What I Learned in a Year

By Gabrielle Walter
Distinguished Young Woman of New York for 2011

Two weekends ago at my state program, I realized how fast a year truly goes by. I wanted this blog post to be about something I discovered that week. What I found was that my farewell speech summed up the great experience I had as a whole with the amazing Distinguished Young Women program and all who were a part of it.

The person I am today is not the person I was a year ago. That is the way everyone is. It is the experiences, influences, and inner morals that change a person. Without change the world would never move towards a better version of itself. Once given the title Distinguished Young Woman of New York for 2011 my future was brought on another, even better path than the one I had expected. Just like every other teenager, I have ideas, and my wish is to change the world by helping children make a foundation for a solid future through education and health awareness. Earning this title gave me an outlet to change the world.

For National Be Your Best Self week that took place last April, I visited the Charter School for Applied Technologies right here in my own city. It opened my eyes to another side of the place I call home, Buffalo. From the moment my friends and I arrived the halls were filled with nerves of the young girls. To start off we played Simon Says and when it became really difficult to get anyone out, I knew that I had their attention, which is one of the most important things. I lead the way as Dorothy down the Yellow Brick Road and we stopped by all of the characters to learn about a special Be Your Best Self Element while singing a song along the way. When it was time to leave, they were changed girls within that hour. They already had the smarts about what all the elements are like exercising to be healthy and doing homework to be studious, but to put all the elements together and be your best self took my involvement. It is the big picture that without one it is hard to have the others. Those girls learned that being your best self is something that everyone works towards each day, yes we may make mistakes, but that is what makes us who we are. Teaching these young girls about being your best self was like looking at my reflection in the mirror. I reminded myself about not only what I am doing, but showed myself some things I can improve on as well. The girls changed me in that I know and see that I am truly a role model for everyone younger than me that I encounter. My actions act as a model for how others act.

From the moment I arrived in Mobile, I was blown away. The kind, warm hearted families, contestants, choreographers, committees, everyone made me feel sooo welcomed. I cannot even name half of the events we did because we were so booked with rehearsals, sponsor events, Girl Scout Troop visits, time with host families, we did it all! Some of the best moments though were the ones that were not scheduled, I call them distinguished moments. Getting to know my host family the McKinney’s and their involvement in the program over some frozen yogurt at Cold Snap and then heading to gulf shores was fabulous. This program is not just something they do on the side, it has become a part of their lives. They do it because they believe in the program and its message of “helping college bound young women develop their full, individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments.” One of the funnier moments was when all the contestants and I were at the Mardi Gras Ball and our group number song “Born this Way” came on and we all as a group just broke out in dance. Those are the distinguished moments. It is the moment when I was at Camp Grace helping children with disabilities and serving them lunch, watching the camp counselors have patience and aid to that child’s every need, that was a distinguished moment. And they happen every day if you look for them.

So one may ask, why is it important to be distinguished? Good old Webster says that to be distinguished is to be “marked by eminence, distinction, or excellence.” No one person is the same in this world. We all have our own ideas, interpretations, and opinions about the world. It is the differences of opposing ideas that makes no one the same. How would the world be if everyone thought the same? Nothing would ever change. There would be no collaboration of ideas to get the best outcome of what people have to offer. I believe everyone has something to offer in this world. Getting things to make yourself better in life is the usual, but giving of yourself to others in the toughest times is self- sacrificing, a distinct action, a distinguished deed. It is the circumstances that we encounter in life that force us to have opinions. Our innate actions show who we are as individuals. It is when no one is watching that you are yourself.

All of my experiences in this past year with the program have helped me become the woman I am today. And what is the outcome of this change? I am in debt to Distinguished Young Women, not debt as in money that I owe, but the debt of giving back all that I have won in spirit. It is up to me to keep going with all the skills, friendships, connections and personal obtainings to give to others through support and teaching. It is the skills and knowledge that Distinguished Young Women has taught me about myself that I can teach other girls about themselves. Like a chain reaction, I can still change the world. I do not need a title, I need an idea, the ability to persuade others to follow me, and determination to follow through with my goal.

I came across a quote from one of my good friends and it reads, “We lose ourselves in the things we love, and often find ourselves there too.” I lose myself in my passions of writing, singing, dancing, and performing. That is where I find myself to be most happy. But I have realized it is performing that does not need to be done on stage, but rather for the people I meet every day; in volunteering, in school…. my passion is a part of who I am. On this stage tonight you are seeing girls sharing their passions with you; themselves in their best form.
No one can succeed by themselves it is known that humans need other humans. So also, besides the letter in the program book I would like to especially thank again the committee as a whole, melissa the choreographer, and host families– they do so much for this program. The lovely Susan Makai and a shout out to her mother for honestly some of the best sandwiches I have ever had. And finally to my family- Mom, Dad, Mel Will, and Auntie. And my new roommate family- Rachel, Leah, Sarah, and Marissa. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for believing in me when I was struggling to see the success in myself.

I am so honored to be your Distinguished Young Woman of 2011, it is an experience I will never forget, and I am proud to pass on the title to another deserving young woman tonight. Thank you! :)

Gabrielle Walter is a college freshman at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York majoring in Biology/Pre-medicine. Originally from East Amherst, New York, Gabrielle was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of New York for 2011. Learn more about Gabrielle here!

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