Distinguished Young Women: Not Just Another Pageant


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Started in 1958, the America’s Junior Miss program began in Mobile, Alabama as what can best be described as a scholarship pageant, with just 18 states represented. By 1961, all 50 states began to participate in the program.

The program focused less on the ideals of a typical beauty pageant, and instead focused on the traits that would become the five platforms of the program’s motto, “Be your best self:” be healthy, ambitious, involved, responsible, and studious.

In 2010, America’s Junior Miss program was retitled as Distinguished Young Women of America, to better reflect the program’s goals and values.

The Distinguished Young Women of America program is centered on the competition that takes place annually in Mobile, Ala., with each state holding its own programs that send one young woman in her senior year of high school to the national competition.

At this competition, participants from each of the 50 states participate in a two-week experience focused on community service, character building, and preparing for the final program, where participants will compete for almost $120,000 in scholarships for higher education.

The Distinguished Young Women competition consists of five judged categories: scholastics, interview, talent, self-expression, and fitness.

The scholastics portion is a review of an individual’s grades and standardized test scores and is based on multiple factors besides just grade point average.

The interview consists of a ten minute personal interview with five judges, with question topics ranging from personal experiences to international current events.

The talent portion exhibits participants technical skill, and each participant is given just 90 seconds to show her skill, whether it be singing, playing an instrument, dancing, or any other performance art.

Self-expression evaluates participant’s poise, grace under pressure, and ability to answer an impromptu question on stage.

Finally, fitness evaluates the stamina, form, and tone of participants in a physically challenging routine.

My experience with Distinguished Young Women began in the summer of 2014, which took place after my junior year of high school. For two weeks, three of my classmates and I prepared for each of the judged categories, practicing our talents, interview questions, and the choreography for the self-expression and fitness categories.

The participant with the most points overall would win the title of Ivanhoe’s Distinguished Young Women, a scholarship, and would continue on to the Minnesota Distinguished Young Women competition.

I was selected to represent my community on the state level, a competition that would take place in the spring of my senior year.

During the first week of March 2015, the Minnesota Distinguished Young Women Program was held. This program was far different from my local program, as we participants did much of the preparation beforehand.

Besides myself, there were only four other participants, one of which had also come from the Distinguished Young Women of Ivanhoe program.

While the Minnesota program was once far larger, local programs have dwindled to only two communities statewide that routinely send young women to the state program. Two of the participants had previously competed in a program called At-Large, and had prepared for the program in just a weekend.

Although the program was held on Saturday, March 7, we spent a full week participating in community service and attending rehearsal for the final program, as well as visiting sites around the Twin Cities area, such as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the St. Paul Cathedral.

The other four participants and I had a lot of time to get to know each other, and over the course of the week we learned each other’s history, talents and quirks. The incredible thing about the Distinguished Young Women of Minnesota program is that as the judged program grew closer and closer, I felt less and less that the program was a competition.

On the night of the final program, the five of us showed each other more encouragement and reassurance than I had ever thought could come from people I had only known a week.

The final program went by in a blur. I was amazed at how little time seemed to have passed between the opening number and the beginning of the awards presentation.

As I stood in a close line with the young women I had gotten to know so well, I felt regret that the program closed with awards that couldn’t even begin to encompass the talent, ambition, and personality that these women had. At the beginning of the week, our program coordinator had told us that the judges would, “pick a representative from a group of winners, not a winner from a group of representatives.”

Although this was definitely true, when I received the title and scholarship award of the Distinguished Young Women of Minnesota, the surprise and pride I felt was touched with sadness that the other participants wouldn’t receive the same recognition.

This being said, I feel grateful and honored to represent the state of Minnesota at the National Distinguished Young Women program in Mobile, Ala., taking place June 25-27. Receiving this title has returned me again to the question of how I can best live out Distinguished Young Women’s motto: “Be your best self.”

Although many observers of the program tend to focus on the competition, this motto is exactly what it means to be a Distinguished Young Women. As my experience with the program comes to its finale, I encourage other young women to become involved in the program, where they too can compete for scholarships and learn what it means to be their best self.

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