Be Your Best Self: Distinguished Young Women teaches self-worth

photo courtesy of Distinguished Young Women—photo courtesy of Distinguished Young Women
Shelbi Long works with students as part of Be Your Best Self Week. (Photo courtesy of Distinguished Young Woman of NC)

GREENSBORO —  Be healthy. Be studious. Be ambitious. Be responsible. Be your best self. Be distinguished. These are all phrases that countless young women across North Carolina and the nation are quite familiar with.

These philosophies are part of the Distinguished Young Women program, a national scholarship program, with state and local affiliates, that promotes and rewards strong academics in the classroom, leadership in the community, and talent in young women.

Founded as America’s Junior Miss in 1958, it is the largest and oldest scholarship program of its kind for high school girls at the junior and senior level.

“The program is built to be an experience for all young women involved so they may learn more about themselves, gain skills to help them be successful and to prepare them to seek a higher education,” said Casey Chudy, chair of the DYW of North Carolina program.

Local programs are held in counties throughout the state with winners culminating this past week in Greensboro to select a state winner to compete at nationals in June. There are five components of competition: scholarship, interview, fitness, self-expression, and talent.

“These five elements help develop and show a well-rounded girl which stays in line with our platform of being your best self,” said Chudy.

“Scholarship encourages studiousness. Interview helps them share their goals and discover what drives them to achieve those goals. Fitness encourages healthiness through exercise. Self-expression allows them to share their ideas while learning to speak in public. Talent allows them to shine for 90 seconds showcasing their personal skills,” added Chudy.

The organization’s service platform is the Be Your Best Self Program which encourages girls to follow the five pillars: be healthy, be involved, be studious, be ambitious, and be responsible.

“What one can learn through the Distinguished Young Women program coupled with Be Your Best Self transcends into everyday life,” said Martha Bennett, the 2016 DYW of North Carolina.

“Becoming aware of what is healthy for you through exercise, building confidence and expressing yourself, strengthening your skills and talents, learning who you are as a person, and encouraging hard work in school and college are the key components,” she added.

During their week in Greensboro, participants visit local elementary schools presenting programs and activities relating to the Be Your Best Self campaign.

“Visiting with a fifth-grade classroom was an emotional experience for me. I brought every student a rainbow fish and talked with them about the fact that while each fish is different, we should accept one another and love the person we are,” said Shelbi Long, DYW of New Hanover County.

“One child, Maurice, had the biggest smile on his face when I walked into the room. He said, ‘I don’t have anything about me that’s special.’ I told him his smile was one of the most wonderful parts about him,” she added.

The Be Your Best Self Program is one the Distinguished Young Women implement in their local communities as well.

“I hosted a Princess Ball for elementary school girls where I spoke about the Be Your Best Self program and encouraged the girls to be who they are,” said Lindsay Ficklin, DYW of Rutherford County.

At the state level, the Class of 2017 is comprised of 17 winners representing the local programs vying for the title of 2017 DYW of North Carolina with $20,500 in scholarships awarded throughout the competition.

North Carolina has a vast line of notable winners, which include actress Amy Young, better known by her stage name of Bellamy Young, who portrays the first lady on ABC’s “Scandal.” North Carolina has had two national winners, Kim Smith Yandow in 1981, and, most recently, Christina Maxwell in 2012.

“The best part of the program for me is that while this isn’t a pageant with a crown, I still feel like a princess,” said Long.

“This program has opened my eyes. I had a fear of not being accepted, but I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I’m able to just be myself …”… and be distinguished.