Distinguished Young Women, formerly known as America’s Junior Miss, is a national scholarship program that seeks to help high school girls develop their full, individual potential.
The local program for DYW is hosting an interest meeting sponsored by Trustmark on Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 5:30 PM at the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce.
The program hopes that local young women can find themselves through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments. It is not required to attend the interest meeting, but it is highly recommended.
“Distinguished Young Women embraces the ‘be your best self’ program, encouraging participants to make a commitment to be their best selves in areas including academics, physical fitness, morality, character, and social and civic participation,” said Suzanna Helveston, local chair for DYW. “Distinguished Young Women is a fantastic opportunity for young women to grow and develop their leadership skills.”
Distinguished Young Women is the oldest and largest scholarship program for high school girls. Cash scholarships are awarded at the local level and millions in college-granted scholarships are available. Local winners will advance to the state program in Meridian, Mississippi where they give away more than 28,900 in cash tuition scholarships.
Last year, more than $1 billion in cash tuition and college-granted scholarships were available nationally.
“Oxford-Lafayette County has never had a local Distinguished Young Women program,” said Helveston. “Ellie Tucker actually found out about the at-large program which is for girls who don’t have a Distinguished Young Women’s program in their county or city.”
Oxford High School student Ellie Tucker, daughter of Tom and Leigh Tucker, is now recognized as Distinguished Young Woman of Lafayette County 2022 in February. In July, Tucker competed in the Distinguished Young Women State Competition in Meridian and came away with an amazing experience.
“She had such a wonderful experience participating in the state program, and is thrilled other girls in Lafayette county will be able to do the same,” said Helveston. “After Ellie had such a fantastic experience, we just felt like the time was right to start a local program for Lafayette County. We are really excited to offer this opportunity to 11th grade girls in Lafayette County, to earn scholarship money for when they can go to college.”
A committee of 10 people was formed, most of whom were already familiar with the program in some way. Helveston competed in the program when it was still called America’s Junior Miss in 1997 and said her participation was great preparation for her future.
“I learned so many life skills from participating, even at a local level, that carried me through high school, college and into my career,” said Helveston. “It is extremely fulfilling to be able to offer this program to local girls in Lafayette county, knowing the impact it had on me almost 25 years ago.”
When asked if the youth program had changed in the past couple decades, Helveston said parts have been modified to appeal to modern young women, but it is still the same at its heart.
“The core values that the Distinguished Young Women program embraces and the ‘Be Your Own Best Self’ initiative have stayed the same,” she said. “I think that’s important and those core values are still the same. I think this is a refreshing opportunity for young ladies of today.”
Some young women may feel hesitant to join because they don’t feel talented or “distinguished” enough to join the program, but Helveston says they need to think about what makes them unique.
“I would encourage potential contestants to think outside of the box,” she said. “I think when people hear the word ‘talent’ they think, ‘Oh I can’t sing, play the piano, or dance so I wouldn’t have anything to offer,’ but… I say think outside the box for a way you might be accomplished in an area that doesn’t include a song or a dance.”
Any young lady will be able to find something they enjoy out of the program and will be able to create life-long memories through the Distinguished Young Women’s program.
“I think all the participants will learn something about themselves that they didn’t know before,” said Helveston. “Coming in with an open mind, a positive attitude, the opportunity to win scholarship money, make new friends and build upon your leadership skills is a win-win.”
For more information on the Distinguished Young Women program and applications, visit lafayette.ms.distinguishedyw.org/. The deadline for applications is Friday, January 7, 2022.