Born This Way: My Lesson at Nationals

By Rebecca Mitchell
Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2011
I sat for a while trying to come up with my topic for this blog entry. I wanted to do something that could really help all the readers in their lives, but I wanted it to be unique as well. Then I began to think about where I was at this same time last year…I had just recently competed at the national level of Distinguished Young Women. To be honest and completely real with you guys, as much fun as it was, Nationals in Mobile was really a learning experience for me.

I worked really hard in the months leading up to Nationals to make sure that I had all of my choreography, talent, and wardrobe down, and that I was in the best shape I could possibly be in. I was determined, and I thought I had it all.
I got down to Nationals and had a great time with the girls, but the competition was always on my mind. I kept mentally comparing myself to the others, trying to figure out if I really had a shot at winning or not. I carefully watched everyone during rehearsals to see who really had potential. I found a few people who seemed to have the whole package, but I searched for areas where I might be able to beat them. In short, I let the competition get to my head. And more importantly, I let pride get to my head.
Through the preliminary nights, I heard a lot of praise from my state chair and from some of my fellow Distinguished Young Women, so I was feeling pretty good. I thought I really had a chance at making the top ten at least, if not further. I kept telling myself I wouldn’t make it, to prepare myself if I didn’t, but unfortunately that didn’t help. 
On the night of finals, all fifty of us girls stood on stage, awaiting the list of the top ten. I listened as each name and state was read off, and the open slots slowly disappeared, until there was only one name left. 

“Tennessee—Katye Brock!” was the final name called. I had to stop myself from tearing up on stage. I felt like everything I had worked for through the entire year was gone in the blink of an eye. 
What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? What did the judges see in those girls that they didn’t see in me? 
I began questioning everything, trying to figure out where I didn’t make the cut.
As soon as we got back to the dressing room, I quickly excused myself to the restroom so I could let out a few tears without the other girls seeing. I finally decided that I needed to make the most of this opportunity while I still could. I went back into the dressing room and prepared for the final production number, eagerly trying to engage in the conversations and interactions I felt like I had missed out on all those past two weeks. 

It finally hit me as we were dancing the final production number. The song was “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. This was by far our favorite routine of the whole program. It was fun, energetic, and, most of all, it had a great message. A message that hit me like a ton of bricks that night as I sunk into our final pose on stage: This is who I am. This is what I was meant to be. I won’t get everything I want to get. In fact, I won’t get most of the stuff I want to get, but that’s okay!! We’re all made for a specific purpose; a purpose that only we can do. I began crying at the end of that number, because I finally realized just how stupid I had been. I looked around at the 39 Distinguished Young Women surrounding me, and at the top ten waiting in the wings, and realized…these are amazing young women. Words can’t even describe how fantastic they are. These 49 other girls came from all over the country with the same dream I had, and why should I be upset after making it this far?? I let the desire of being the Distinguished Young Woman of America stand in the way of fully taking in the experience of a lifetime!!

I truly feel like I missed out at Nationals. Rather than being thankful and happy with the person I was, I focused on what I could be, and I regret that every day. I missed out on friendships that could have been built much stronger than I allowed, and as a result, I felt like I didn’t “belong” (probably the stupidest idea ever). I decided not to go back this year to be a has-been partly for that reason, and I immediately regretted it, but my family had already planned a vacation over that week, so I was unable to go. I miss those girls like crazy, and I wish I had had the mind and the humility to realize just how special they were before it was too late. 

I can’t say in the slightest that Nationals was not an incredible experience for me. Those two weeks really were two of the best weeks of my life. But I do feel that, had I not let competition and my own desires and plans for my life stand in my way, those two weeks would have been out of this world. 
So my message to all the readers out there: realize who you are. Know that you are one person who will change the world in your own way, and most of the time, it’s not in the way you think. Keep your mind open to every opportunity and adventure that you come across, because every single experience will mean a lifetime of lessons and memories. Think twice about someone else before you think once about yourself. Count all your blessings, and make the most of every one. Stay humble, and remember: you were born this way.

Rebecca Mitchell is a college freshman at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama majoring in Elementary Education. Originally from Ijamsville, Maryland, Rebecca was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland for 2011. Learn more about Rebecca here!
  • Rachel Williams

    13th Jul 2012 at 05:27

    Wow Rebecca,
    this is amazing. Part is me is absolutely disappointed in myself for not noticing how upset you were that night. I really wish I could have talked to you more when we were there. You are so wonderful. xox

  • Angela Kendall

    13th Jul 2012 at 17:35


    How this called to mind my year at the Georgia program when I was heartbroken about not “winning” and still, to this day, ask myself over and over if it was because of ONE answer in the interview I have questioned again and again — not because I felt the one answer made the difference, but I felt I answered the way I thought the judges WANTED me to answer, not the way I truly believed. I have carried that lessone with me and it is now truly a GREAT lesson I keep with me at 43. It’s similar to what you have learned. Be true to yourself and your beliefs and you’ll NEVER have regrets! Thank you for this mature, lovely and thought-provoking post! I appreciate it and promise you, the memories of DYW will grow and become more “rounded” as you age and, as I hope you will, give back to the program.

    Angela Kendall-Dempsey
    Macon’s Representative (JM), 1986

  • cheri

    25th Jul 2012 at 01:56

    You have no idea how proud you make us all–
    Though you quietly kept your thoughts to yourself, we–your parents and I knew all too well how it feels to be disappointed and your feelings were so natural. I assure you that you were not the only one that felt that way! In fact, I can almost bet you are describing most of your peers that night!
    Rewind to last week when we held our 2013 state program and again- I am sure that there were many, if not all, who felt exactly as you did when their names were not called. Fourteen girls fell just short of their ultimate goal to advance to nationals. It is hard and it does hurt…but life is full of disappointments and this is just but one along the road. But we must remember it is all about the journey and not the destination!
    Thank you for sharing your candid reflection and I want you to know how your experience can be healing to others. And finally, never forget how many lives you are touching without even knowing it. There is always someone – your friends, your mentees – watching and learning from you. You have no idea the positive energy that you possess. Always be true to yourself and everything else good will follow!
    Fondly, Ms. Cheri your MD State Chair

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