Best Experience of a Lifetime

By Janessa Palmer
Distinguished Young Woman of Minnesota for 2013

Janessa-Palmer-Pic-Collage-2Back in high school all I was waiting for was to get out of my hometown. I was so ready to graduate, shed the cap and gown, and be ‘grown up’. But as much as I thought I was prepared for that, I really wasn’t, and I didn’t know it at the time, but growing up isn’t instantaneous. As much as I might have wished it was- growing up is a series of people and events that make you better and help you to grow. They don’t happen all at once, and usually you don’t even understand them until they are gone.

You meet people, and you fall in love- with their personalities and the knowledge that they share with you, with the talents and accomplishments you see them strive for, with their passions, abilities, quirks, smiles, and most importantly the experiences you shared with them. I’ve been so blessed with hundreds of opportunities throughout my life to meet people and share moments with them. Slivers of time shared between people with similar interests. I had the special privilege to share a two week long sliver of my life with some of the greatest people on the planet in a place I can’t help but refer to as a second home.

Mobile, Alabama. I never would have found this little piece of southern beauty if it weren’t for the Distinguished Young Women program. I had no idea what I was getting into when I participated in the local program, and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure of what I was doing at state! But the girls I was surrounded with reassured me that this was something I could love. Girls who were driven to be better, driven to succeed, driven to fight stigmas, all while putting a little sliver of themselves into their work. The things I have seen are completely indescribable. I have befriended people from across Minnesota (Catie, Megan, Abbie, KaLea, Jasi, Archelle, and Aubrey, the State Team, Summer, Momma Jo, the Trajano family), and learned to love my home state and home town (Hannah, Elise and Rosie, you too) even more than I thought possible. We toured the Capitol, were role models for young kids, and bonded faster than ever, oh, and we adopted a cookie jar named Ralph.

I learned what it felt like to be on my own for the first time, flying solo on a flight to Atlanta, GA, before landing in Mobile. It was scary, but I happened to bump into one of my first friends from Nationals, Brittany Joy Churchill. We chatted for hours before we boarded the plane, and realized that although Massachusetts and Minnesota are pretty distant, they have more in common than just the letter ‘M’. Naturally, I had procrastinated everything until the night before, and I had no idea how seriously to take this nationals thing, or how much I would love it. We landed, were greeted by the Azalea trail maids and other Distinguished Young Women from across the country, and our host families.

It was hot. I had never been that far south that late in the summer, and so the heat is my first memory. After that, it’s my southern family. Stephen and Cati Dole took me and my sister, Rachel, in as their girls for the two weeks we were in Mobile. Rachel was slightly more used to the southern heat than I am, and she was also a fabulous fitness instructor who helped me multiple times in preparing for fitness competition. I loved spending time with my host family, and I wish we had more time together. In the time we had, I learned how to properly eat shrimp, what salt water feels like in your hair, and how funny it is when Miss Cati falls asleep on the couch. They shared their lives with me for two weeks, and I’ll never forget it.

I have a million pictures of my Nationals experience, and not one of them can sum up all of the things I have learned. Perseverance, honesty, truth, passion, dedication, hope, beauty… I had the opportunity to wake up every day for two weeks and see these traits reflected in the faces of 49 beautiful girls who were just like me and incredibly different from me at the same time. How do you sum up an experience like that?

I am in love with Minnesota, Mobile, Distinguished Young Women, and the little sliver of my life that was spent as a representative and a recipient of these blessings. I was blessed yet again to participate in the Minnesota program for the class of 2014 and perform my talent on stage one last time. I loved sharing the DYW experience with my Minnesota girls and being able to place the silver medallion around Molly Kate Kestner, the Distinguished Young Woman of Minnesota for 2014. I am so excited to watch these girls as they go on to succeed in their lives.

If you ask me, growing up isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Life is most definitely about the journey, and my journey as a Distinguished Young Woman has come and gone. Now, I can look back at all of these pictures and tell you a story of how they got there, what they mean, or the mark they have left on my life and the lives of the people that have lived this with me. I want to be selfish and repeat it all over again, but, then again, I cannot wait to continue to give young women the opportunity to discover the wonder that comes with being Distinguished. How do you honor an experience like that? You share it with others.
Janessa Palmer is a college freshman at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota majoring in Animal Science (pre-veterinary) and minoring in Spanish. Originally from Willmar, Minnesota, Janessa was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Minnesota for 2013. Learn more about Janessa here!

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