Last month, the nation rallied behind 14-year-old Ahmed Muhamed after he was arrested when school officials mistook his science project (a digital clock he'd built from a pencil case) as a bomb. The story closely mirrored that of Kiera Wilmot, a Florida teen who was arrested two years ago after conducting a volcano science project in her Polk County high-school hallway. Except unlike Muhamed — who was later extended offers to visit MIT and Harvard — Wilmot had to complete her junior year at an alternative school, was repeatedly called a terrorist by other students, and was worried the felony arrest would prevent her from going to college.
People were saddened to learn how little support Wilmot had received. When they heard Muhamed had been invited to the White House's second-annual Astronomy Night, where leaders in the sciences speak to students, many took to social media to try to get Wilmot an invitation too. Someone even started a White House petition.
It worked. Last night, Kiera Wilmot, now 19 and a college sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, attended Astronomy Night. She stargazed on the White House lawn and even met Muhamed.
“Ahmed was like, 'You're the Florida teen!' and I was like, 'You're Amed!'” Wilmot recalls. “I wish I could've talked to him more.”
Wilmot was flattered that so many people remembered her story and supported her. Regardless of her invitation, she says she was never bitter about what happened. “It’s scary, but he has a lot of support,” Wilmot told New Times last month after Muhamed's arrest. “He is two years younger than I was when that happened, so he needs it, and I’m glad everyone is supporting him. But I wish I had all the support that Ahmed has.”
Wilmot thanks the Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights organization, for fighting for her invitation to Astronomy Night. She attended with her twin sister, Kayla, and her mother, Marie Wilmot.
Wilmot's favorite part was seeing closeup images of Mars through a high-tech telescope. “I kept imagining what it would be like to be one of those people working on projects to launch humans to Mars,” Wilmot says. “It was amazing.”
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Her mother adds, “It felt like being in a movie... It was just amazing, a legendary honor.”
Soon, Wilmot will return to Florida Polytechnic University to finish the fall semester of her sophomore year. Eventually, she wants to join the U.S. Air Force and one day work for NASA — the same dream Muhamed has. In her spare time, she plans to raise awareness about her experience and prevent anyone else from being arrested for being curious about science.
”I am a woman of color who was pushed out of school,” she says.