Her recent crowning as Miss Oregon Teen, she insists, is simply a small slice of her fast-paced and exuberant life.
Kelli, a recent Pendleton High School graduate, speaks the truth. Most of us would grow weary simply reading her resume. In high school, she played volleyball, ran track, danced, held office, sang and volunteered – all while building a 4.3 grade-point average.
Kelli’s foray into the pageant world gives a glimpse into the teenager’s power-packed spirit and her zest for achievement.
Her first pageant at age 15 was a bit of a fluke. When an invitation to the Miss Oregon Junior Teen came in the mail, she dismissed it as ostentatious and narcissistic. The more she thought about it, however, the idea grew in appeal as a way to strengthen her communications skills. The challenge was getting her parents, Dr. John and Debbie McBee, to agree.
“I begged and pleaded with my parents, who politely said no,” she said.
Debbie McBee confessed her image of pageants was of a glitzy skin-deep focus on glamor, little girls wearing heavy makeup. Kelli, however, saw more than the glam. She championed the competition as a confidence builder, a way to hone speaking ability.
“In the end we decided to let her give it a try,” Debbie said.
Finally, with her parents’ reluctant blessing, Kelli practiced walking gracefully, using the family’s gravel driveway as a catwalk. She videotaped herself and practiced looking poised in front of the mirror. She had her family pepper her with questions and used her Golden Retriever as an audience for her introductory remarks.
Kelli surprised everyone at that first pageant by winning both the title and a shot at nationals. This spring, she did it again, this time as Miss Oregon Teen. She represented Oregon at nationals in Anaheim, Calif., this past November.
Her father served as her escort during the formal wear competition. As they waited in the wings, he cracked jokes to keep her calm.
On the last night of the pageant, judges identified ten finalists by handing them roses. Rose in hand, Kelli forced herself to keep smiling during the next portion of the program which “took an eternity,” amid soap bubbles and musical numbers. As the crown was finally placed on her head, relieved joy washed over her.
“I was overwhelmed with happiness,” Kelli said. “Of course, I cried.”
The announcer also revealed winners of sub-competitions. Kelli won or was runner-up in several, but none meant more than winning first runner-up for the volunteer service award. Calling herself a firm believer in the power of service, the teen said she loves to dream up and carry out community projects.
She created “Diplomas Matter,” a drop-out prevention program for at-risk eighth graders. Kelli and several other students visit with middle school students about their passions and what types of careers they could consider.
Kelli also started “Birthday Bags for Foster Kids,” after reading an East Oregonian story about increasing numbers of foster children. She collected hundreds of gift items, wrapped them and placed them in bags to distribute to foster kids on their birthdays.
Currently, she is conducting a book drive for soldiers.
“She’s one of our legends,” said Vickie Read, a PHS counselor. “…When she does something, it’s always going to impact other people. At her young age, she is truly a humanitarian.”
Kelli quotes Mac Anderson who said, “People are like sticks of dynamite – the power’s on the inside, but nothing happens until the fuse gets lit.”
“I am a big dreamer,” she says, “and my fuse has been lit.”
Kelli is currently studying communications and public relations at Boston College.
Credit: By KATHY ANEY, The East Oregonian