One Year Down

by Cheyenne Mathews

Distinguished Young Women Arrivals Ceremony, Mobile Civic Center.
Distinguished Young Women Arrivals Ceremony, Mobile Civic Center.

As my first year of college approaches its final weeks, I’ve become reminiscent about my last months as a senior in high school. In February, I watched a new team of debaters become the reigning state champions in Public Forum Debate. This month I get to watch a new girl take on the title of Distinguished Young Woman of Alaska. As I watch these new, talented and driven individuals achieve, I reflect back on my own experiences winning things that were very important to me in high school. Out of all my reflection, I have two important pieces of advice for the next generation of Distinguished Young Women.

First: It’s about the experience, not the title of award. The biggest lesson you will learn from a intensity competition is that it might feel good to win, but winning is not as important as enjoying the experience. The debate titles I won last year at the state level felt great, but even greater was the experience. By experience I mean three things: 1) the people, 2) the lessons I learned and 3) the memories I have.

1) The people you meet, whether at Distinguished Young Women or FFA, will have a bigger impact on your life than most awards. The friendships I have made through some of these scholarship programs are the things I now value the most. I’m not the reigning Public Forum Debate champion any more, but I still have great debate friends that I get to treasure much longer than a year. For future DYW contestants, remember that the people who are sharing the experience with you, people who have the same similarities and interests, are likely to be great friends. Cherish the people you are around, because good friends never go away.

2) I’ve learned a million and one lessons from competition, and oftentimes those lessons were more important than prizes. For example, learning how to lose gracefully is a beautiful thing. Yes I am sure it would be nice to never lose, but in reality, life has it’s tumultuous times, and it’s best to be able to regroup and move on, rather than getting stuck pitying yourself.

3) The memories I have of my Alaska DYW program are some of the fondest memories I have in my hometown. On the first day of the program, the coordinator took us zip lining, and we all bonded over the fear of the first zip and the excitement for the second. Overall, the memories and happiness I felt at those memories are the things I remember and love most about DYW, not the fact that I won.

Second: Do your best and be prepared to improve. I used to think that if I gave something everything I had, ‘did my best’, but still lost, that it meant I was not good enough. That’s an awful mindset, and I know now that it gets you nowhere. Always give 100% of yourself to the activities that are important to you, but just remember that everything you do will always have room for improvement. Don’t quit at your first setback, because those setbacks show you the areas of improvement you need to work on to be even better. Remember that ‘your best’ is constantly changing and always a work in progress.

Winning is exhilarating, it has helped me pay for college and has given me activities to be passionate about, but winning isn’t everything. Remember to take time to enjoy the experience, the people and the places you visit in your travels or competitions. Remember that the path to being your best self is not a short one but an infinite one. Remember why you love the competition you are in, and not just the award itself.

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