More than a competition…

By Mackenzie Ross
Distinguished Young Woman of Mississippi for 2013
“And the new Distinguished Young Woman is…Mackenzie Ross!” When I heard these words at my local program, I could not believe it. All of my hard work had paid off, and I was finally “distinguished.” I thought my life would change upon hearing those victory words, and while the medallions I won at local and state certainly brought incredible opportunities along with them, the impact of these titles pales in comparison to everything else I gained.  This program is so much more than a competition; it changes your life.
Distinguished Young Women is first and foremost a scholarship program, and I, like so many others, was richly rewarded for my hard work. Between local, state, and national competitions, I received over $25,000 in cash scholarships as well as a full-tuition scholarship to The University of Alabama. These scholarships made it possible for me to live in suite-style housing, buy textbooks and other school supplies, and save for a future study abroad trip. I might even be able to have some of the money left for graduate school!  Needless to say, my current college education would not be possible without this amazing organization.
Beyond the monetary earnings, participants can experience tremendous personal growth.  From the time I was seven, I knew I wanted to be a “Junior Miss.” I practiced the piano for many long hours, and I worked to become a well-rounded individual. Even though I spent years preparing, there were some lessons I could learn only by participating in this program. Distinguished Young Women taught me humility and acceptance and gave me grace and poise. Other girls do not spend years preparing to compete, but they still gain immense life-skills. My sister never imagined herself participating in any type of on-stage competition, so I was surprised when she even signed up for our local Distinguished Young Women program. Well after months of hard work, she grew to love this program, and I saw how she became both physically and mentally fit as well as confident in her musical talents and ability to speak before hundreds of people. Of course, I am proud to say she won our local Distinguished Young Woman title, but EVERYONE is a winner simply because of the personal growth that takes place throughout the “distinguished” experience!
Perhaps my favorite part of this program is not what happens on stage but what happens behind the scenes. The people I have met through Distinguished Young Women program have completely changed my life, and I am happy to say some of my best friends are from Distinguished Young Women. I know someone in almost every county in my state, and I have friends in every state in the country. Even though we might go months without seeing each other, we pick up right where we left off when we get together. Even beyond the girls I competed with, I have an instant bond with anyone who participated in Distinguished Young Women. It’s possible to be friends with someone you have never even met just because you share the bond of being “distinguished,” and I LOVE that! 
My life truly changed when I decided to participate in this amazing program for young women. Why?  Because the opportunities and friends I gained through this program shaped and molded me into the person I am today. At the end of it all, you have to pass on the title and become “extinguished”, but those friends and life-skills will NEVER go away.
So yes… I know this blog might have been incredibly cliché and cheesy, but for those of you who have been around the program, you know it’s all 100% true. If there are any potential Distinguished Young Women participants reading this, then take it from me: participating in this program is the best decision you will ever make. It is not a competition; it’s an experience.
Mackenzie Ross is a college freshman at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Political Science. Originally from Meridian, MississippiMackenzie was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Mississippi for 2013. Learn more about Mackenzie here!

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