When Tragedy Strikes - by Ali

      How far would you go for a perfect stranger? It’s a compelling question when given the chance to think about it. However, when tragedy strikes, we don’t think.  We just do. That is exactly what Madison Wallace and Lyle Eagle Tail did on the 14th of March. Together, they will be risen up as heroes.

       I’m not sure how many of you have heard the tragic story so I will give some of the details. At around 6 p.m. on Thursday, a young boy fell into the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls, SD. His sister, 16-year-old Madison jumped in to save him. Lyle, a 28-year old who was visiting the falls with his fiancé, saw the teen go under the current and without hesitation jumped in to save her and her brother. The young boy was saved by their efforts; however, heaven gained two angels that night. Because of the foam from the falls, rescuers were not able to find the two victims right away. Madison was found Friday afternoon and Lyle was found on Saturday.

 Madison Wallace

      It breaks my heart to think about such a tragedy but at the same time, it makes me thankful. I’m thankful to know that even though awful things happen everyday in our world, there are heroes like Madison and Lyle that would and did risk their lives for another.  The Wallace family and Lyle had no connection whatsoever, just perfect strangers. It’s one thing to sacrifice your life for someone you love but it’s a whole other situation when it is for someone you don’t know. But that’s the beauty of an act of kindness and pure selflessness. 

Lyle Eagle Tail

       This tragedy will forever remind me to be thankful for the time with loved ones that I have. You never know when something could happen. Madison and Lyle will forever be heroes. For anyone interested, there are Facebook pages in memory of the victims: “Madison Wallace Family Fund” and “Rename Falls Park: Lyle Eagle Tail and Madison Wallace Memorial Falls Park.” Prayers and thoughts go out to the families and friends of these individuals. 

Ali Houser is a college freshman at The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in Minneapolis, Minnesota majoring in Dental Hygiene. Originally from Beresford, South Dakota, Ali was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of South Dakota for 2012. Learn more about Ali here!

It’s Just a Letter - by Carly

We've all heard people say that size is just a number.  Well, when you get back an exam, that little mark at the top of the page is just a letter.  It is so easy to get hung up on that one red letter at the top of a paper or test!  But, I am here to reassure you that your life does not depend on one grade. 

I am living with all of the honors students at school this year; so, when exams role around, everyone gets a little antsy.  Non-honors students do not seem to stress about one exam, but the honors students act as if their lives depend on it!  I myself used to stress about each and every test, but I’ve realized that it is not worth the anxiety.

Sure, it is VERY important to do well in school.  Solid grades help you get into college and graduate school.  But, learning valuable skills in school is even more important!  When you enter the real world, your employer will not care if you can ace an exam.   They will want an employee who can be personable, organized, and hardworking (the list goes on and on, but “excellent test taker” does not top the list!).

A few blog posts ago I talked about my professor who encouraged me to go on an adventure and explore the world around me.  If you are too busy stressing about grades, those experiences will fly right past your nose.  Whether it be a new friendship, networking opportunity, or an internship, you can’t let an obsession with grades blind you from what is really important.  

I encourage everyone to keep working hard and studying, of course!  When that test is placed in front of you, take a deep breath and know that you can handle it!  After that huge term paper or midterm, treat yourself to some “me” time.  Why stress about each and every question that you may or may not have done incorrectly?  One assessment will not determine your success!  Take a look around and find the big picture happening around you.  You may be surprised to find that those little red letters are out of sight in the grand scheme of things.

 Carly Henry is a college freshman at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania majoring in biochemistry with a minor is business. Originally from York, Pennsylvania, Carly was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Pennsylvania for 2012. Learn more about Carly here!

Dorm Décor 101 - by Stephanie

On move-in day in August, when I opened the door to my freshman dorm, I looked around the cement-box room and couldn't help but thinking, “This is where I’ll live for the next nine months?”  However, since then, my roommate and I have found many small ways to make our dorm feel like a second home.  Here are a few of the easiest tricks we've discovered:

1. Bring sentimental items – Yes, there is no doubt that is very limited space in a freshman dorm.  However, make room for at least a few pictures, some of your favorite stuffed animals (my bed is half-covered) and any other special items that remind you of home.  Pictures of family and friends help to remind you that even if college life gets tough sometimes, you have a great support system that will always be at home waiting for you.  Stuffed animals not only carry familiar smells from home, but many fond memories and are great to snuggle with after a long day of classes.

2. Incorporate a lot of fun colors and decorations into your room’s décor – Many college dorms are very standard and plain.  Although none are exactly the same, many share the traits of being square and bare.  The walls are rarely painted a fun color and the floors are usually hard and unwelcoming.  Although, unfortunately, most universities won’t allow you to change the color of the wall paint, you can easily get around this by simply covering them.  Use posters, photos, Christmas lights, bulletin boards, signs, whiteboards, cards, ribbons, cutouts, newspaper clippings….basically anything you can think of.  You’ll be surprised to find out how much of a difference it can make!

3. Get a rug – As I said above, the floors in a college dorm, similar to the walls, are usually plain and a little unwelcoming.  They are rarely carpeted, and although this can make them easier to clean, it doesn't generally make them particularly welcoming to sit on. Even a small rug laid on the floor can give your dorm an entirely new feeling to it.  First, it breaks up the sometimes monotonous pattern/color.  Second, and more importantly, hanging out in a room for a few hours playing a board game or just talking is a very common scene in college.  If there isn't enough bed or chair space for everyone, people will be much more likely to sit on the floor if it is covered in a rug rather than if it’s bare.  

4. Get a nice sheet and comforter set – If I were reading this before I entered college, I’d be thinking, “well of course….what else do you sleep on?”  However, in the past few months, I've met multiple people who, rather than getting a sheet and comforter set, they just sleep in a sleeping bag on the bed.  Practically, yes this works, but I feel like it gives the room such a temporary feel.  I know your dorm isn't your permanent settlement, but it is your home for an entire school year and it’s difficult to think of it that way if you sleep the same way in it as you do when you’re camping or sleeping over at a friend’s house. 

5. Decorate for the holidays! – One thing that I've noticed about college is that not nearly as much energy is focused on celebrating holidays as it was in my family when I was growing up.  It makes sense-college students are busy with friends and schoolwork and being active.  However, taking time to celebrate holidays has always been something I've greatly enjoyed.  Therefore, I, with the help of my roommate, always make the effort to put up decorations both in our room and on the outside of our door leading into our room.  It really helps make the room feel cheery and festive.

Stephanie Brady is a college freshman at the University of Connecticut in Storrs-Mansfield, Connecticut majoring in pre-pharmacy. Originally from New Market, New Hampshire, Stephanie was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of New Hampshire for 2012. Learn more about Stephanie here!

A Lesson Learned on Spring Break - by Marin

      Spring Break. I believe those are the two most beautiful words every college student longs to say! I could not wait to be with my family, sun in my hair, and away from the cold Pittsburgh weather! As I was packing and getting ready to leave school, I was so excited because for a whole week, I wouldn't be bombarded with homework or stress. I would be able to relax, and live a carefree lifestyle for seven days. However, when I finally arrived at my destination with my family, I felt I was missing something. Did I pack everything I needed? Did I have homework that was due after break? I couldn't put my mind into focus! That is, until I came across someone. His name is Mr. Zach, and after a chance meeting with him, he taught me something very important that I thought I should share with you all.

      Zach is pretty shaggy. In fact, when I first met him I could hardly see his eyes! He didn’t hesitate to introduce himself when he saw me, and had a big smile on his face as he came to greet me. If you can’t already figure it out, I’m going to let you in on a little secret—Zach is a dog! As I leaned over to pet him, his owner stepped outside and introduced Zach to me. He told me, “Zach loves to play, and just relax in the grass out in the sunshine.” He is also “very friendly” with new people (that I had already figured out!) I spent a couple of minutes just petting Zach and laughing as he ran around. As I said goodbye to Zach, he tried to walk with me back to my family, but he only made it as far as the leash tied around the tree would let him. I turned around one last time to wave goodbye to the owner, and when I did, I saw Zach peacefully lying in the grass. He looked completely content lying in the rays of the sun, his eyes closed with his tongue sticking out. And that’s when it hit me.

      I hadn't been worrying about whether I had packed the right things or homework; I was worrying because I felt like I had to do something. I hadn't taken the time to just stop, breathe and relax. To be like Zach in the grass, completely content with doing nothing and being ‘OK’ with it. After my chance meeting with Zach, I too went outside, and laid in the sunshine doing and thinking about absolutely nothing. It was so nice to not worry about anything and to simply be in the moment. 

      So I’d like to give a big ‘thank you’ to Zach. He’ll never know how much he has affected me. However, the least I can do for him is to remember how content he looked lying in the green grass and of course giving him lots of love every time I see him the rest of my Spring Break!

Marin Helppie-Schmieder is a college freshman at the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania majoring in Modern Dance. Originally from Carrollton, Texas, Marin was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Texas for 2012. Learn more about Marin here!

Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happened - by Chloe

Saturday, March 2nd was my final night as the Distinguished Young Woman of Indiana. As I prepared to pass on my title, I reminisced about the true meaning of this program and the lessons I have learned about myself during my time as a representative and I was brought to tears. The greatest things I gained from Distinguished Young Women were not money, or notoriety, or a medallion; the greatest things I gained were friendships, experiences, and confidence.
A year and a half ago I entered my local program, because I needed to prove to myself that I am able and beautiful. I never dreamed I could do anything like Distinguished Young Women, because I could not trust and believe in my own abilities. After winning my local level I went to State with the intent of having a wonderful time, but to be honest, I was horrified that I would not measure up. I kept worrying about the opinions of others, but that was so unimportant. The girls who greeted me last February were not judgmental; they were accepting and loving. I was overwhelmed by kindness and as the week went on I grew to love them dearly as my “Diwah” sisters. So on finals night as the finalists stood in a line and the runners up were called, I was consumed by joy. I squeezed the hand of the girl next to me as the emcee opened the envelope to reveal the new Distinguished Young Woman of Indiana for 2012. I was hoping she would be the winner so I could be the first to hug her, but instead the emcee announced my name, and I swear my jaw hit the floor. I was shocked. The judges saw something in me that I never believed I possessed. They believed in me more than I believed in myself. In my judges meeting I cried as they told me that other contestants came up to them in the hysteria after my name was announced and thanked them for choosing me. They all believed in me.

This week, as I guided the class of 2013 through their state week, I realized just how much I needed to win. I needed to win confidence. I needed to win my life back. I have never been so blessed by anything. One year ago I was a totally different person. I learned that I don’t have to be a size 2, 4, or 6 to be beautiful. I have never been a small girl, no matter how hard I’ve worked, I have always been tall and full figured. I always believed there was something wrong with me and I had horrible self-esteem, but as I let go of my insecurities and embraced the experience, I grew. I have learned to place my personal value in my relationships and the impact I can have on other people.

Distinguished Young Women helped me to become the kind of woman that mothers want their daughters to grow into. I truly believe that the goal of this program is to create role models. We are meant to be leaders of character. I have spent the last year striving to uphold the meaning behind the title of a Distinguished Young Woman. I have tried to embody the values of this program and I have embraced my former insecurities and come closer to becoming my best self. This program is not about medallions or even money; it is about the people behind the scenes. Distinguished Young Women is about people who care and young ladies who are role models for little girls. At Nationals last June we sat in a circle at Camp Grace only 3 days after arriving in Alabama and talked about people who have been lights in our lives. If I was asked the same question today, the amazing women I met through Distinguished Young Women would definitely make my list. They have lit up my life and shown me friendship. This program gave me best friends, and even if I had not won a dime I would be a winner because of them. They are the best prize I ever could have asked for.

I have not lost anything by passing on my title, I am simply passing a torch. I still have those friendships and memories that changed my life. My light has lost nothing by helping to light the hearts of another class of Distinguished Young Women and I can only hope that they will grow into the kind of women that little girls want to be.

Chloe McLaughlin is a college freshman at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana majoring in Church Music and Christian Worship. Originally from Frankfort, Indiana, Chloe was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Indiana for 2012. Learn more about Chloe here! 

Random Acts of Kindness - by Emily

For those of you that may not know, February was random acts of kindness month.  I’m part of the honors program at my school and as a group we decided to spread some random kindness around campus. We raised money for charity, gave away free candy, and posted “take a free compliment” flyers around campus with cut-out compliments on the bottom for people to rip off. The little things we did were fun and helped promote the atmosphere that we wanted, but my favorite thing that we did was the clothespin-kindness act.

The idea behind the clothespin-kindness act was to take clothespins that say things like “have a great day!” and “you have a great smile!” and pin them on strangers. The key is to be sneaky about it so they don’t know you are pinning it on them. That way when they find the clothespin later on, they won’t know who pinned it on them and will receive a random act of kindness. My friends and I from the honors program found this task a lot harder than we thought, especially the being sneaky part. The results of our pin-the-compliment-on-a-stranger adventures, however, made us feel like we had succeeded in spreading the kindness around campus.

The first day of pinning, we saw our results all over facebook, twitter, and instagram. Under the hashtag #randomactsofkindness, we found people from all over Merrimack posting pictures of the clothespins they found on their bag or jacket and how it made their day.  One of my favorite quotes and philosophies is by Rachel Joy Scott, who said:

"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go."

So spread a little kindness today. It may go a lot farther than you think. 

Emily Thomas is a college freshman at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts majoring in Chemistry and Secondary Education. Originally from Bridgewater, Massachusetts, Emily was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Massachusetts for 2012. Learn more about Emily here!

Be Healthy, Be Happy, Be YOU - by Sierra

  Finally, the snow is beginning the melt, the flowers are beginning to sprout and all the butterflies are coming about. These are the few signs of warmer weather; in other words – Spring time! I for one adore the Spring season (whether or not my birthday being in May has something to do with it, I’m not too sure). Since it is getting warmer, that means people are trading in their over-stuffed winter coats for brightly colored t-shirts and tank-tops. Now, as much as I love this time of the year, to be honest, it usually does accompany some anxiety. Many of us have unfortunately fallen victim to this feeling, and that feeling is we over-ate during the winter and now we need to get our beach body back. 

I for one felt extra anxiety this year because the Spring time also means time for my dance team auditions for the upcoming Fall season. At our auditions, we must be weighed and measured so that our body mass index (BMI) may be calculated. Obviously this freaks me out just a bit because no one – especially a female – enjoys stepping on a scale, in front of others. Just when I was preparing myself for this weigh-in, there was another kicker: they lowered the BMI requirement.

Immediately I thought to myself that there was no way I could lose a certain amount of weight in the given time. I was lost about how I should go about starting and what exactly I should do. It did help though, to see my fellow dance mates get the same anxiety but explain to me that it is possible to do it in a healthy manner. 

“Fad diets” seem like the easy way out. They claim to get you to lose a substantial amount of weight in a less than normal amount of time. However, there are tons of side effects. This is especially for the young females of today that are willing to go to the ends of the earth to fit that cookie-cutter “beautiful” type that society wants. The saying that if it is too good to be true, then it probably is, proves extremely true when it comes to “dieting”. 

It’s normal to lose about 1-2 pounds a week. Losing a lot of weight or changing your body type is not an easy task, so it should take a good amount of time if you want it to last. Fad diets just satisfy you at that very moment, but about a month down the road, you will have gained every single pound back plus more.

So please, young ladies, it begins with eating right and exercising. You’d be surprised of how much working out an hour a day and eating more fruit and vegetables and less fast food and chips will do for your health and your body.

With all this being said, being skinny shouldn’t be everyone, if anyone’s, goal. Your body belongs to you and you should love every inch and curve that you have to offer. You shouldn’t aim for a specific number on the scale or not even necessarily a certain number on your waist. Instead, aim for being healthy, being happy, and being you.

 Sierra Terrell is a college freshman at Troy University in Troy, Alabama majoring in Psychology. Originally from Waldorf, Maryland, Sierra was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2012. Learn more about Sierra here!

Cal Maxwell, The Most Distinguished Brother in America - by Christina

During the Distinguished Young Women national finals, the first question I was asked in my interview was, “What has your younger brother, Cal, taught you?”.  Now, anyone who has ever met my brother probably knows what a stud, star athlete and gentleman Cal is. After all, he was dubbed by one of my friends, Cissi Denton, as the most distinguished brother in America.

Growing up, we created adventures together, taping paper streamers to a ceiling fan, turning it on high and pretending we were trying to survive a tornado.  We duked out arguments sparked by my sass and his stubbornness.  Today, we still navigate adventures together, like when one morning on the way to school, I ignored his warnings about my speed and accidentally mowed down a massive flowerpot and uprooted all of the plants in our garden.  Today, we have become the best of friends. 

So, when I was asked what I had learned from my little brother, I remembered just how much I look up to my little brother, for many reasons other than our height difference.

He is one of my biggest fans
Throughout most recent years, Cal graciously sat through over 40 of my musical performances, 25 chorus concerts and seven nights of Distinguished Young Women programs.  He even made a cameo performance in my senior benefit concert, stealing the show.  At the Distinguished Young Women national finals, he was so nervous for me the night that I did my talent performance that he couldn’t eat anything all day, a big deal for a teenage guy.  No one cheers louder for me than my little brother does, and recognizing his deep voice screaming out “Christinuuuuhhhh!” always lifts me up.

He’s also one of my toughest critics
Although he’s my biggest fan, Cal is also one of my toughest critics.  Whenever I want an honest, not sugar-coated opinion, (and even when I don’t) Cal is there to give it.  Whether he’s evaluating one of my peach cobblers, performances, outfits or fitness routines, he isn’t afraid to speak the truth.  After seeing my fitness routine at my local Distinguished Young Women program, he patted me on the back, said, “You struggled a little there, didn’t you, honey?” and said it was time we went into training, during which, he whipped me into shape.

He reminds me how to be a kid
I oftentimes take things too seriously and Cal is always quick to tell me to lighten up. He has a refreshing outlook on life that turns failures or disappointments into comedic moments.  He isn’t afraid to laugh at me when I crack on a note, and he has taught me how to laugh at myself too.  Together, we can go back to being kids again, spending hours in late-night laughter as we watch The Office or Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.

He doesn’t need a spotlight to be a leader
Cal serves as a leader in everything he does even without being asked, whether through his mad skills and loyalty on his basketball team, fearlessness and enthusiasm on Wilderness Trail (a backpacking organization) or his commitment to his morals and faith.  He never asks for acknowledgement and leads with a humility that is rare today.  Like all guys growing up, he faces challenges.  Yet, he opts out from complaining.  I am always amazed by the way he bears all things with a quiet determination, simply working harder.

He is one of the bravest people I know

At first glance, you don’t realize what Cal once lived through with fierce bravery.  Yet, if you look at him in the right light, you can see a scar etched into his forehead, stretching from his hair-line to his eye-brow.  Ten years ago, when Cal was only five years old, my family was in a car wreck.  On the way home from my grandparents house, both my brother and I were supposed to be in the car, but I had randomly decided last minute to stay an extra day with my grandparents, although my bags were already packed.  On the way home, Cal and my parents stopped to eat dinner and Cal asked if, for once, he could sit on the side of the car I always sat on – behind my dad.  For some reason, my dad suggested he sit in the middle, the best of both worlds. 

Hours later, after a dusk rainstorm, a dimly lit, slow moving feed truck pulled into the road, causing my dad to slam on the brakes.  The SUV spun, slammed into the back of the steel bedded truck and rolled over before landing in a ditch.  On impact, all the windows in the vehicle shattered, sending glass flying through the SUV. Cal was struck in the face, causing a major head injury so deep that it exposed his skull and damaged, they initially feared, his left eye.  The left side of the car was crushed from slamming into the truck. It was so compacted that my dad could barely get out of the driver’s seat and suffered a spinal injury. The area behind my dad, where I normally sat and Cal wanted to sit, took the brunt of the impact.  If either my brother or I had been seated on that side of the car, we would have most likely been killed. 

There were many miracles that night, as people appeared out of nowhere in the darkness following the wreck, including an Emergency Medical Technician who saw the accident as he was returning home from another accident, and an optometrist, who just happened upon the wreckage scene soon after to see if he could help. He looked at Cal and assured my mom and dad that Cal hadn’t lost his eye. 

Later, under the skilled hands of a plastic surgeon, who miraculously happened to be on call at this particular hospital that night, Cal endured hours of painful waiting, shots, and more than 60 stitches to put his face back together.  All the while, selfless as always, he assured my heartbroken dad, that the accident wasn’t his fault.  Just a little boy then, he was brave and understanding beyond his years.  As usual, he was able to create laughter and humanity in the midst of hurt.  When my dad explained that they would wait until the next morning, rent a car and drive the rest of the way home, Cal asked quietly, “Dad?  Do you think it would be ok if mom drives home?”         

As the years pass and blur this memory like a black and white photograph, it becomes easier to forget that I almost lost my little brother.  Without Cal by my side, I don’t know how I would’ve survived those paper streamer tornadoes, the anticipation of Santa’s arrival every Christmas Eve, the killer fitness routines or the disappointment I first feel whenever I mess up.  I will never cease to be grateful to God for watching over my little brother and giving him all of these years to share more of his heart with the rest of the world.

Christina Maxwell is a college freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in Musical Theatre. Originally from Asheville , North Carolina, Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012. Learn more about Christina here!