Monday, April 7, 2014

"Be your best self! Be your best self! Be your best self!" - by Sarah

Last year, I presented the Be Your Best Self program to 352 young children, and each presentation ended with them cheering this phrase. I gave them examples of how they could be their best selves, I answered countless questions about the program's message, and I wrote essays about how I tried to be my best self in my everyday life. Only now, after almost two semesters of college, do I realize how important the five elements of the Be Your Best Self program actually are and what they really mean.

It's easy to explain to young children that being healthy means eating fruits and vegetables or that being responsible means doing their homework and their chores.  But what about us, the high school and college students who are balancing every aspect of our busy lives?  I'm sure you've learned to clean up after yourself a long time ago. You don't need anyone to remind you to study for those big exams. So how can the message of the "Be Your Best Self" program apply to us as young women who are preparing to make our way in the world?

Be Healthy…Yes, eating food that is good for you is important, and so is washing your hands, but health means taking care of every little aspect of the wonderful creation that is YOU!  Be kind to your body by what you put into it and what you say to yourself. Be conscious of when you allow yourself to believe that you aren't good enough…and convince yourself otherwise. Have you ever told yourself that YOU are AMAZING? No? Well, you should start doing that because it's true. Be aware of your stress and find healthy ways to manage it. Exercise is an excellent way to help yourself feel better! Do not allow yourself to sacrifice sleep in order to accomplish everything on your to-do list. Drink plenty of water, because it's very easy to forget to do this. Just be kind to yourself.

Be Involved…but not in everything. Part of growing up is discovering the things that bring us the most joy. At college, I have learned that it is impossible to be involved in everything you want to do and still manage a full class schedule, work, time with friends, and sleep.  Choose the things that interest you rather than the activities that will look good on a résumé. If you include nothing that you enjoy in your schedule, then you might start to regret being so busy. Try to find a healthy balance between groups that help you develop leadership and those activities that you enjoy. It's better to become strongly involved in a few select groups than it is to spread your time thinly between ten different ones.

Be Studious. I may be biased because I LOVE to learn, but being studious is not about memorizing information to write it on a test and then forgetting it. Nor is it locking yourself in your room with your books to make sure you get all A's. Being studious means committing yourself to learning because you know it will help you grow. If you think of being studious as a source of personal growth, then asking questions, finding ways to learn more, and being interested in the material you're learning so that you can go beyond classroom lecture might come more easily.

Be Ambitious. As young women, we sometimes feel pulled in many different directions.  Being ambitious means setting your sights on something, even if you don't know exactly what it is yet. I'm a strong advocate of the fact that having unanswered questions or uncertainties is a good thing…and it is! But find something that motivates you.  Never let anyone tell you that your dreams are too big. Never discourage yourself from having those dreams because you're afraid of them. Be ambitious. Push yourself a little harder. Go above and beyond what is required. Set your sights high, and then work on building the foundation beneath your dreams. You might have to fail seven times before your path to success becomes clear, but unless you get up and start walking again, you'll never be able to follow that path.

Be Responsible. Part of being mature is realizing that your decisions don't only affect you; they also affect a lot of people who may be depending on you. Telling young students that they should turn their homework in on time is a good example, but it's not realistic for us.  For young women our age, being responsible means thinking about the consequences of our decisions before we make them. Being responsible means allowing yourself time to complete everything you have to do. It means not taking on more than you can handle because you are human and can't possibly do everything. It means being able to say "no" in the first place rather than having to back out when you realize at the last minute that you can't complete something. Being responsible involves managing your time, making your own decisions, and learning from your mistakes.

So yes, the message of the Be Your Best Self program applies to young women in high school and college. Yes, the five elements are challenging, but the results will be so worth it!

Sarah Fuller is a college freshman at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania majoring in Early Childhood Education & Special Education. Originally from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, Sarah was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Pennsylvania for 2013. Learn more about Sarah here!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sweep Streets - by Brittany

Sweep Streets. These two words are now of the most empowering pair in my vocabulary.

As the Secretary of the Student Government Association for Bridgewater State University, I had the opportunity to assist in bringing motivational speakers on campus. We chose Martin Luther King III to address our students. As Martin Luther King Jr.’s son, he naturally spoke about freedom and equality and respect. However, it was his touch upon “Be Your Best Self” I wasn’t expecting. No, Martin Luther King III didn’t make specific reference to Distinguished Young Women. He did, however, provide words of wisdom that sum up our Be Your Best Self program. He said no matter what your profession or talents or strengths, you should put your heart and soul into what God gave you. If you are a street sweeper, sweep those streets so every passerby will stop and appreciate the beauty of your craft. Be the best street sweeper this world has ever known.

Sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures.
Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music.
Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.

Whatever you do, sweep streets, because the world needs you! People often spend so much time wishing they were a rose, that they fail to admire their own daisy petals. There is unique beauty, strength, and talent in all of us. Embrace your power and serve your purpose in the world! 

I feel the worst attitude crippling society is this haunting phrase, “I’m just one person. I can’t make a difference.” It is so easy to let this thought get us down. It is also an easy way to cop out of trying to change the world. I believe the world can be changed one small act of kindness at a time. If you are simply your best self, you have no idea what chain reaction you could ignite. Whether that is volunteering in a soup kitchen, giving a motivational graduation speech, offering a hug, or setting an example- you have power. Leave this world a little better than it was when you entered.

One of my favorite teachers opened our first class with these words, “Because you are here, the universe is forever changed.” Believe it. Sweep streets…
Brittany Churchill is a college freshman at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts majoring in Psychology and minoring in Music. Originally from West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, Brittany was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Massachusetts for 2013. Learn more about Brittany here!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Role Models: Being one and having one - by Maddy

The picture and quote seen above has been a favorite of mine as it has been very relatable. In my high school years, I would begin dance class on weekdays around 7:30 pm, about the time when the younger dancers were getting out of their classes and were heading home. The little girls would often peek into the studio, just as in this picture, and watch our advanced class in sheer amazement. When I started my senior year in high school I was the oldest dancer at the studio and felt some pressure to be a good role model for those young eyes. I was not only a role model for them when I was in class but also how I acted outside: my attire, interactions with other dancers and teachers, and my overall attitude. Although I felt some pressure, I loved it and desperately wanted to be a great role model for these girls just as others had been for me.

Role models can have a significant impact on our lives. They can influence our decisions and how we act. We constantly look to others as a demonstration of characteristics, actions, or successes that we want to emulate. These people have high moral and ethical values. Who is (are) your role model(s)? It could be a school teacher, friend, mother, father, older sibling, political figure or historical person. It is great to have someone who is older, more knowledgeable, and has life experience to guide you so that you may try to live your life similarly. For me, my mom is definitely my role model. I strive to be as independent, compassionate, and considerate as she is. With every role model there are a few things to remember. First, remember that no one is perfect. A role model is only human and may makes mistakes. So don’t emulate their bad decisions or characteristics, but learn from them. Secondly, don’t forget that even though you are looking to this person for guidance and an example of how you want to live your life, does not mean you have to be exactly like them. Remember that you are an individual and are unique. Just because your role model is a marathon runner does mean that you need to be! But you can learn from them to be physically fit and lead a healthy life. Lastly, even as you enter your teen years and into adulthood, you can still have role models. Role models aren’t just for little kids! It is good to constantly strive to be a better version of you.

Now what about YOU being a role model to others? You may not realize that there could be many people who are like those little ballerinas looking around the corner. A sibling, neighbor, or even your friends may seek to have values similar to yours. Being a role model to others can be very fulfilling as you can help others succeed and learn good moral values.  Demonstrate confidence as a role model and know your strengths and weaknesses. Try to make positive choices and be encouraging to others. As stated previously, it is okay to make mistakes! It is important that you recognize these mistakes and know that you are responsible for your actions. If you do this, those who look up to you will admire you even more. Remember what characteristics you admired about your role model and then demonstrate that to those who look up to you.

Maddy Miller is a college freshman at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania majoring in Dance with a Jazz concentration. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Maddy was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Nebraska for 2013. Learn more about Maddy here!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

More than a competition… - by Mackenzie

“And the new Distinguished Young Woman is…Mackenzie Ross!” When I heard these words at my local program, I could not believe it. All of my hard work had paid off, and I was finally “distinguished.” I thought my life would change upon hearing those victory words, and while the medallions I won at local and state certainly brought incredible opportunities along with them, the impact of these titles pales in comparison to everything else I gained.  This program is so much more than a competition; it changes your life.

Distinguished Young Women is first and foremost a scholarship program, and I, like so many others, was richly rewarded for my hard work. Between local, state, and national competitions, I received over $25,000 in cash scholarships as well as a full-tuition scholarship to The University of Alabama. These scholarships made it possible for me to live in suite-style housing, buy textbooks and other school supplies, and save for a future study abroad trip. I might even be able to have some of the money left for graduate school!  Needless to say, my current college education would not be possible without this amazing organization.

Beyond the monetary earnings, participants can experience tremendous personal growth.  From the time I was seven, I knew I wanted to be a “Junior Miss.” I practiced the piano for many long hours, and I worked to become a well-rounded individual. Even though I spent years preparing, there were some lessons I could learn only by participating in this program. Distinguished Young Women taught me humility and acceptance and gave me grace and poise. Other girls do not spend years preparing to compete, but they still gain immense life-skills. My sister never imagined herself participating in any type of on-stage competition, so I was surprised when she even signed up for our local Distinguished Young Women program. Well after months of hard work, she grew to love this program, and I saw how she became both physically and mentally fit as well as confident in her musical talents and ability to speak before hundreds of people. Of course, I am proud to say she won our local Distinguished Young Woman title, but EVERYONE is a winner simply because of the personal growth that takes place throughout the “distinguished” experience!

Perhaps my favorite part of this program is not what happens on stage but what happens behind the scenes. The people I have met through Distinguished Young Women program have completely changed my life, and I am happy to say some of my best friends are from Distinguished Young Women. I know someone in almost every county in my state, and I have friends in every state in the country. Even though we might go months without seeing each other, we pick up right where we left off when we get together. Even beyond the girls I competed with, I have an instant bond with anyone who participated in Distinguished Young Women. It’s possible to be friends with someone you have never even met just because you share the bond of being “distinguished,” and I LOVE that! 

My life truly changed when I decided to participate in this amazing program for young women. Why?  Because the opportunities and friends I gained through this program shaped and molded me into the person I am today. At the end of it all, you have to pass on the title and become “extinguished”, but those friends and life-skills will NEVER go away.

So yes… I know this blog might have been incredibly cliché and cheesy, but for those of you who have been around the program, you know it’s all 100% true. If there are any potential Distinguished Young Women participants reading this, then take it from me: participating in this program is the best decision you will ever make. It is not a competition; it’s an experience.

Mackenzie Ross is a college freshman at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Political Science. Originally from Meridian, MississippiMackenzie was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Mississippi for 2013. Learn more about Mackenzie here!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Still Searching - by Sarah

To the young woman who is searching,

When I was in elementary school, we'd occasionally have college students return to the school to visit or volunteer.  I would sit "criss-cross-applesauce" with the rest of my class, staring up from the alphabet mat at these giants, these sages, these geniuses who shared their wisdom as we sat on the floor knowing nothing yet about life or about being "grown up."

Fourteen years later, I'm a college student who visits a pre-school for three hours each week as my field placement for my major in Early Childhood Education.  I ask another generation of three- and four-year olds to sit criss-cross applesauce on the alphabet mat and they listen and they stare with wide eyes and curious minds.  As we play memory games, report the day's weather, and blow food dye across paper to make colorful masterpieces, their faces show how intrigued they are by my age and my "wisdom."

If only they knew.

I'm almost 19 years old.  I'm close to finishing my first year of college, and I don't have all the answers.  In fact, relatively speaking, I know nothing.

Two years ago, I had a five year plan and a ten year plan and everything fit perfectly.  I was finishing up the final stages of choosing a college, I knew what my major would be, I knew where I wanted to be working when I graduated, and I even thought I knew whom I would marry.  I was wrong, and that in itself is beautiful.

What I thought were the answers were just stepping stones to get me to where I am today.  As of this moment, I'm enjoying my time in college doing what I love most: learning.  In my free time, I'm working, dancing, spending time with the people who have become my truest friends, and I'm searching for answers.  I love my major but I'm not sure where I will be working when I earn my degree.  What about graduate school?  What about a career?  Where will I be living?  What will my life look like?  In the midst of this seemingly perpetual "unknown," I am learning more about life and about myself than I ever thought college would teach me.  I'm becoming more confident in who I am, while also enjoying the questions that have yet to be answered.

My point in sharing this with you is this:  Don't rely on the answers before it's truly time to ask the questions.  Don't lose sleep at night because you don't know what your calendar will look like in the year 2020.  Don't worry about the gaps in your vision for the future.  Please, if anything, look at each blank page as an empty canvas on which an amazing picture is waiting to be painted.

Two years ago, I thought I had discovered all the answers I would need.  Now, each time those pre-school students stare in amazement at the college student who is sharing her wisdom with them, I am reminded that there are so many gaps that are still waiting to be filled!  The answers that will line those empty pages are more beautiful than any answer I quickly sketched two years ago to "fill in the blanks."  Two years later, I can say (with a deep appreciation for all things unknown) that not having all the answers is what makes life complex, but in that complexity is where life becomes beautiful.  So while you're searching, don't forget to relax once in a while and let life fill in the blanks.

All my best,

A still-searching young woman

Sarah Fuller is a college freshman at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania majoring in Early Childhood Education & Special Education. Originally from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, Sarah was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Pennsylvania for 2013. Learn more about Sarah here!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Best Experience of a Lifetime - by Janessa

Back in high school all I was waiting for was to get out of my hometown. I was so ready to graduate, shed the cap and gown, and be ‘grown up’. But as much as I thought I was prepared for that, I really wasn’t, and I didn’t know it at the time, but growing up isn’t instantaneous. As much as I might have wished it was- growing up is a series of people and events that make you better and help you to grow. They don’t happen all at once, and usually you don’t even understand them until they are gone.
You meet people, and you fall in love- with their personalities and the knowledge that they share with you, with the talents and accomplishments you see them strive for, with their passions, abilities, quirks, smiles, and most importantly the experiences you shared with them. I’ve been so blessed with hundreds of opportunities throughout my life to meet people and share moments with them. Slivers of time shared between people with similar interests. I had the special privilege to share a two week long sliver of my life with some of the greatest people on the planet in a place I can’t help but refer to as a second home.

Mobile, Alabama. I never would have found this little piece of southern beauty if it weren’t for the Distinguished Young Women program. I had no idea what I was getting into when I participated in the local program, and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure of what I was doing at state! But the girls I was surrounded with reassured me that this was something I could love. Girls who were driven to be better, driven to succeed, driven to fight stigmas, all while putting a little sliver of themselves into their work. The things I have seen are completely indescribable. I have befriended people from across Minnesota (Catie, Megan, Abbie, KaLea, Jasi, Archelle, and Aubrey, the State Team, Summer, Momma Jo, the Trajano family), and learned to love my home state and home town (Hannah, Elise and Rosie, you too) even more than I thought possible. We toured the Capitol, were role models for young kids, and bonded faster than ever, oh, and we adopted a cookie jar named Ralph.
I learned what it felt like to be on my own for the first time, flying solo on a flight to Atlanta, GA, before landing in Mobile. It was scary, but I happened to bump into one of my first friends from Nationals, Brittany Joy Churchill. We chatted for hours before we boarded the plane, and realized that although Massachusetts and Minnesota are pretty distant, they have more in common than just the letter ‘M’. Naturally, I had procrastinated everything until the night before, and I had no idea how seriously to take this nationals thing, or how much I would love it. We landed, were greeted by the Azalea trail maids and other Distinguished Young Women from across the country, and our host families.
It was hot. I had never been that far south that late in the summer, and so the heat is my first memory. After that, it’s my southern family. Stephen and Cati Dole took me and my sister, Rachel, in as their girls for the two weeks we were in Mobile. Rachel was slightly more used to the southern heat than I am, and she was also a fabulous fitness instructor who helped me multiple times in preparing for fitness competition. I loved spending time with my host family, and I wish we had more time together. In the time we had, I learned how to properly eat shrimp, what salt water feels like in your hair, and how funny it is when Miss Cati falls asleep on the couch. They shared their lives with me for two weeks, and I’ll never forget it.
I have a million pictures of my Nationals experience, and not one of them can sum up all of the things I have learned. Perseverance, honesty, truth, passion, dedication, hope, beauty... I had the opportunity to wake up every day for two weeks and see these traits reflected in the faces of 49 beautiful girls who were just like me and incredibly different from me at the same time. How do you sum up an experience like that?
I am in love with Minnesota, Mobile, Distinguished Young Women, and the little sliver of my life that was spent as a representative and a recipient of these blessings. I was blessed yet again to participate in the Minnesota program for the class of 2014 and perform my talent on stage one last time. I loved sharing the DYW experience with my Minnesota girls and being able to place the silver medallion around Molly Kate Kestner, the Distinguished Young Woman of Minnesota for 2014. I am so excited to watch these girls as they go on to succeed in their lives.

If you ask me, growing up isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Life is most definitely about the journey, and my journey as a Distinguished Young Woman has come and gone. Now, I can look back at all of these pictures and tell you a story of how they got there, what they mean, or the mark they have left on my life and the lives of the people that have lived this with me. I want to be selfish and repeat it all over again, but, then again, I cannot wait to continue to give young women the opportunity to discover the wonder that comes with being Distinguished. How do you honor an experience like that? You share it with others. 

Janessa Palmer is a college freshman at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota majoring in Animal Science (pre-veterinary) and minoring in Spanish. Originally from Willmar, Minnesota, Janessa was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Minnesota for 2013. Learn more about Janessa here!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Get to Know Julia Shappert - Distinguished Young Woman of Ohio 2013

Name: Julia Shappert  
Age: 19
Hometown: Commercial Point, Ohio
College: Huntingdon College
Major: Mathematics w/ Secondary Certification

What is your favorite food: Turkey and chicken salad wraps, fish sandwiches, and frozen yogurt are my weaknesses!

What is your favorite TV show: Lost

What is your favorite movie: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire  

What is your favorite Olympic sport: Gymnastics!

What is your favorite Christmas/holiday tradition: On Christmas Eve, my family and I go to evening Mass, come back home, and watch either Polar Express or It's a Wonderful Life with popcorn and hot chocolate. :)

What is the current #1 most played song on your iPod: Landslide by Stevie Nicks

What is your favorite quote: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to Prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” - Jeremiah 29:11

What is your most hated household chore: Cleaning shower drains or sinks. Icky!

What is your favorite time of day: Between 9:30PM-10:30PM. My day is basically over by this point and I have a moment to breathe, finish some schoolwork, and talk with family and friends.

What is your favorite time of year: December because of winter break, my birthday, and Christmas!

Plan ahead OR procrastinate? Definitely plan ahead! I don't know what I would ever do with myself if I held off tasks that I knew needed to get done.

Paper OR plastic? Plastic!

Glass half-full OR glass half-empty? I used to be extremely pessimistic as a teenager. I have learned over time to hold on to faith, pray, and think positive. So, the glass is half full!

Introvert OR extrovert? I am naturally very introverted and tend to be intimidated meeting new people and interacting in big social events. But, I have learned to overcome this fear by being myself and taking the chance to meet people. From this, I have the best circle of college friends I could ever ask for!

Cats OR Dogs? I can't go wrong with puppy love! I used to have a white Pomeranian for 10 years that I treasured with all my heart. I definitely have a love for dogs. :)

Morning person OR night person? I am a night owl!

If you could be any color crayon, what would you be and why? Red gives me the feeling of confidence and professionalism, so that would be my color choice!

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you absolutely need for survival? If we are strictly speaking about survival, I would need a knife for cutting wood and food, a mirror for reflecting sunlight, and netting to make a tent and protect myself from pesky bugs!

What is one goal you have set for yourself and achieved? What is one goal that still remains to be achieved? Before entering college, I made it a priority to meet friends and stay involved on campus. With being nearly 800 miles away from home, joining activities that I love was my immediate remedy to any homesickness I might come across. A goal that remains to be achieved is conquering my deathly fear of driving!

Sum yourself up in three words: Faithful, responsible, and thoughtful

What do you want to be when you grow up and why? After graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics, I plan on becoming a secondary math teacher at either an online public school or brick-and-mortar middle school. I had a wonderful high school algebra teacher who made math enjoyable and easy to decipher. It would be my absolute joy to assist my students' understanding in the applications of math and show that it can be fun!

Describe your single-most favorite moment from your Distinguished Young Women experience: I have experienced countless memories from my year as the Distinguished Young Woman of Ohio. One evening during Nationals, we had a large Girl Scout pajama party with hundreds of little girls from several local troops from around Mobile. It was absolutely priceless meeting the girls while dancing in our pajamas, eating popsicles, and making crafts! “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is the perfect song title to describe the night, and it was an amazing way to relax, bond, and enjoy our time together.