Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One Decade of Distinguished Young Women - by Amanda

Amanda Wineman is a student at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama majoring in Political Science with a minor in French. Originally from Cut Bank, Montana, Amanda was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Montana for 2011. Learn more about Amanda here!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

And They Lived Happily Ever After - by Jacky

That’s how fairy tales are supposed to end, right? At least, that’s what I thought. I grew up watching the Disney princesses, like most other little girls, and hearing fairy tales that concluded in this manner. At the end of the story we are left with this statement and are somehow satisfied with it. These six little words could quite possibly be the most disappointing conclusion ever, and yet they have cemented themselves irreversibly into the cultural vocab. I use them myself, in fact, my Pinterest wedding board (come on, I’m sure you have one too) is entitled this very phrase. Why are we so satisfied with some greater power out there in the cosmic Disney/fairytale universe pulling the strings so that every story ends in the same way.  Everyone is always happy. And it’s always for ALWAYS.

I was never the kid who settled for the ending. I always wanted to know what happened next, and don’t even get me started on “cliff-hangers”. All I ever wanted to know was what happens after ‘ever after’? Is Cinderella happy when Prince Charming has his guy friends over for a SuperBowl party at the palace (and trust me, those boys probably don’t have a midnight curfew) and trashes the ballroom? What about when Jasmine notices Aladdin tracked a ton of mud across all the carpets? How about when Philip misses his date with Aurora because he took a nap? And I’m sure that Ariel won’t be feeling too delighted when Eric neglects that it’s his turn to pick the kids up from swimming lessons… Get the picture?

Our lives, like fairytales, continue to go on whether or not people are there to see it. Each new experience that we have and adventure that we take will bring new relationships (not just the romantic kind) into our lives. And, unfortunately, some of those relationships will end. Friends will drift apart as their interests change, or simply the separation of distance and time will change a friendship. Often times we say goodbye to people, and sometimes we come to understand we may never see those people again. Distinguished Young Women was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The entire experience has had an incredible impact on the young woman I have become, and the woman I hope someday to be. Though it saddens me to say, I know that I may never see some of the girls I came to know over those two weeks again. And I know that I will never see all 50 of us together. This is a heavy thought to cope with, and unfortunately, a reality that doesn’t just apply to Distinguished Young Women Nationals, but to many of the endings in our lives.

Performing as a "Has Been" at Community Night for Distinguished Young Women National Finals this year!

This is not meant to be depressing, but rather I would like to share how I have come to understand the meaning of living “happily ever after.” Life stops for no one. Time does not slow down. Every second in our future soon becomes our past. As the saying goes “every day is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present”. I will not tell you that every moment of every day will be happy. In fact, I can promise you the opposite. There will disappointments and letdowns. There will be obstacles and many, many, many bumps in the road. Sometimes you’ll feel angry, sometimes heartbroken, and other times you won’t be able to feel anything at all. My two beautiful sisters Katye Brock and Kinsey Crow have already referenced a verse from the same chapter, now I will use Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

Just like the unchanging seasons, transitioning from fall, to winter, to spring, and to summer, only to begin the cycle again, the pattern of life is no different. We will rise to new heights and accomplishments, to new levels of happiness, love, and fulfillment, only to plummet to lows of disappointment, hurt, and sadness. But just as I promised that those valleys would appear from time to time, I will make you another promise. I will promise you that after those valleys you will rise again. Things will always get better, and nothing is permanent except the very fact that nothing is permanent!  “Happily ever after” is not a promise that everything will always be awesome all the time, but rather an encouragement to view happiness as a cumulative, rather than incidental, outlook on your life.

So thank you. Thank you to my family and friends for setting me on the right course. Thank you to my Distinguished Young Women sisters for truly becoming family and inspiring me with your integrity, intelligence, talent, and love. And thank you Distinguished Young Women for being a beacon for young women brimming with potential in a broken world that is constantly trying to tell us that we are inadequate. Go out there and take on the world my friends.

God Bless, and I hope you ALL live happily ever after. I know that I plan to!

Jacky Arness is a student at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota majoring in Political Science/International Relations with a minor in Theatre Arts. Originally from Fargo, North Dakota, Jacky was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Dakota for 2011. Learn more about Jacky here!

Distinguished Always - by Sydney

First off, I would like to give a huge thank you to all the wonderful people that are a part of Distinguished Young Women, special shout out to Bob McClory, my Fabulous Fenton Family, and of course all of Mobile, and the gracious hospitality I was lucky enough to receive while there for National Finals last summer.

I will be honest, I am a very busy person! I will be playing two college sports and taking 16 credits next semester, my only sister is getting married next month, and I have spent my summer working three jobs, including interning in Alaska’s Governor’s Office. A day in the life of a has-been right?

However, despite my chaotic lie, there isn’t one day that I don’t think of my experiences as the Distinguished Young Woman of Alaska for 2011. It was an absolute honor to represent my state, and it truly is a life changing experience. The title will stick with me for the rest of my life, and I am proud of it.

Often, if I am nervous about something, or feel-ill prepared, I think to myself “If you can dance in the front row at National Finals in heels, you can do this!”  (I had to be front row, darn alphabetical order. AND I had no dance experience before Distinguished Young Women) Or, if I feel the jitters before a college presentation, I remember that I won interview at the state and national levels.
Now is my time to pass on the same confidence to all of you readers; we are all very distinguished young women, at the core of our beings. Everyone has a God given talent, to be used for a purpose.

Einstein once said:
“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it’s stupid.”

Sometimes we just need that little reminder that we are special, and that will give us the confidence to do things we never imagined.  

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. – Isaiah 61:1


Sydney McIntosh is a student at Nyack College in Nyack, New York. Originally from North Pole, Alaska, Sydney was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Alaska for 2011. Learn more about Sydney here!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Distinguished Has a Name, and that Name is Becky Jo - by Veronica

When someone steps up to a large, seemingly impossible task, the true effects of their hard work and spirit get passed down to each person involved. However, this magical effect does not get weaker with each person it touches, but instead grows stronger and burns brighter in each person nearby. Some people never realize or ever get to witness how much their efforts have affected others. However, when you are Becky Jo Peterson, you get to step back and smile, looking at a program you worked your distinguished ways on and forever transformed. But just seeing all of your hard work made successful is one thing. Having touched the lives of girls all across the nation is something this woman should be proud of for the rest of her life. There is no amount of gratitude that could ever be expressed to the one and only Becky Jo Peterson.
Becky Jo with all of the Has Beens before National Finals.
How does one even become distinguished, or know what being distinguished entails? Well, all of us have role models and inspirations that motivate us to truly be our best selves every day. And I know I am speaking for each and every participant in the Distinguished Young Women program when I say that Becky Jo’s selflessness, upbeat attitude, and extremely hard working mentality is something that inspires us all to be the Distinguished Young Women we truly want to be. Leaving behind all of her family and friends in California to step up and be the Executive Director of this phenomenal program certainly took lots of thought and most definitely a little bit of bravery. Thinking about what would have happened if this program folded absolutely breaks my heart. If this one individual had never stepped up, I would not have gotten many chances that have changed my life. I wouldn’t have been able to represent my state and all of the people in it that I love and live for. I wouldn’t have been able to come to Mobile and find my home away from home, the girls that will be my lifelong friends and undoubtedly, bridesmaids, the volunteers and employees that work so hard to change lives, or a city filled with people holding so much compassion for all of us. I wouldn’t have been able to grow, learn, or be touched by each and every magical experience and opportunity within this program. I wouldn’t be a Distinguished Young Woman without you, Becky Jo. 

Becky Jo lights up a room. Her spirit, fun and vibrant personality, and passion for this program shines through every time she speaks and smiles.  I just recently returned to Mobile to participate as a Has-Been, which was absolutely the best week of my life. Being reunited with some of my Distinguished sisters, being out in the community and being touched by citizens of Mobile, and being big sisters to the current contestants all combined for a life-changing experience that only Distinguished Young Women knows how to provide. One day during our stay in Mobile for this second time around, we had the extreme joy of having lunch with Becky Jo in the lovely National Headquarters building. It was awesome having a meal with Becky Jo (even cooked by Becky Jo!) in a historic building that held so much of the program inside of it. It was during this meal that I realized something – your time as a Distinguished Young Woman never runs out.

Lunch at National Headquarters with Becky Jo and the Has Beens.
Sure, you may have to pass the torch onto the next wonderful girl within your state, but you will ALWAYS be a Has-Been. With this program, that is all you need. There is always an opportunity to keep giving at some level, whether it is in the form of a volunteer, a sponsor, a host family, a choreographer, and so much more. Becky Jo has demonstrated this for us and sets the example that just because you aren’t wearing that medallion anymore, there is still so much you can give to this program. Besides all of the other wonderful things I have learned from Becky Jo, the biggest is certainly this. Just like she gave up her life at home to come to Mobile and transform this program, I know that I will never want to stop giving back to the program and people that have given me so very much. I’m speaking for each and every Distinguished Young Woman in the nation when I say thank you, Becky Jo Peterson, for showing us what a true distinguished individual really is, and that we too can touch and inspire lives just like you have done for us. 

Veronica Townsend is a student at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware majoring in Fashion Merchandising. Originally from Dagsboro, Delaware, Veronica was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Delaware for 2011. Learn more about Veronica here!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Moving On - by Devin

One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Frost and it goes like this: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”  As I write my final blog post for Distinguished Young Women, I can’t help but think that this chapter of my life is coming to a close.  But I know in my heart its underlying themes will be prevalent throughout the rest of the pages of my life.       
Distinguished Young Women friends!
All sappy book metaphors aside, I decided to use this last post to reflect upon the year of my life post-Distinguished Young Women.  I’ve moved to a different state and made an entirely different group of friends than I had in high school.  I traded in small town Oklahoma for big city Texas.  I’ve learned material in college that I didn’t even know existed in high school.  I’ve been challenged - physically, mentally, and spiritually, but I have grown so much because of it.    
SMU friends!
I left the National Finals last summer with a feeling of utter amazement—it took a while to digest the experience with which I’d been blessed.  However, it didn’t take long to observe its after effects.  I became so much more confident with who I was and what I wanted out of life.  Distinguished Young Women showed me that, in fact, I wasn’t unusual; there are actually girls from all over the country (at least one from every state, in fact) who are interested in the similar things that I am and who strive for greatness for both themselves and the rest of the world.  For the opportunity to compete with young women of that caliber of character, I am forever grateful.
I’ve still got a long way to go. I still have moments when I think that the obstacle I’m facing is insurmountable.  But that’s what I thought when I entered the Distinguished Young Women program at my local level (when it was still called Junior Miss), but I worked hard, and won.  I worked even harder to prepare for my state program. And I won.  A year later from that initial decision to try my hand at this little competition in my hometown, I was preparing for the National Finals in Mobile.  Two weeks later, while I wasn’t wearing a medal after the confetti dropped from the ceiling, I left with a new sense of self and the world around me (with 49 new friends to boot). I had won.

Thanks, Distinguished Young Women. 

Devin Kerns is a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas majoring in Communications Studies with a minor in Italian. Originally from Stillwater, Oklahoma, Devin was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Oklahoma for 2011. Learn more about Devin here!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Saying Goodbye Is Never Easy - by Katye

Saying goodbye is never easy.  Whether you are saying goodbye to your family as you head off to college—which I did last year, saying goodbye to someone you love (My Grandaddy)—which I did last month, or saying goodbye to a part of yourself—which I did last week.  The point is: Goodbyes are just a part of life.  I will be the first to tell you that I do not do well with change.  It takes me awhile to get adjusted, and I always look back on what was instead of looking forward to what will be.  As I was reminiscing on my time as Distinguished Young Woman of America, crying because I was having to leave all the wonderful people I had become so close to, a very wise and beautiful woman (who happened to be the Distinguished Young Woman of Ohio 2011) posted a bible verse that pretty much reached out, grabbed me, and screamed in my face: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”   Kinsey’s reminder of Ecclesiastes 3:11 made me realize that we have beautiful seasons in life—seasons we may not want to end; however, we have to move on from these, cherishing the memories, in order to reach the next beautiful season God has lined up for us.  I will always deeply treasure my time as a Distinguished Young Woman, but now I have realized that moving on may not be so bad after all.  It’s important to remember those things we have taken away from those beautiful periods of life, and we must be forever grateful to those who got us there and supported us along the way.  I am so thankful for everything that Distinguished Young Women has taught me, and I am equally thankful for everything it teaches to other young girls.  The world needs more distinguished young women, and I don’t mean just the title.  Girls, if you have not listened to one thing I have posted for the past year, listen to this: You are beautiful, smart, talented, and can accomplish your dreams.  Don’t give everything to one seemingly beautiful season of life when you have so many more ahead of you.

So, while my time is over, I know with all my heart that I am leaving you all in good hands.  Congratulations to Christina Maxwell of North Carolina!  Ladies (and gents if you’re reading, too), this is an incredible young woman.  I know she will lead you and provide much wisdom in the next year.  I had the opportunity to get to know her a little bit over the two weeks in Mobile, and I have to say, she is a genuine, talented, joyful ball of energy that is going to represent Distinguished Young Women with all of the grace, poise, and confidence that is so true to this program.  Don’t forget to keep up with the class of 2012 through the blog and Christina on twitter @bedistinguished!  For all of you that read this, if you want to keep up with all of my shenanigans, feel free to follow me on twitter @katyebrock.  It’s been a wonderful ride, folks.  Thank you for your support of me and more importantly, this program.  Believe in what this program does.  I’ve seen it firsthand, and I hope that you can all see it too.  I bid you farewell, friends! May God bless you and shine through you in the coming year.  I may have just given up my title a week ago, but I’m starting to get used to my status as a Has-Been!
All my love, and remember: Stay distinguished!

Katye Brock is preparing to begin her second year at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee and is majoring in International Studies. Originally from Tullahoma, Tennessee, Katye was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Tennessee for 2011 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2011. Learn more about Katye here!

Born This Way: My Lesson at Nationals - by Rebecca

I sat for a while trying to come up with my topic for this blog entry. I wanted to do something that could really help all the readers in their lives, but I wanted it to be unique as well. Then I began to think about where I was at this same time last year…I had just recently competed at the national level of Distinguished Young Women. To be honest and completely real with you guys, as much fun as it was, Nationals in Mobile was really a learning experience for me.

    I worked really hard in the months leading up to Nationals to make sure that I had all of my choreography, talent, and wardrobe down, and that I was in the best shape I could possibly be in. I was determined, and I thought I had it all.

    I got down to Nationals and had a great time with the girls, but the competition was always on my mind. I kept mentally comparing myself to the others, trying to figure out if I really had a shot at winning or not. I carefully watched everyone during rehearsals to see who really had potential. I found a few people who seemed to have the whole package, but I searched for areas where I might be able to beat them. In short, I let the competition get to my head. And more importantly, I let pride get to my head.

    Through the preliminary nights, I heard a lot of praise from my state chair and from some of my fellow Distinguished Young Women, so I was feeling pretty good. I thought I really had a chance at making the top ten at least, if not further. I kept telling myself I wouldn’t make it, to prepare myself if I didn’t, but unfortunately that didn’t help. 

    On the night of finals, all fifty of us girls stood on stage, awaiting the list of the top ten. I listened as each name and state was read off, and the open slots slowly disappeared, until there was only one name left. 

    “Tennessee—Katye Brock!” was the final name called. I had to stop myself from tearing up on stage. I felt like everything I had worked for through the entire year was gone in the blink of an eye. 

    What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? What did the judges see in those girls that they didn’t see in me? 

    I began questioning everything, trying to figure out where I didn’t make the cut.

    As soon as we got back to the dressing room, I quickly excused myself to the restroom so I could let out a few tears without the other girls seeing. I finally decided that I needed to make the most of this opportunity while I still could. I went back into the dressing room and prepared for the final production number, eagerly trying to engage in the conversations and interactions I felt like I had missed out on all those past two weeks. 

    It finally hit me as we were dancing the final production number. The song was “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. This was by far our favorite routine of the whole program. It was fun, energetic, and, most of all, it had a great message. A message that hit me like a ton of bricks that night as I sunk into our final pose on stage: This is who I am. This is what I was meant to be. I won’t get everything I want to get. In fact, I won’t get most of the stuff I want to get, but that’s okay!! We’re all made for a specific purpose; a purpose that only we can do. I began crying at the end of that number, because I finally realized just how stupid I had been. I looked around at the 39 Distinguished Young Women surrounding me, and at the top ten waiting in the wings, and realized…these are amazing young women. Words can’t even describe how fantastic they are. These 49 other girls came from all over the country with the same dream I had, and why should I be upset after making it this far?? I let the desire of being the Distinguished Young Woman of America stand in the way of fully taking in the experience of a lifetime!!

    I truly feel like I missed out at Nationals. Rather than being thankful and happy with the person I was, I focused on what I could be, and I regret that every day. I missed out on friendships that could have been built much stronger than I allowed, and as a result, I felt like I didn’t “belong” (probably the stupidest idea ever). I decided not to go back this year to be a has-been partly for that reason, and I immediately regretted it, but my family had already planned a vacation over that week, so I was unable to go. I miss those girls like crazy, and I wish I had had the mind and the humility to realize just how special they were before it was too late. 

    I can’t say in the slightest that Nationals was not an incredible experience for me. Those two weeks really were two of the best weeks of my life. But I do feel that, had I not let competition and my own desires and plans for my life stand in my way, those two weeks would have been out of this world. 

    So my message to all the readers out there: realize who you are. Know that you are one person who will change the world in your own way, and most of the time, it’s not in the way you think. Keep your mind open to every opportunity and adventure that you come across, because every single experience will mean a lifetime of lessons and memories. Think twice about someone else before you think once about yourself. Count all your blessings, and make the most of every one. Stay humble, and remember: you were born this way.

Rebecca Mitchell is a college freshman at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama majoring in Elementary Education. Originally from Ijamsville, Maryland, Rebecca was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2011. Learn more about Rebecca here!