By Kelly Daniel
For the Opelika
On Aug. 3, Distinguished Young Women of Lee County wrapped up this year’s program, naming rising senior Kaitlyn Goodman of Opelika High School as the first-place winner. This year’s program continues the Lee County chapter’s longstanding tradition of promoting academic success and friendship among young women in local high schools. Distinguished Young Women (DYW) states on its website that the organization, which was founded in 1958 in Mobile, is the oldest and largest scholarship program for female high school students in the United States. State
and local programs work with the national organization and recruit participants from high schools.
Distinguished Young Women and the Lee County Program
The Lee County chapter is led by Chairman Dr. Jennifer Stone, who works as a mathematics lecturer at Auburn University, a small board of directors and a committed team of volunteers who aim to provide a positive experience to any young woman who wishes to participate and who meets the qualifications of being in her junior year of high school and attending a school in Lee County. Many former participants and winners go on to volunteer and otherwise support the organization for years to follow, as Dr. Stone explained.
“We also have some whose daughters have participated and just really enjoyed the program,” Stone said.
One such volunteer is Lauren Beesley, a photographer and small business owner who resides in Lee County and who won first place in the local program in Lexington, South Carolina in 2010. “As a very introverted and academic person, the local experience taught me a lot about stepping out of my comfort zone and owning my achievements and talents and opinions,” Beesley stated in an email conversation with The Opelika Observer. “I have continued being involved with DYW in the Lee County area because it is so important for young women to be encouraged and recognized for developing their talents and academics and personal beliefs.”
Anyone who chooses to be a part of DYW can participate in the program’s workshops, which provide training in public speaking, interview skills and fitness workshops, as well as the opportunity to make connections with many other young women in the area. By being a part of the program, participants can qualify for scholarships awarded by universities, as DYW points out on their website.
With no entrance or participation fees, the program aims to facilitate the success of everyone who participates. “We want everyone, no matter who wins, to come out of the program with a good experience and to feel like they’ve grown as a person,”Stone said.
When asked in her interview with what she considers the most beneficial aspects of the DYW program, Stone brought up the interview workshop. “The interview workshop is very beneficial, because it’s not necessarily just geared toward this interview,” Stone said. “[The workshop prepares participants for] any of the things that they would be interviewing for in college, such as SGA, Ambassadors, leadership roles and other college extracurriculars.”
Another benefit is the social component of a program that brings together achievement-oriented young people from many backgrounds and with a variety of interests. Stone was pleased to have such a broad representation of schools participate in 2019, in large part because of the opportunity to form a positive social community among participants. Beesley also shared the benefits of the social aspect.
“It connects these girls who are willing to get out of their comfort zone with other young women who are similarly minded and motivated, which can lead to some great friendships and continued encouragement from positive influences long after the program is over.”
Goals for the Future
The local chapter aims to continue to grow with Lee County and increase its ability to serve local young women. Stone said that she hopes the program will raise more scholarship funds from individuals and businesses in upcoming years. Another objective is to recruit more volunteers to assist in serving local communities and to decrease the workload demanded of each board member and volunteer.
After the workshops and practice, the actual competition begins. DYW scores participants in four areas: academic achievement represents 25%, the interview component makes up 25%, the talent competition is 20% of the total score, while self-expression and fitness are 15% each. After the local competition, the winners move on to state and national competitions. As local winners advance to the state and national levels, the scholarship awards increase in value. At the state level in Alabama, participants compete to win $42,500, while in the national competition, more than $3 million are available. Overall, the program helps young women access $1 billion each year in scholarship funds.
Reasons for the Name Change
The Junior Miss program changed its name to Distinguished Young Women 10 years ago to clarify that the program is a scholarship program and not a beauty pageant, as Stone explained. The DYW website states, “Distinguished Young Women, formerly America’s Junior Miss, was founded in 1958 as a way to reward the accomplishments of high school senior girls seeking to pursue higher education.”
Even so, as Stone mentioned, the organization found that confusion persisted due to the fact that several beauty pageants have started over the years with names that are similar to “Junior Miss.”
Several of its defining characteristics, such as being completely free of charge to participate, the emphasis on scholarly achievement and interview performance, as well as the opportunity to participate in life skills workshops, set the organization apart from beauty pageants.
Distinguished Young Women
Distinguished Young Women (DYW), previously known as America’s Junior Miss, is a nationwide scholarship organization that was founded in Mobile in 1958. The DYW website explains that the program started out as a local campaign to recruit qualified high school seniors to help with the city’s annual Azalearama event that awarded scholarships to the participants. However, the founders quickly realized due to the enormous outpouring of applications that there was an unmet need for scholarship programs dedicated to young women, after which the Junior Miss Program was created.
The program is dedicated to the empowerment of young women who participate at the local, state and national levels, as is explained on the organization’s website.