s public speaking skills drops her list of goals and objectives as quickly as she sets them.
Ilyannie, who was a student at Lighthouse Christian School in Gig Harbor, entered and won spelling 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 chose to stay home with Ilyannie and her brother Rohan, 4 – at the House.
The restless girl got bored at home and was looking for “stimulating things to do, something to entertain me since the [coronavirus] started, ”she said. The pandemic prompted the highly intelligent and analytical director to change schools and enroll in the Washington Virtual Academy online program.
The change was 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 explained clearly. “I was surprised because the online school is so advanced and I appreciate it.”
Her next challenge at school was to enter the academy’s K-12 spelling contest.
“I really like tough competitions. And I won, “she said.” After that I took the regional spelling contest in February for all western states, followed by the [spelling bee] nationals – the very first K-12 Stride National Spelling Bee – in Herndon, Virginia, near Washington, DC “
Ilyannie practiced her spelling almost daily for two months with her mother before the national competition. She participated virtually in the competition in May as a representative of the Western States. And – you guessed it – the smart girl won this contest, beating the other contestants by correctly spelling the words “gringly” and “mutate”.
“She was the youngest student to participate in the K-12 spelling contest. That’s why we were so proud of her, ”said the beaming mom. Still, said Roannie Tuason-Gonzalez, her daughter wished the competition was a bit tougher and hoped to compete with older students at a higher level.
Coping with a loss
Ilyannie also hoped to get away from what was likely 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 to her distraught family.
“My grandfather passed away in the midst of the pandemic, so I wanted to comfort my family during this difficult time,” said the articulate and wise child beyond his years. “So I decided to write a book about someone who was young and strong to inspire kids like me.”
Here is the dedication she wrote in honor of her grandfather:
“Grandpa, I still remember the first story you told me about an elephant, you called it Elephanta. I remember how you smile every time I sing, say a speech or write a story. I remember you telling mom that I’m like you every time you’re so proud of me. I remember every memory of you. I will do my best to make you proud. I’m like you! I love you grandpa. This book is for you.
Author of a book at the age of 7? A challenge certainly, but not an insurmountable one for the intrepid and curious girl who, unsurprisingly, finds that writing comes easily to her. Lover of words and language, she began to write at the age of 2, says her mother.
“I used to make short, simple stories for my family to read,” the girl said. “At first it was just picture books and word games.”
But with the pandemic in full swing and free time in abundance, Ilyannie decided to write a book “about someone who was young and strong to inspire young children like me.” What happened was the creation of a book called “Pumpkin” on a little Arabian horse that “learns the value of courage, strength and friendship” through his relationship with two children, as described in the notes on the Amazon page of the book.
Not only did Ilyannie write the book in a matter of days, but she also colored the illustrations. But unlike writing the content, which was relatively easy for her, she found the painting aspect of the image more difficult.
“My aunt’s friend illustrated the book and I had to color it. But it was difficult because sometimes I was frustrated with my job or my family had different opinions about it. But it all finally fell into place. ”
A second book to come
Another book is in the works, the young author said on Monday by telephone. It will be the sequel to Pumpkin’s adventures, she said, only this time written in novel form. Ilyannie said she also enjoys reading other people’s works, including her current reading, “Gulliver’s Travels”. His favorite books so far include those from the popular “Harry Potter” series.
She is also an excellent director in other projects. The girl won a math Olympiad and was recognized with top honors by Johns Hopkins University after passing the educational institution’s Center for Talented Youth exam. She is now taking enrichment classes at university and will be on her program once the pandemic subsides. Meanwhile, the Washington Virtual Academy is tailoring its school curriculum to suit her academic abilities, Ilyannie’s mother said.
But don’t think this young prodigy is a literary one-trick pony. While she’s definitely a bookworm, Ilyannie said she might as well be outside catching butterflies, biking, gardening, or “just hanging out with my family.” Or work hard to master Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the piano.
So, what future for this interesting and curious youngster? It will most likely be in the field of medicine. Her father, after all, is a doctor and psychiatrist at the Everett Clinic.
However, there is no urgent need to decide since she is 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 love to do,” she said, only stopping briefly. “I am thinking of becoming a cardiologist or a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Then another pause. “I actually 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 is possible.” Then she chuckled.
And like any smart politician, Ilyannie ended the interview with a final message to the children: “Keep going, be strong, and it’s never too early to make your dreams come true.