Shine Your Light – by Emily

Going back down to Mobile this June as a has-been is by far going to be the highlight of my summer. I cannot wait to see the girls that I grew so close to during those two weeks at Nationals, and to enjoy the rich city of Mobile once more. As my departure gets closer, I can’t help but reminisce on all the amazing memories I have from the National Finals last year. I also find myself reliving every fun time and memorable experience as I prepare the 2013 representative from Massachusetts, Brittany, as she readies herself for the trip of a lifetime. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite memory, but there is definitely one experience that seems to stand out from those two weeks. During the first Tuesday night of my trip, after we had spent a long day participating in team-building activities at Camp Grace and educating our Girl Scout troops on the essentials of Be Your Best Self, all 50 of us sat around a bonfire to unwind. Guided by questions from Katye Brock, the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2011, the 50 of us conversed and shared our individual stories. We talked significantly about who our role model was in life, and more importantly what it was like to be a role model in our communities. We were asked to think of a candle, with its flame burning bright and illuminating the darkness around it. A light constantly gives, constantly providing support and guidance through dark and confusing situations. We were then asked to imagine if that light was locked up in a cabinet or sealed away in a box. What good does that do? A light has a duty to provide brightness and clarity to other people, so if it’s locked away somewhere with no one to shine for, then it might as well be put out all together. I looked around the campfire and realized that I was gathered amongst 50 lights that will never be put out. All 50 of us have consciously chosen, on our own, to spread our light to the world, and the Distinguished Young Women program has enhanced that ability for us. Our titles are more than just a medallion around our neck or an achievement to put on our resumes. Being a Distinguished Young Woman means we have allowed the light that is in each and every one of us to shine for the benefit of others. We are role models, inspirations, guides, and persistent lights. That light exists in all of us, you just have to have the courage to let it shine. This program has helped me and so many others recognize the bold and brilliant light that is eager to shine. If you can recognize your unique light and never let it burn out, then that is all it takes to not only be your best self, but to be a truly distinguished young woman. 

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!

An Ode to the Letters “D”, “Y”, and the Legendary “W” – by Sierra

Ever since my junior year of high school, roughly three years ago when I was first introduced to the Distinguished Young Woman Scholarship Program, I randomly find myself feeling proud of belonging to the sisterhood of these three letters. Separately, each letter has its own sound and belongs to many different words – just like each woman that is a part of this encouraging program. Each one of us, we find our own path and belong to many other groups. All of us, uniquely able to have a marvelous impact on our surrounding environment, having great potential. However, when these three letters combine to make the acronym, “DYW”, there becomes an undeniable presence – just like if every member of this program were to unite, the potential would be limitless.

I realized that as much as it is important to shine in our own light and glory, it is just as important to shine with our peers. Throughout my life, I have been a part of numerous clubs and dance teams, but never have I experienced what it means to be a part of a true “sisterhood.” My first mentor when I became a member of this program was Ms. Shannon, an alumna. She was a great help at making me feel comfortable and helping me to realize what a great opportunity I had received. She instantly treated me with love and I admit that at first, I was not sure how to receive it. However, I was fascinated by her stories of her trip to nationals some years ago and the confidence she exuberated. Then, I was introduced to more “has-beens” – some already grown with a career, husband, and children. All of these women had such assurance and respect about them. I thought that maybe I would get intimidated, but instead, I felt nothing besides comfort because they were giving me nothing but love, care, and support. 

I did not see it then, but I do now. All these strong, independent, courageous women that I have met through this program began to gain such qualities back when they were my age and experiencing this program just as I am. Every category I faced, they too faced, and we all have gained personal insight through this process. I look back at my junior year self and realize that I have become more confident, respectable, and courageous. I no longer hesitate to speak my mind or give suggestions if I feel I am in the right place and it is the right thing to do. Whenever I do get nervous about speaking in front of my class or speaking my mind, I think to myself “If you were able to speak in front of hundreds of people that you didn’t know with bright lights shining on your face while also being judged, why would this time be so hard?” And whenever I find myself feeling slightly disappointed or being too hard on myself, I think, “You belong to a group of women that have done so much and will continue to do even more. You earned your spot by being you, so continue to do that and you too shall achieve.”

DYW or Distinguished Young Women, either way you put it, it is not simply a scholarship program…it is an opportunity, experience and a sisterhood.

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!

Learning to Appreciate The Little Things - by Chloe

After one year of college I have learned to appreciate a few things about home that I never realized I would miss at school. Here is a list of some things I have a newfound appreciation for.

1.     Soft Toilet paper: It’s good stuff guys. Let’s be honest. I go to a great school, but their toilet paper is reminiscent of that tissue paper you fill gift bags with; Truly awful. Love it while you have it… and then pack some for college!

2.    Soft water: Some of you probably don’t even know what I mean by this. Well at my house we have a water softener that takes the hard minerals and other things out of the water. (This is the reason your hair feels softer when you shower at home than at a hotel.) Well colleges don’t have that, so every time I come home it is like a vacation of soft hair: Glorious. You’ll understand someday.

3.    Home cooked food: You knew this one was coming, but it really is worth noting. There IS a difference; maybe it’s mom’s love, who knows.

4.    Seeing Old people: No really. Every time I see a person over the age of about 60 at IWU it is either a Sunday and they are there for their Sunday brunch, or it is Grandparents Day. No exceptions. Sometimes it is nice to know that there are still people other than college students out there.

5.    Animals (other than squirrels):Every college campus has a million squirrels. I don’t know why, but that is a cold, hard, fact. All other animals, however, might as well be mythical creatures. IWU actually has a Puppy Day where they bring in puppies from local shelters for the students to play with because we never see dogs and the dogs get to run around. It is a win/win, but love on your pet while you can because you will miss them!

6.    Sleep: Everyone has heard the all-nighter stories, but you don’t know the truth of lack of sleep until you are up until 3 or 4 writing a paper or studying for a test. I came home for the summer and slept for 14 hours the first night! I guess I really was exhausted!
7.    My parents: I couldn’t leave this without saying that I missed my family a lot more than I thought I would. They are pretty spectacular people and after a year in college I have an even greater appreciation for them.

If you are a graduating senior, or a younger student in high school, keep these things in mind this summer and appreciate the little things. You might just realize that it is the little things that make a place feel like home.
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!

Do It Anyway - by Christina

One of my favorite places to be is the Welcome Table, a homeless ministry in a church in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.  Every Wednesday, they serve hundreds of homeless people a delicious meal, sometimes serving as many as 600 people in one afternoon.  Afterwards, they open up the sanctuary for a worship service that embodies a “holy chaos” as ministers, homeless people, college students and CEO’s on lunch breaks all praise God together. 

This year, I’m blessed to be home in Asheville for the majority of the summer.  For the first time, I’m able to go help serve meals before the services on Wednesday.  This is not your typical soup kitchen homeless ministry.  Instead of moving through an assembly line of food, visitors are served family style gourmet meals.  The first day I served, I helped pass out platters of lemon poppy seed chicken adorned with banana peppers and sprigs of fresh cilantro, collard greens, roasted potatoes, fresh salad, buttery cornbread and fluffy raisin bread pudding.

The two incredible men who run the kitchen plan the meals well in advance, taking joy in creating delicious dishes that match the quality of something you could buy in a nice restaurant.  One of the men explained to me how important the presentation of the food is.  He said that he didn’t want them going through a soup kitchen line as if they were in a prison.  He wanted them to know they didn’t deserve leftovers or second best.  As fellow human beings, they deserved the best. 

How often do we get rushed, stressed, burned out or lazy and give people our second best, particularly people we may think don’t deserve our best?  What a striking portrait of love for humankind it would be if we treated everyone with the respect, compassion and thoughtfulness we sometimes reserve for those we consider by our standards or the world’s to be “worthy”?

Yet sometimes when you open your heart and give your best, people may not notice your kindness, may not bother to thank you or may accuse you of ulterior motives.  It is important to not be discouraged.

At the very first table I served at the Welcome Table, a women asked for more chicken, which we couldn’t give seconds of.  I apologized and offered to get her more salad or bread instead.  She was furious.  She pointed her thumbs down at me and told me my service got two thumbs down.  She then told me I could go and send someone else over to refill her water, that I was a disappointment. 

At first, I was stunned and didn’t know how to react!  Yet, we have to love people where they are, knowing that we are all in need of a little grace.  So I pulled myself together, smiled back at her and said, “Alright, great!  Let me know if I can do anything else for you!”

Sometimes life isn’t all peachy.  Sometimes we go out of our way to give our very best and get two thumbs down in return.  Maybe you refused to cheat on a test like your friends did and ended up getting a lower grade in your class because of it.  Or maybe when you don’t get the playing time you deserve, instead of complaining or being rude to your coach, you wait patiently with humility – something no one ever compliments you on.  Some of the greatest acts of kindness go unnoticed and unappreciated.  I think that these are the times when the core of our ministry and character is tested.  One of my favorite poems of all times provides inspiration for the times when we may think that our hard work is insignificant or meaningless.  Written by the selfless Mother Teresa, it helps us to remember what to do when we get two thumbs down.  Do it anyway. 

Anyway” by- Mother Teresa
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

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!

Maxed Out - by Carly


     At the end of the semester, the word on the tip of everyone’s tongue is stress.  Just last night I was surrounded by books and study buddies, and we were all nervous for the biology exam in the morning-7:30AM no less!  We sat there crunching numbers trying to determine the lowest possible grade we could get on the final to maintain the grades we had labored over all semester.  At two in the morning, we all finally looked at each other and just started laughing.  Those giggles turned into tears of stress, exhaustion, and pure insanity (it was 2 in the morning!).  After our outburst, we seemed to have things under control and went to bed.  About four hours later it was time to wake up and take on the day we had stressed about.  The test was not as difficult as anticipated, but was that late night studying really worth it?  Was the anxiety necessary to grasp the concepts in thirty chapters of ecology, evolution, and animal phylums? 

     It is now one in the afternoon, my test is complete, and I have arrived home, for Elizabethtown is only an hour from my town.  I’m lying in my backyard sipping on a Capri Sun and soaking up the long anticipated rays of summer.  So was it worth it?  I can honestly say that the late night cram session was not worth it.  One exam is not going to determine the success of my future, but it can ruin life’s precious moments.  I missed out on my last night with my new family all for a test.  My mind was maxed out with endless vocabulary and concepts.  I wish it had been maxed out with the love of my friends and one last night of adventure. 

     Every day I try to remind myself of the truly important things in life, and an exam is not at the top of the list!  It is so easy to get wrapped up in the day to day rhythms of life, but taking a minute to soak up the beauty around you makes things just a little bit sweeter.  To everyone stressed out with the busy weeks of spring time, remember that it all works out in the end.  You will survive and come out stronger than before.  Stay strong, and enjoy each day, for it is truly a special gift.

 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!

“Be Your Best Self”: A Message For All Ages – by Stephanie

Last year, when I heard about the Be Your Best Self message for the first time, my initial reaction was “wow what a great message to teach to kids”.  However, as I made presentations to different groups throughout the year, I quickly learned that this message by no means applies only to children, but to anyone from any background of any age.  Since learning about Distinguished Young Women’s outreach program, I have not only become more contentious about striving towards being my best self, but have begun noticing when others do as well. In the past few weeks especially, with the passing of national Be Your Best Self week, I have been excited to notice many different aspects of the program being put into action all over UConn’s campus.  Interestingly enough, I noticed many of the aspects being focused on through activities revolving around Spring Weekend.  Now, in the past, it’s no secret that UConn’s spring weekend has been associated with wild partying, destruction, injuries and arrests.  In fact, for the past two years, all activities have been banned and the campus has been put into a semi-lockdown state.  However, this year, the president of the University decided to reinstate the tradition, but press that it be associated with a much more positive message.  In fact, the motto surrounding the three-day event was “UConn Learns, UConn Serves, UConn Cares”.  Throughout the entire weekend, I watched as students enjoyed the beautiful New England spring weather and participated in fun and constructive events.  One of the featured events of the weekend was the annual Oozeball tournament-a massive, multi-court, day long tournament of mud volleyball.  When I agreed to sign up a month in advance, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Regardless, I knew that it was a long-lived tradition in the school, and I felt like there had to be a reason why.  Sure enough, it was probably one of the most entertaining activities I’ve participated in all of my freshman year.  Although my team ended up losing a tied game in the last 20 seconds of the first round, it was a great experience, and an awesome way to get exercise.  For students who preferred more “clean” fun, there were different service activities being hosted the entire weekend.  From a trash clean-up crew, to different off-campus service trips, to the “stuff-a-husky” care package drive, there was something for everyone, allowing students to be involved and give back to their school and their community.  For students that were beginning to prepare for upcoming finals, workshops were held.  These focused on different study techniques, time management and even thesis writing.  Although it was a fun and exciting weekend, students were encouraged to continue to be studious.  On Saturday, there was a carnival, which consisted of blow-up games, tents, free food and giveaways (basically, a college students dream).  At one of the booths, the suicide prevention group was coordinating a program called “100 Reasons to Live”.  Students were asked to decorate an index card, and record a goal that they had or something they wanted to achieve in life.  The goals ranged anywhere from elaborate life plans, to finding love, to traveling the world.  All were unique, all were special, and all showed the ambitious personalities of the different students.  Finally, the president of the university recognized the concerns of many students that because of the restrictions put in place, they wouldn’t be able to have fun this weekend.  She reassured everyone that she understood the concerns and that she wanted all to have a good time, but while staying safe, remaining in control and taking full responsibility for actions.  Overall, it was an enjoyable weekend and for me personally, it was great to see the pillars of the Be Your Best Self program being encouraged on a college campus, a place that a message like that is far-too-often not associated with. 
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!

Top 4 Tips for Staying Healthy – by Marin

For those of you that didn’t know, May is National Health Month. This means all throughout this month, different organizations are bringing to light prominent health issues in our country. What I found to be even more interesting is that from May 12-18, it is National Women’s Health Week! Because this week is quickly approaching, I thought I would share with you the ‘Top 4 Tips for Staying Healthy!

    1. Visit a doctor or health care professional to receive regular check-ups. As we women get older, it’s important to frequent the doctor more often to make sure everything is “up to snuff!”

    2. Drink water! Water is so vital to living a healthy and balanced life.

    3. Sleep is vital for everyone’s health. Anywhere from 6-8 hours is ideal for proper body and mind function the following day.

    4. Try to avoid unhealthy habits. This includes smoking, or texting and driving.

As healthy women, we can all set an example for others to follow! It’s important to remember these tips not just through the month of May, but all the time!
To learn more information on staying healthy or about National Women’s Health Week, visit

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!