Get to Know Emily Thomas - Distinguished Young Woman of Massachusetts for 2012

Name: Emily Thomas
Age: 18
Hometown: Bridgewater, MA
College: Merrimack College
Major: Chemistry/Secondary Education

Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite TV show: So You Think You Can Dance
Favorite movie: Forrest Gump
Favorite Christmas/holiday tradition: For Halloween, my family and I go to a farm in New Hampshire where we go on a hay ride and pick pumpkins straight from the patch, then carve them together. 

Favorite quote: “Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like its heaven on earth.” – Mark Twain

Plan ahead OR procrastinate: plan ahead
Paper OR plastic: paper
Glass half-full OR glass half-empty: glass half-full
Introvert OR extrovert: extrovert
Cats OR Dogs: dogs
Morning person OR night person: night person

What is your most embarrassing moment?
During my college orientation, there was a boy’s soccer home game. As a part of orientation, the college set up a barbeque during the game. After getting my plateful of food and drink, I was walking to sit down with my friends and I clumsily tripped, spilling my food everywhere and sending the iced tea down my back. The entire place went silent. I stood up and everyone was staring at me. I looked at all of them, and instead of running away so they could laugh at me later, I stood up introduced myself to try and lighten the mood. It was quite embarrassing, but I tried to make the best of it and I think I did a pretty good job.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you absolutely need for survival?
A boat, a GPS, and my best friend to enjoy the long sail back home with.

What is your biggest fear?
Disappointing people.

What is one goal you have set for yourself and achieved? What is one goal that still remains to be achieved?
When I was younger, it was a dream of mine to climb Mount Washington, the highest mountain in New England. I have always loved hiking, and one day while standing at the top of a much smaller peak, I saw in the distance that top of Mount Washington. I said to myself “I’m going to climb that”, and when I was 14 I successfully climbed 6,288 feet to the top of Mount Washington. As thrilling as that was, I wasn’t fully satisfied. Mount Washington is one of 48 peaks in the White Mountains that are above 4,000 feet. My next goal is to climb to the top of all the 4,000+ peaks in the White Mountains.

What do you want to be when you grow up and why?
I’ve always been someone who loves science, but I couldn’t picture myself in a lab doing solitary research. I’m a people person, which is evident in the types of volunteer work I’ve done in the past. I love helping people, and it’s as simple as that. I decided that becoming a science teacher would be the best way to combine my love for the sciences with my love for helping others. When I grow up, I want to be a high school Chemistry teacher. 

Describe your single-most favorite moment from your Distinguished Young Women experience.
Of all the experiences I’ve had with the Distinguished Young Woman program, my favorite was when I came back to meet all the girls competing in my local program for 2013. Here, I got to relive my experiences and memories through story-telling as I explained my involvement in the program and answered their questions. Helping other high school girls gain the knowledge and memories that I have through the Distinguished Young Women program is the ultimate reward that this program has given me, and is something that I will be able to continue to do through the years.

Sweet 15: Falling into place - by Kelli Croyle

"Sweet 15" is a series of posts written by past participants of the Distinguished Young Women/Junior Miss program reflecting on their 15-year-old selves. Get ready for some wise, witty and seasoned advice from women of all ages and backgrounds. They have gained perspective on their teenage years from diverse life experiences and will share with you through this fun new series!

Being fifteen can be quite intimidating. As one of the youngest students walking the halls of a fairly large high school, I would often find myself feeling inadequate or out of place. During the first day of class, I found out very quickly that it wasn’t the “cool” thing to do to answer questions in class, show concern about grades, and strive to be your very best. If you did these things, you were suddenly tagged the teacher’s pet. Not only was I picked on for being the teacher’s pet, I always made sure I spoke to those who were not considered part of the “cool” crowd. Often those peers were either physically disabled or part of the special needs classroom. I made a conscious effort to befriend every one; especially those who were shunned by the majority of their peers. One day, however, I experienced the very opposite. In a lunchroom full of students, primarily juniors and seniors, I found myself humiliated and lying face down on the cafeteria floor. Unfortunately, my fall was not an accident. My fall was intentionally caused by a student. In the heat of the moment, I felt myself demoralized wishing I could run straight home. Picking myself up, humiliated beyond words, I walked back to my seat.

From my point of view, being driven and ambitious is exactly the way a teen should be. Among all of the things you should concern yourself with; it should most definitely be success in school. I entered my freshman year with high hopes of something new. I was actually “growing up”. After all, I would be driving by the end of the year. I was no longer in middle school. I was part of something bigger and better. Little did I know, it would sweep me off my feet, and I would be lying on my face feeling inadequate and just not good enough? To be quite candid, especially looking back on it as I watch my 17-month-old son run around my living room, I was EXACTLY who I needed to be. I was driven, eager to learn, ambitious, and most importantly, who I wanted to be. Eleanor Roosevelt once said “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.  I could not agree more.

I want to encourage you to define who you are, be who you are, and never question it. Be confident in what you have to offer the world. Each and every person has something special to make this world a better place. Walk the halls of your high school with confidence and high expectations for yourself. In the end, it will be much more beneficial than being part of the “cool” crowd.

Kelli Croyle is an honors grad with a BA in mass communications from Bellhaven University. She is a certified Pilates instructor and resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with husband, Brodie, and son, Sawyer. Originally from Mississippi, Kelli represented her state during the 2005 America's Junior Miss National Finals and was named America's Junior Miss that year.

Get to Know Sierra Terrell - Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2012

Name: Sierra Terrell
Age: 18
Hometown: Waldorf, Maryland
College: Troy University
Major: Psychology

Favorite quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we powerful beyond measure.” – Marianne Williamson
Favorite time of year: Spring!
Favorite time of day: Evening/Night time
Most hated household chore: Making my bed
Favorite food: Spaghetti

Plan ahead OR procrastinate: Unfortunately, I have to admit that I tend to procrastinate.
Paper OR plastic: Plastic, I need the handles.
Glass half-full OR glass half-empty: Half-full, of course!
Introvert OR extrovert: Extrovert
Cats OR Dogs: Dogs
Morning person OR night person: Night person

What would I find in your refrigerator right now (if you have one)?
Minute Maid Peach Juice; Minute Maid Watermelon Juice; Powerade; Water; Lunchables; A Jar of Pickles <3

What is your biggest fear?
This is a hard question, but I think one of my biggest fears is that when it is time for me to go be with my savior I realize that I have made little impact on the world and/or the lives of others.

What is the one thing you wish someone had told you about college life that you had to find out on your own?
Even though I have only been in college for a little while, I have realized that I am the only one in control of my schedule. So it is completely up to me when and how I will get things done.  Therefore, I wish someone had told me to really focus on time management and becoming my own person.

What is one goal you have set for yourself and achieved? What is one goal that still remains to be achieved?
During high school I was a member of my school’s Poms team, and it was an amazing experience. However, I never had the opportunity to dance with a band. So once I made the decision of attending Troy University, I made the goal of being a member of the dance line on the Sound of the South Marching Band. Fortunately, I was able to achieve that goal and am still enjoying every moment of it currently. One goal that still remains to be achieved is to graduate from college with a degree in Psychology.

Sum yourself up in three words.
Logical, Spontaneous, Understanding

Describe your single-most favorite moment from your Distinguished Young Women experience.
Wow, this is an extremely hard question, since there were so many moments that I will cherish forever from my Distinguished Young Women experience. I believe my single-most favorite moment though would have to be during the program to announce the Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2013. Towards the end of the program I walked around on stage with a beautiful white gown on while a farewell speech I had recorded was played. At the end of my speech, I waved to the audience and they actually stood up and clapped for me; even the judges stood and joined in! I was so shocked and couldn’t believe that I, Sierra Terrell, received a standing ovation for simply being me and growing through this program. Then I thought of all the wonderful compliments I have received, especially once I earned the title of Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2012, and realized that it’s time I stop worrying about my “flaws” and enjoy loving and being myself. So yes, just minutes before I became an official “has-been” is when I realized how greatly this program has impacted me and so many other girls. Therefore, that would have to be my single-most favorite moment, the moment that I accepted me for who I am, and who I know I can become.

Get to Know Ankhita Samuel - Distinguished Young Woman of Kansas for 2012

Hey there! My name is Ankhita Rachel Samuel and I love sleeping, eating, and being awesome. It’s a pleasure to virtually meet all of you, especially as you’re helping me avoid the monstrosity of anatomy homework that has threatened to eat me. Kidding! Totally kidding! Well about the meeting you part; you guys are awesome and NOT just my escape from homework (I promise), but in all honesty, my homework might actually sprout tentacles and consume this girl. If no one hears from me within the next two hours….

So you’re probably wondering about what goes on in the daily life of Ankhita Samuel. Well, let me tell you: parties, doing expensive things that sophisticated people do, and you know, hanging with my BFF, Ashton.

Okay, not really. Like at all. I’m one of the least sophisticated people you’ll ever meet; I’m actually eating a classy dinner of leftover tacos and Wheat Thins and an ideal night out to me means movie night with my girls. Oh, and if you’re wondering about my picture: it’s photo-shopped. But I had some of you convinced, right? It turns out that I never take normal pictures so finding a picture where I look somewhat sane was harder than it should be. I mean the only decent one of me is a photo-shopped picture with Ashton Kutcher. I don’t know what is it about having a camera within 100 feet of me that compels my facial expressions to instantly distort. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Maybe I have a condition. You know what? I probably have a condition – I would know. I’m a doctor. Sort of. I wear a white coat and am studying to be one, so that counts right? Anyway, I’m a 1st year medical student studying to earn a BLA major with a Spanish minor in the 6 year medical program* at University of Missouri-Kansas City (Go Roos!). It’s been my dream to be a pediatrician since I was a little girl and I’ve always actively pursued that.

What else could I tell you about me, other than that I’m a chronic procrastinator and that I’m going to be a doctor?

I’m from Olathe, Kansas and I’m obsessed with the Lion King. No, like really. I’ve carried around Simba since I was a little kid and I even have a Lion King bedspread! I LOVE both The Office and How I Met Your Mother. Both shows are ending this year, and when I found this out, I pretty much had a stroke. However, I started watching Dr. Who (I’m on the second season) and it’s pretty much been my therapy; it’s getting me through this hard time while I struggle to come to terms with the harsh realities of TV show cessation. It’s a hard knock life, I know. Also, British people are awesome. I was so born in the wrong country.

While I’m telling you about my favorite media-related things, let’s talk movies. I am definitely a romantic comedy sort of girl, so some of my favorite movies are 27 Dresses and Ten Things I Hate About You. If you haven’t seen the latter movie, stop whatever you are doing, and GO WATCH IT. Also, I’m going to marry Joseph Gordon Levitt. He doesn’t know this yet, but it’s going to happen, so he’ll find out eventually. I think if I ever met him, (I’m just being honest) there would probably be a lot of hysterical screaming and perhaps a restraining order involved. I think Mean Girls is genius, but in terms of non-comedy cinema, I love Star Wars and basically every superhero movie. Particularly Spiderman and Superman (2013: Man of Steel, anyone?!).

What else could I tell you? Let’s consult the list of questions they gave me, shall we?

Okay, here’s one. If I were stuck on a deserted island, the three things I would need would be an airplane, a pilot, and a full tank of fuel. There’s no way I would live alone and without at least seven ice cream stores within walking distance. ICE CREAM. I haven’t mentioned how much I love ice cream, have I? Frankly, I love the frozen goodness and though I will eat anything, ice cream is my favorite food of all time.

I am most definitely a dog person. I love both big and little dogs (I’ve had both) but for some reason, I haven’t met a cat that doesn’t hate me. So I don’t hate cats, but I haven’t actually been given a reason to like them. My dog’s name is Titan; he’s a tiny white bichon-poo that does everything from cuddle to go on long walks with me.

As far as music goes, I listen to everything. Some people say that but I actually do. As a classical musician, I have grown to appreciate and enjoy various pieces from different centuries and even attend symphonic concerts when I can. I also happen to have a soon-to-be-16 year old brother, so it wouldn’t be extraordinary to find Eminem or 50 cent on my ipod either. No one else thinks so, but I can rap Drake like a boss.  

Now that I’ve mentioned my brother, I’ll tell you a tiny bit about my family. I have two brothers; I love them both to death, as well as my parents, who are the two most wonderful people on this earth. I don’t know where I’d be without my family!

If you can’t tell from this blog, I’ll let you know that I’m pretty quirky. I think the best part of Distinguished Young Women is that everyone not only accepted my quirks and I, but loved me for them too. In Mobile, everyone called me A-Swag, if that tells you anything. EVERYONE did. Frankly, that was pretty awesome. I think this general acceptance was exemplified during the Girl’s Night out Mardi Gras ball. It was probably one of the greatest nights I’ve ever had. Everyone was so energetic and looked so beautiful that you would never have guessed that we had just been through a very long day of rehearsal. That night was amazing for many reasons, but I will always hold it in my heart especially for one reason. Let me give you some background: I’m not a dancer. At all. I love to dance, but that’s not the same as being a dancer. The vast majority of Distinguished Young Women have had at least some background in dance, if they don’t dance practically on a professional level already. And then you have me: the girl with noodle arms and two left feet. Needless to say, I’m hilariously awkward and watching me flail around is quite a sight, but it didn’t seem to make a difference; everyone just cheered and danced harder. Also, I’ve never been with a more energetic group in my life. At school dances, parties and any other social event that may or may not revolve around dancing, I’m always the first one to run to the dance floor and that one kid who still jumps around when everyone else is done. At the Mardi Gras ball, every single one of us had every right to sit down and take one big collective nap when the night rolled around, but instead, every single one of us danced and sang out hearts out, completely unfazed. This is only one instance of a million moments that made me fall further in love with the program. I honestly could write pages and pages of why I loved my experience so much, but I’ll end this soon. I know that’s cheesy way to end this, but I should go; I think I just felt the slimy touch of a tentacle…  

Anyway, it’s an honor to be writing on this blog and I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed procrastinating! I sincerely enjoyed sharing a sliver of my life with you and look forward to doing this again!

*If any of you have any questions about the six-year medical program/are an aspiring pre-medical student, feel free to ask me questions! 

Sweet 15: Whispers - by Jesika Harmon

"Sweet 15" is a series of posts written by past participants of the Distinguished Young Women/Junior Miss program reflecting on their 15-year-old selves. Get ready for some wise, witty and seasoned advice from women of all ages and backgrounds. They have gained perspective on their teenage years from diverse life experiences and will share with you through this fun new series!

I just turned 30 this year. Upon finding my first grey hair I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Gee, I’m not THAT old am I?” So maybe being 30 is not THAT old, but compared to where I was when I was fifteen, I can say I have learned a thing or two.

Picturing my crush coming down the hall, walking towards me, if only someone would have whispered, “Smile and say hi…” Or when I looked at my homework and before I decided to put it off someone would have said, “Don’t procrastinate, cause the bad habit only carries on into college and beyond if you don’t kick it now!” Or when as a freshman I made the soccer team with very little soccer experience, and after a season of playing only a little chose to take a break in the off season someone would have said, “You’ll be happier next season if you take the time to practice more now…” And upon getting the assigned book in my English class that was over 300 pages, if someone would have said, “You just might like it so READ IT!”

And then I realize, oh wait, my parents DID tell me those things! Maybe they weren’t there to whisper into my ear right in the moment, but they were there. So honestly, even knowing that any teenager reading this might tune out completely just by reading the words, parent andlisten in the same paragraph, I have to admit I wish I would have listened more to my parents! And while learning from your own mistakes works, I learned later in life, that it is WAY easier to learn from someone else’s mistakes if you can. You save yourself a lot of pain that way! And though it may be hard to believe because some parents seem far removed from “now day” they HAVE been where we are. So to my 15 year old Jesika I say, they really do know what they are talking about!

Jesika Henderson Harmon is originally from St. George, Utah. She graduated with honors from Brigham Young University with a degree is English and Dance. She currently resides in Mesa, Arizona with her most amazing husband, Robbie, and is mother to the most wonderful three children, Bree (5), Gabe (3) and McKay (1). Besides spending her time with them, she volunteers as the Director of the Distinguished Young Women of Arizona State Program, teaches dance, and works with the youth in her church. She loves to dance, run, swim, hike, do yard work, and cook healthy food. Jesika was named America's Junior Miss 2000 following the completion of the 43rd America's Junior Miss National Finals.

Get to Know Jordan Orris - Distinguished Young Woman of Nevada for 2012

Name: Jordan Orris   
Age: 18
Hometown: Henderson, NV
College: Auburn University
Major: Interdisciplinary Studies with emphasis on Marketing and Convergence Journalism

Favorite TV show: Gilmore Girls, The West Wing
Favorite movie: Legally Blonde
Favorite Olympic sport: Gymnastics
Current #1 most played song on your iPod: “Stole My Heart” by One Direction
Favorite quote: “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”- Mary Oliver

Plan ahead OR procrastinate: plan ahead
Paper OR plastic: paper
Glass half-full OR glass half-empty: glass half-full
Introvert OR extrovert: extrovert
Cats OR Dogs: dogs
Morning person OR night person: night person

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you absolutely need for survival? 

My Bible, my family (in spanish, it is referred to as one item :); and a mirror to start a fire

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional. with whom would it be? 

Princess Kate! I absolutely love her style, and she has such great poise; and really seems to have such empathy for the people she meets and helps.

What is the one thing you wish someone had told you about college life that you had to find out on your own? 

Learn to be self-sufficient with your cleaning, cooking, and laundry!

Sum yourself up in three words. 

Driven, passionate, and bubbly.

What do you want to be when you grow up and why?
My dream job is to be the White House Press Secretary; or I secretly dream of playing Belle from Beauty & The Beast on the Disney Cruise

Describe your single-most favorite moment from your Distinguished Young Women experience.
Well, absolutely meeting all of the girls for the first time. I came to the competition a little late due to my graduation, so I was nervous about meeting the girls, who had already had three days to bond. So, much to my surprise, when I introduced myself at the Kiwanis Luncheon my first day, I was met with applause and cheers! It was such a great welcome from my new sisters. Another great moment was the sheer surprise and gratitude I felt when it was announced that I had received the Wintzell’s “My Town” award!

Sweet 15: Clarity through tragedy - by Madison Leonard

"Sweet 15" is a series of posts written by past participants of the Distinguished Young Women/Junior Miss program reflecting on their 15-year-old selves. Get ready for some wise, witty and seasoned advice from women of all ages and backgrounds. They have gained perspective on their teenage years from diverse life experiences and will share with you through this fun new series!

Starting my sophomore year in high school, I was smooth sailing. I had a good role in the school musical, I was doing well in all my AP classes, and I even had a new boyfriend—secretly, of course, since I wasn’t supposed to date until I was 16. But he was a football star! What’s a girl to do?!

But that year threw me for a loop, as life tends to do when we are coasting through it. On January 14th of that year, my very dear friend Layne Woolley, who had been battling cancer for two years, passed away. It felt like I had been punched in the gut, the wind completely knocked out of me. Suddenly, everything that had been muddled and dramatized in my 15 year-old mind came into focus. I didn’t care about prom or petty squabbles between peers because I had just lost a friend.

While I wish no one the ache of that loss, I do hope that every 15 year-old gets to reach a point, that magical moment of clarity, when the truly important parts of life come into focus. When my world was rocked, that important part was healthy and reliable friendships. I had no choice but to lean on my closest friends for consistent friendship.

Now I know that during high school, finding these kinds of gems can be so challenging. I remember. It was only a couple years ago! Girls can so easily be catty towards one another, and communicating with guys at that age can sometimes be like having a conversation with a chair. But there is no better secret weapon to fight off the evils of loneliness, low confidence or even depression than a dependable group of friends. Once you have a solid foundation of a great support team underneath you, you simply cannot fall. Just make sure that these people are listening, caring, making you laugh, and motivating you to be the best version of yourself. Those are true friends.

Looking back on myself as a 15 year-old, I now realize what an incredible blessing it was to have those kind of true friends around me during an experience that I still consider way beyond my years. To each and every person reading this, I urge you to check the friends with whom you associate. If they have your back through the lowest lows, and help celebrate your highest highs, then count your blessings. Next, make sure to go out there and be the kind of friend that you’re lucky to have.

Madison Leonard is currently a junior Music major at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Originally from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, she is enjoying the wealth of opportunities and experiences available near Los Angeles and studying abroad, most importantly, the beach. Outside of music, she spends her time writing, hiking, or doing anything near the ocean. She looks to go on to get a Masters of Music degree after undergraduate study and to continue pursuing her passion of singing. Madison was named the first ever Distinguished Young Woman of America (formerly America's Junior Miss) at the completion of the 2010 National Finals.

Sweet 15: Marching to the beat - by Chuti Tiu

"Sweet 15" is a series of posts written by past participants of the Distinguished Young Women/Junior Miss program reflecting on their 15-year-old selves. Get ready for some wise, witty and seasoned advice from women of all ages and backgrounds. They have gained perspective on their teenage years from diverse life experiences and will share with you through this fun new series!

Ah, to be 15 again.  Wait, not really.  I don't really want to go back to being 15 again: worried that my parents were way too strict, fretting that I'm not in the popular crowd, always wishing I were prettier, smarter, richer.  Anything-er.  And all those cliques.

Things don't really change that much.  I frequently talk to my friends about how ridiculous adult life is - we never left high school.  You have the richer crowd with the fancy cars and homes.  You have the know-it-alls who like to tell everyone the right answer to everything.  You have the wannabes who keep trying to get lucky enough to be in the "popular" group.  And you have everyone in between, trying to strike a balance between fitting in and marching to the beat of her own drum.  PTAs, country clubs, churches, community organizations, businesses, exercise classes, and all of Hollywood - they're all just big, fat high schools with more money and years under the belt.

That's the bad news (insert evil laugh here.)  The good news is that everyone is learning the same lessons, over and over again.  One of them is to be happy with who you are.

My sophomore year, I was feeling so geeky and unpopular.  I went to an all-girl school and lived far away from most everyone else in my class.  Top it all off, my parents didn't want me to do sleepovers, dates, nothing.

So I got the brilliant idea (or idiotic urge, you choose which) to skip school for a day with my friend Cassie.  She was older (did I mention I was also younger than everyone in my class because I skipped the 2nd grade?), more experienced, and way, way cooler than me.  She was American Idol; I was the school talent show.  I so wanted to be American Idol.

Crazy thing about brilliant ideas - you need a foolproof plan.  Stealing across half an acre of green grass in front of the principal's office window to get to my school bus at the end of the day?  Not so foolproof.  Pretty much half the school saw me, let alone the principal.  To add insult to injury, we didn't even do anything fun; we just walked around a bit, then sat at a diner while Cassie chatted with her boyfriend.  Somehow, this is not what I had in mind when I wanted to be "cooler."

After getting caught, being put on academic probation, and having my semester grades in every class drop a full grade (that means every A became a B, every B a C and so on) - I learned a classic lesson.  In comparing myself to others, I made myself feel so low that I did something stupid to be "cooler."  Instead of trying to fulfill an outside perceived judgement, a more important question for me to pose was - what did I think of myself?  Instead of "does anyone like me?" I changed the question to "do I like me?"  Liking who I was would be a heck of a lot easier than doing a song and dance to be liked by anyone else.  Marching to the beat of many other drums could get really confusing; marching to the beat of my own drum would be much more doable - something I still work on to this day.

Chuti Tiu is an actress, writer and producer living in Los Angeles with her husband, actor Oscar Torre.  Chuti most recently starred in the television shows Weeds, In Plain Sight and Southland.  She is also a business developer in the anti-aging field.  She produced her first screenplay, Pretty Rosebud, and it will be making the film festival rounds in 2013.  Pretty Rosebud centers around finding and following your own truth, not the opinions of others. Chuti represented Wisconsin during the 1987 America's Junior Miss Scholarship Program and was selected as America's Junior Miss that year.