The Role Models We Become

By Christina Maxwell
Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012

As little girls, we would often look to the real, grown women in our lives for assurance and guidance.  We would sit on the countertop watching our grandmother craft a red velvet cake and soon find our little hands covered in flour, trying to help.  We’d admire our fun first grade teacher and come home from school to set up our own pretend classroom where we’d teach imaginary students how to tell time or spell “Wednesday.”  We were mesmerized by our babysitter’s prom dress and sparkly shoes and dressed up, dreaming of one day going to prom ourselves.  We watched our favorite soccer player or violinist and decided that we, too, wanted to do something that great one day.


 As we grow up, the roles shift on.  We realize that it’s now our turn to become the young women we used to idolize.  Yet, life is busy.  It is easy to become overwhelmed, drowned in to-do lists, appointments and deadlines.  But little eyes are watching and little ears are listening.  Little girls are growing up.  And we are the ones who they are watching.  


Through my time so far as the Distinguished Young Woman of America, I have had the opportunity to meet some women who are ground-breaking.  Women who are empowered, humble, captivating and warm.  Women who are distinguished even though they don’t have a medallion around their necks to prove it.  Women who are more than willing to take time to talk with and listen to the people around them, to be the type of women little girls need to look up to.


Recently, I found three such women.  I met the governor of North Carolina, Beverly Perdue, who is the first female governor of my state and has blazed the trail for protecting education.  She was so delightful and although I’m sure she is overwhelmed with the end of her term as governor, she took time to talk with me, laugh with me and ask me about my life.  She loves the Distinguished Young Women program and admires what it does for young women.

Taking a quick photo with Governor Beverly Perdue.
This week, I met two more extraordinary women.  The first African American female mayor of my town, Mayor Terry Bellamy, recognized me at a City Council meeting and talked about the importance of Distinguished Young Women.  She exudes humility, integrity and kindness and has done a brilliant job managing the diverse needs of our city.  The other young woman who was recognized that night was Lauren Tamayo, a down-to-earth and exceptionally talented Olympic Silver Medalist in cycling.  In many of the photos from her return home from London, she is surrounded by little girls giving her drawings and hugs.  
Receiving the key to the City of Asheville from Mary Terry Bellamy.
Posing with Olympic Silver Medalist Lauren Tamayo.
There is one thing in particular that all of these remarkable women obviously have in common.  They exude the importance and blessing of being a role model.
We have endless opportunities to be the type of women who give the fictional, princess heroines of our childhood a run for their money.  This doesn’t mean being perfect.  In fact, sometimes the greatest lessons we can teach the little girls in our lives come when we make a mistake and accept it with humility, rising up to the consequences and chances to be better with discipline and accountability.  What the girls in our world today need are women who truly want to make things better, believe they matter and make sure the people around them know that each of them matter too.
So the next time we have a chance to be a role model, let’s take it!  Take it seriously.  Take the time to be a real life role model for this generation of little girls, not one who is only heroic in articles about her in the newspaper or fairy tales about her in a story book.  That may mean volunteering for a Boys and Girls Club, asking your next door neighbor how she is liking fifth grade, deciding to dress a little classier because your little sister wants to be just like you or someday taking the time to sign a gazillion autographs in novels, playbills or CD covers for little girls who would be heartbroken if you didn’t.  It can seem like a daunting task, but ultimately I think it is a beautiful blessing to think that we can help convince little girls that they matter — just by how we live out our lives, big moments and the details.  Maybe someday, when a young woman is looking back on her life and the women who made a difference in who she became, you’ll be a part of her story.
With gratitude and in the spirit,


Christina Maxwell is preparing to start her freshman year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in musical theater. Originally from Asheville, North Carolina,  Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012. Learn more about Christina here!

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