Wednesday, May 21, 2014

UNsocial Media - by Mackenzie

We live in a technological world.  Literally.  I don’t just mean we have technology; I mean we are dependent on technology.  Think about it…when was the last time you went somewhere without your cell phone?  How long has it been since you've gone a day without using your computer?  Have you ever gone a week without watching TV?  Exactly!

Technology has become an integral part of our lives.  We depend upon it for communication, research, and even school.  I realize the irony of this blog since you have to use technology to read it, but hopefully you will see my point.

A few days ago, I watched a video (link posted at the end of my blog) about a young man who nearly misses a chance meeting with his Soul Mate—and thus his entire future—because he was too busy looking at his phone.  The video really caught me off-guard and caused me to question my actions.  How often do I pull out my phone to get directions instead of asking someone for help?  ALL the time.  When was the last time I talked to people while sitting in a waiting room instead of checking social media?  Never!  When do I go to a library to study instead of just looking up everything I need to know on my computer in my dorm room?  Very rarely.

What if (like the video) my future husband could have been the person to give me directions?  What if the person sitting next to me in the waiting room became my best friend?  What if the librarian who helped me became my mentor?  If I let technology consume my life, all of these potential relationships could be missed.

So I am resolved to try using my cell phone as little as possible, to study in public places with just a pen, textbook, and loose-leaf paper, and to read a book instead of watching Netflix. I challenge you to do the same thing!  I know it might seem “old fashioned,” but just try it!  You never know whom you might meet or what you might learn by relying a little less on technology and a little more on books and face-to-face communication. 

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!

The Small Things – by Sarah

Slow down. Please. And notice the small things.

College is teaching me a lot.  I'm learning about my interests.  I'm learning about the type of life I want to have (even though I haven't quite figured that one out yet.)  I'm learning information I'll need in my career.  I'm learning how to function on my own.  But something else I've learned this year has been just as important: to slow down and take it all in.  Notice the small things.

Sometimes, I'll sit in the cafeteria with my friends and talk with them as the volume in the room continues to rise as it gets more and more crowded.  I've realized, however, that I can learn a lot more about them and what's going on in their lives if I just stop talking, sit back, and listen.  My friends sometimes ask if something is wrong since I'm not talking, but I simply tell them, "I'm just observing."  I'm seeing how people interact.  I'm seeing how friends greet each other.  I'm seeing the look on each of my friends' faces as they tell stories about their day, and this helps me figure out what they're really feeling.  I'm just noticing the small things.

I carry my cell phone with me everywhere I go, and the first few months of school I was like every other college student whose face was looking down at the screen while walking to class or while eating with friends.  So I stopped.  I made an effort to put the phone down, sometimes even leaving it in my room (whoa!), and I began to notice the small things.  The way the ice clung to the orange leaves that stayed on the trees into the winter.  The way my friend's face lit up when she saw her friend from home walk into the student center.  The way someone started dancing in her chair in the café when her favorite song came on the radio, not caring who was judging her lip syncing abilities.  I make an effort now to look up from my phone, my book, or my schoolwork.  I'm just noticing the small things.

After coming home from college, I've realized that noticing the small things makes being home even better.  I had forgotten how much my dog loved attention and how she bathes people with kisses.  I had missed seeing my grandparents argue over where they put the telephone but then still kissing each other goodnight as they have for fifty-two years.  I've remembered how I love summer rain and how walking out on the driveway and dancing in the pouring down rain makes me so happy! I've gotten to finally sit down and have hour-long conversations face-to-face with my mom and appreciating her advice.  I'm noticing the small things.

I know this post is simple, but that's the point.  There is so much stress in our lives. There is so much rushing, so much worrying about where we're going and how we're going to get there.  Slow down every once in a while and remember what makes you happy.  Notice the small things with me.

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!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Be Your Best Self - by Katie

I believe that as little girls we all have role models that we look up to and wish to someday be like. My hero was distinguished in every way and taught me to be my best self, long before I even knew about the Distinguished Young Women program. Here is my Be Your Best Self tribute to her.

“There must be something there that wasn’t there before,” Belle uttered as she watched the Beast show compassion and vulnerability, emotions she witnessed him express for the very first time. As a child I repeatedly watched my favorite movie, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I was in awe of Belle and her persistent empathy for, and acceptance of others. I was amazed that she was able to stay true to herself and love the Beast, despite his startling appearance. Belle was an incredible role model for me, and as a little girl I dreamed of being a princess just like her. I didn’t realize it then, but Belle was showing me how important, rewarding, and inspiring it is to “Be Your Best Self”.   
Belle’s attitude towards her family and circumstances instilled compassion and gratitude in me. She displays unconditional love when she sacrifices herself as a prisoner to the Beast to replace her sick father, imprisoned for trespassing. She learns that as circumstances change, she too must change. After becoming a prisoner to the castle, she chooses to accept her sentence and find inner happiness in her new home.

Belle taught me to dig deep beyond the surface of others to find the good within them. She exemplifies this lesson when she learns to accept the Beast. Belle’s empathy toward the Beast is especially evident when she defends him to the townspeople. She is seen as peculiar, and the Beast is seen as a monster, but she chooses to uphold her beliefs. She proclaims the Beast is kind and gentle, and then comforts him when he appears to be dying, ultimately professing her love for him. I didn’t know it at the time, but Belle was modeling to me to be responsible.

Belle’s love of books inspired me to read and to be studious. She has a tremendous vocabulary, probably due to her constant reading.  Belle is able to pull words off the top of her head and use them in the correct context to make a point or tell a fact, such as “provincial” or “primeval”. Like Belle, I put great emphasis on learning. Excelling academically is very important to me, so I am extremely dedicated to my studies. I may have to work harder or study longer than others to grasp a concept, but I devote as many hours as it takes to be the very best student possible. 

I always thought of Belle as a beautiful princess, never considering how physically fit and healthy she is. She is able to ride a horse at tremendous speeds, and navigate herself through crowded streets without colliding, all the while reading a book! Being fit is something that is very important to me. Recent studies show that 20% of American children are obese. Psychologically and physically, obesity is an issue that can be resolved with an increase in activity and awareness. This is just one of the reasons I have set a goal to work in the pediatric area of sports medicine. I can’t wait to encourage young people to work to achieve their goals in becoming their best selves. Thank you Belle for encouraging me to be ambitious!

I endeavor to lead others with compassion and courage, just as Belle does. As a volunteer, I frequently encounter people who are less fortunate. I accept people who are unemployed and homeless or who need rehabilitation from drug and alcohol abuse. The people I serve are not beasts of the world, but real people who need assistance. I enjoy getting to know people from all backgrounds and find incredible value in their stories.

Like Belle, I feel a sense of personal obligation to my community. By being involved, I strive to help the people find a renewed sense of happiness and security within themselves just as Belle learned to do. 

Belle is a strong young woman whose beliefs guide her actions, which is why I adored her so much as a little girl. Participating in the Distinguished Young Women Program and considering what it means to “Be Your Best Self”, I feel honored to be surrounded by other young women who have the same hopes, dreams and qualities as I do, and are working just as hard as I am to make a difference in the world. I hope that we can all display the elements of the Be Your Best Self program and influence young girls in the same way that Belle inspired me. 
The days are now gone that I slip into my yellow ball gown, plastic slippers, and shiny crown, but I will always embody Belle’s spirit and now realize that by being my best self, I will forever be a princess. 

Katie Wilkinson is a college freshman at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California majoring in Sports Medicine and minoring in Communications. Originally from Chandler, Arizona, Katie was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Arizona for 2013. Learn more about Katie here!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Living It Up “Be Your Best Self” Style - by Mackenzie

It’s that time of year again!!!!  April 21-25 is National Be Your Best Self Week, and all across the country Distinguished Young Women will be encouraging people to live healthy, involved, studious, ambitious, and responsible lives.  When I won my local Distinguished Young Woman program over two years ago, I became incredibly eager about the opportunity to share the BYBS message, and ever since then, I have strived to encourage people to live to their fullest potential.  The month of April is a very exciting time for the entire Distinguished Young Women family as we promote this program we are so passionate about, but our message extends far beyond this one week each year.  Instead, we should strive to be our best selves ALL day EVERY day!

In the past, I have loved speaking to children and young teenagers about why it’s important to exercise the five characteristics of the Be Your Best Self program, but today I want to focus on how everyone (especially young adults) can live out this lifestyle.

Be Healthy – I know it’s hard to avoid that cookie, so don’t!  It’s okay to indulge every once and a while, but you must have balance!  Choose to walk to class today instead of driving, and plan on drinking a bottle of water instead of soda.  Mental health is just as important as physical health, so be sure to take a study break and hangout with your friends.  I promise you’ll feel much more relaxed!

Be Involved – Have you heard about a new club that sounds interesting?  Go check it out! You’ll never know if you like it until you try it.  Don’t over commit yourself, but find a few things you are passionate about and stick with them!

Be Studious – Learning is for kids…WRONG!  You can never stop learning!  Being studious doesn’t mean you have to be a brainiac; it just means you are actively pursuing knowledge. Take a class simply because it sounds interesting, or read a book instead of watching television.  Aim to learn something new everyday!

Be Ambitious – You want to climb Mount Everest?  Then do it!  Just because your goals are a little lofty does not mean they are unattainable.  Remember: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”  Make a goal and create a plan to achieve it!

Be Responsible – Remember that three-page paper you have due tomorrow?  It is not going to write itself.  Next time, try planning ahead of time so you’re not cramming at the last minute.  I know life gets crazy, but I suggest buying a calendar to help keep life in order!

I hope my suggestions were helpful, and I hope you find a way to exercise each BYBS element.  But most importantly, I want you to be YOU!  This program is not about you striving to be me or me trying to be you.  The purpose of this program is to encourage each of us to be the best individual we can possibly be.

Just a few things to keep in mind:

Don’t compare yourself to others.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. 
Don’t act differently around different groups of friends.
Don’t give up!!!!!

Most importantly, remember the purpose of the Be Your Best Self program is not to encourage you to be really awesome for just one week, anyone can do that.  We want you to strive to be your very best 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, by continually pushing yourself to achieve your fullest potential, then you are truly “distinguished” in every way possible.

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!

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!