By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO

When 15-year-old Laila Holsendorff realized Google chose her octopus drawing to represent D.C. in the nationwide Doodle 4 Google contest, she buried her face in her hands and cried. She then quickly composed herself to pose for photos at Brookland Middle School.

For three weeks, the eighth grader’s art teacher Maame A-Bawuah, her family and school staffers kept the news top secret. A-Bawuah and Laila’s mom, Karen Holsendorff, even admitted they lied to the teen a couple of times to keep her off track, because she’s just too darn smart.

Laila Holsendorff holds a t-shirt with the Google Doodle that earned her the right to represent the District of Columbia in the national contest. (Photo by Lenore Adkins)

“She’s 15 going on 55,” her mother told the AFRO.

On May 3, when Laila walked into a secret assembly with her fellow eighth graders, ostensibly to learn more about the tech giant, she had no idea what was about to hit her. But she knew something was a little fishy when she spotted her parents and her grandfather, Earl Holsendorff Sr. sitting in the front row, because nobody else’s family was around.

After Google went through a 15-minute video presentation about the company and contest, everyone else realized Laila was the winner with one clue: the winner loves to run — Laila runs for D.C. Speed, the school’s track team.

When the company’s technical recruiter Christian Ramirez announced Laila as the winner, the entire room erupted into cheers and applause. “Oh my gosh,” a shell-shocked Laila said, admitting that she couldn’t stop shaking.

The Doodle 4 Google contest asked contestants to draw whatever inspires them, and A-Bawuah used the contest as a class project.

Laila Holsendorff’s octopus doodle represents the District of Columbia in the Goggle 4 Doodle national contest. (Photo by Lenore Adkins)

Laila loves animals, especially the ones living in the ocean. She’s loved animals ever since she had two pet goldfish when she was in kindergarten.

Laila drew a large, orange octopus just as it’s about to eat. Its tentacles — one of them wrapped around a fish — spell out “Google.” It took several tries over the course of two weeks before she was finally satisfied with her piece.

“It was not turning out what I wanted it to be and I kept trying, I never gave up,” Laila told the AFRO. “And with my dad’s help and my mom, my classmates and my art teacher really pushed me to do better. It really helped me to never give up and to keep trying.”

In the end, seven judges combed through more than 200,000 entries and picked 53 state and U.S. territory finalists. Now it’s up to the public to vote for their favorite drawing from now through May 18.

The national winner receives a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 technology package for their school or nonprofit, a trip to Google’s headquarters and company promotional items.

At the assembly, D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) presented the teen with a resolution from the D.C. Council that recognizes her achievements.

“Listen, this is a huge award, and we are incredibly proud of you,” McDuffie said of the contest. “But what’s clear to me is that I’ve heard about your talent. I’m sure there are going to be tons of awards to come in the future.”

Laila’s design was the only one the school sent. A wind storm shut down the D.C. Public Schools the day the drawings were due to Google. A-Bawuah said she only sent Laila’s because her mother was the only parent who signed the required forms on time.

“This is a big moment in her life, so this is nice,” said Laila’s father, Frederick Holsendorff, who gave his daughter pointers on shading the drawing. “You’ll be able to Google her.”