By Katie Wilkinson
Distinguished Young Woman of Arizona for 2013
I believe that as little girls we all have role models that we look up to and wish to someday be like. My hero was distinguished in every way and taught me to be my best self, long before I even knew about the Distinguished Young Women program. Here is my Be Your Best Self tribute to her.
“There must be something there that wasn’t there before,” Belle uttered as she watched the Beast show compassion and vulnerability, emotions she witnessed him express for the very first time. As a child I repeatedly watched my favorite movie, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I was in awe of Belle and her persistent empathy for, and acceptance of others. I was amazed that she was able to stay true to herself and love the Beast, despite his startling appearance. Belle was an incredible role model for me, and as a little girl I dreamed of being a princess just like her. I didn’t realize it then, but Belle was showing me how important, rewarding, and inspiring it is to “Be Your Best Self”.
Belle’s attitude towards her family and circumstances instilled compassion and gratitude in me. She displays unconditional love when she sacrifices herself as a prisoner to the Beast to replace her sick father, imprisoned for trespassing. She learns that as circumstances change, she too must change. After becoming a prisoner to the castle, she chooses to accept her sentence and find inner happiness in her new home.
Belle taught me to dig deep beyond the surface of others to find the good within them. She exemplifies this lesson when she learns to accept the Beast. Belle’s empathy toward the Beast is especially evident when she defends him to the townspeople. She is seen as peculiar, and the Beast is seen as a monster, but she chooses to uphold her beliefs. She proclaims the Beast is kind and gentle, and then comforts him when he appears to be dying, ultimately professing her love for him. I didn’t know it at the time, but Belle was modeling to me to be responsible.
Belle’s love of books inspired me to read and to be studious. She has a tremendous vocabulary, probably due to her constant reading. Belle is able to pull words off the top of her head and use them in the correct context to make a point or tell a fact, such as “provincial” or “primeval”. Like Belle, I put great emphasis on learning. Excelling academically is very important to me, so I am extremely dedicated to my studies. I may have to work harder or study longer than others to grasp a concept, but I devote as many hours as it takes to be the very best student possible.
I always thought of Belle as a beautiful princess, never considering how physically fit and healthy she is. She is able to ride a horse at tremendous speeds, and navigate herself through crowded streets without colliding, all the while reading a book! Being fit is something that is very important to me. Recent studies show that 20% of American children are obese. Psychologically and physically, obesity is an issue that can be resolved with an increase in activity and awareness. This is just one of the reasons I have set a goal to work in the pediatric area of sports medicine. I can’t wait to encourage young people to work to achieve their goals in becoming their best selves. Thank you Belle for encouraging me to be ambitious!
I endeavor to lead others with compassion and courage, just as Belle does. As a volunteer, I frequently encounter people who are less fortunate. I accept people who are unemployed and homeless or who need rehabilitation from drug and alcohol abuse. The people I serve are not beasts of the world, but real people who need assistance. I enjoy getting to know people from all backgrounds and find incredible value in their stories.
Like Belle, I feel a sense of personal obligation to my community. By being involved, I strive to help the people find a renewed sense of happiness and security within themselves just as Belle learned to do.
Belle is a strong young woman whose beliefs guide her actions, which is why I adored her so much as a little girl. Participating in the Distinguished Young Women Program and considering what it means to “Be Your Best Self”, I feel honored to be surrounded by other young women who have the same hopes, dreams and qualities as I do, and are working just as hard as I am to make a difference in the world. I hope that we can all display the elements of the Be Your Best Self program and influence young girls in the same way that Belle inspired me.
The days are now gone that I slip into my yellow ball gown, plastic slippers, and shiny crown, but I will always embody Belle’s spirit and now realize that by being my best self, I will forever be a princess.
Katie Wilkinson is a college freshman at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California majoring in Sports Medicine and minoring in Communications. Originally from Chandler, Arizona, Katie was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Arizona for 2013. Learn more about Katie here!