Sweet 15: Clarity through tragedy


“Sweet 15” is a series of posts written by past participants of the Distinguished Young Women/Junior Miss program reflecting on their 15-year-old selves. Get ready for some wise, witty and seasoned advice from women of all ages and backgrounds. They have gained perspective on their teenage years from diverse life experiences and will share with you through this fun new series!
By Madison Leonard
Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2010

Starting my sophomore year in high school, I was smooth sailing. I had a good role in the school musical, I was doing well in all my AP classes, and I even had a new boyfriend—secretly, of course, since I wasn’t supposed to date until I was 16. But he was a football star! What’s a girl to do?!

But that year threw me for a loop, as life tends to do when we are coasting through it. On January 14th of that year, my very dear friend Layne Woolley, who had been battling cancer for two years, passed away. It felt like I had been punched in the gut, the wind completely knocked out of me. Suddenly, everything that had been muddled and dramatized in my 15 year-old mind came into focus. I didn’t care about prom or petty squabbles between peers because I had just lost a friend.
While I wish no one the ache of that loss, I do hope that every 15 year-old gets to reach a point, that magical moment of clarity, when the truly important parts of life come into focus. When my world was rocked, that important part was healthy and reliable friendships. I had no choice but to lean on my closest friends for consistent friendship.
Now I know that during high school, finding these kinds of gems can be so challenging. I remember. It was only a couple years ago! Girls can so easily be catty towards one another, and communicating with guys at that age can sometimes be like having a conversation with a chair. But there is no better secret weapon to fight off the evils of loneliness, low confidence or even depression than a dependable group of friends. Once you have a solid foundation of a great support team underneath you, you simply cannot fall. Just make sure that these people are listening, caring, making you laugh, and motivating you to be the best version of yourself. Those are true friends.
Looking back on myself as a 15 year-old, I now realize what an incredible blessing it was to have those kind of true friends around me during an experience that I still consider way beyond my years. To each and every person reading this, I urge you to check the friends with whom you associate. If they have your back through the lowest lows, and help celebrate your highest highs, then count your blessings. Next, make sure to go out there and be the kind of friend that you’re lucky to have.
Madison Leonard is currently a junior Music major at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Originally from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, she is enjoying the wealth of opportunities and experiences available near Los Angeles and studying abroad, most importantly, the beach. Outside of music, she spends her time writing, hiking, or doing anything near the ocean. She looks to go on to get a Masters of Music degree after undergraduate study and to continue pursuing her passion of singing. Madison was named the first ever Distinguished Young Woman of America (formerly America’s Junior Miss) at the completion of the 2010 National Finals. Learn more about Distinguished Young Women here.

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