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Be Your Best Self

05/06/2014 08:27AM ● Published by Nancy Babin

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Be Your Best Self by Denise Gates

What does it mean to Be Your Best Self?  Is it comparing yourself to others and trying to measure up?  No.  Being your best self is about being empowered with valuable tools to face the challenges of negative peer pressure. It's about being the best person you can be in your own body, your spirit, your goals, your school, and your community.  Intrigued?  Natalie Lawson certainly was.

When Natalie was a junior at Fort Walton Beach High School, like many young women her age she was considering her options for college and scholarships.  Her mother told her about a program she grew up knowing as America’s Junior Miss.  At first Natalie was skeptical, but she researched the program anyway and learned that Junior Miss is now known as Distinguished Young Women (DYW) - and it has a lot more to offer than college scholarships.  DYW is about leadership, scholarship and talent.  Not only that, but it concentrates on goal-setting and high values. She decided to apply to the program.

Arden Robertson was also intrigued by DYW. As a student at Collegiate High School, she was drawn to DYW’s outreach program called Be Your Best Self.  “Be Your Best Self is the cornerstone of being a Distinguished Young Woman,” Arden explains.  “Girls learn 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.”

And Arden should know.  In 2013 Arden became the first ever DYW of Okaloosa County. She placed in the top eight at the state level and is now attending Texas A&M in an honors program, enjoying the several scholarships she won, including that from DYW.

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Distinguished Young Women is nothing new: a new name, but the same program that's existed since 1958:  America's Junior Miss.

The name was recently changed to make it clear that this is a scholarship program and unlike a beauty pageant in many ways.  DYW searches for the refreshing, wholesome, refined and traditional young lady who is dynamic in her goals and everyday life and who has mastered time-management skills, priorities, and commitment in order to achieve success. It attracts special, accomplished, upcoming high school senior girls who can participate and compete for cash scholarship money in five categories:  Scholastic, Fitness, Interview, Talent, and Public Speaking (also called Self-Expression).  It costs nothing to enter, and there is much more to it than scholarship assistance alone.

The girls study the DYW outreach program called "Be Your Best Self," and they carry the message to groups all over their county: scout troops, school classrooms, dance studios, after-school programs, athletic teams, the works!  By speaking about the elements that encourage being your best self, plus living it day to day, the girls mentor the younger ones and make a positive impact on their peers.  “Teaching these young girls about being your best self was like looking at my reflection in the mirror,” explains Arden.  “It reminded me about not only what I am doing, but showed me some things I can improve on as well. I realized I am truly a role model for everyone younger than me whom I encounter.”

Participants are taught interview skills, public-speaking skills and how to enhance their talents.  They become more fit through the learning and practice of a vigorous routine to be performed on program night.  They become more articulate, service-minded, responsible, involved, and ambitious, all while bonding with their class. 

 “The local program was a great experience because of all the girls from different schools and parts of the county coming together to form lasting friendships,” explains Natalie.  DYW becomes even more than the girls imagined. They experience the unexplainable bonding that takes place over the five or so months prior to the actual program production.  They don't consider the end of the production as the end but rather the beginning of continuing successes, sharing the messages, utilizing all they've learned, and staying in close touch with their DYW "sisters." No one comes away not feeling confident and even more goal-oriented.  They become lifelong members of the DYW family, returning each year to help with and be involved in the programs typically produced each summer.  

The highest scorer overall is selected to represent the class for that year and advances to the state competition.  All 50 state representatives then proceed to DYW Nationals that takes place in Mobile, AL each June.  

At our local level in Okaloosa County, a board of directors and team of 30 people produce the program.  Junior Miss has been very active in our county since the 1960s, but due to a lack of leadership, it fizzled somewhat in the 2000s. The current board and team have reestablished the program which has been known by its new name for about three years: Distinguished Young Women of Okaloosa Co, Inc. 

Our first ever DYW of Okaloosa County was Arden Robertson, of Niceville.  Our second and current DYW is Natalie Lawson, who was also selected at the state level as the DYW of Florida.  "This is the first time for a girl from our county to win state," said Carole Byrd, director of the Okaloosa County chapter of DYW. "This is huge."  Natalie has spoken to multiple groups, has appeared in four parades, and was honored at several local ceremonies.  She will be competing in June at the Nationals level in Mobile.  “We are sponsoring a fun charter bus day trip on Sat. June 28 to take interested people to see and support our county, our state and of course, Natalie,” says Carole.  (For bus information, send an email to okaloosa@distinguishedyw.org)

Meantime, the third local program is being planned for July 19 at the FWB City Auditorium.  There are 24 girls representing all schools in the county.  Talent presentations are being prepared and the difficult fitness routine is being perfected.  The program is a fun production to witness, and the public is invited.

“DYW is so much more than seeking applause or impressing those around you,” says Arden. “When you make the choice to become a Distinguished Young Woman, you are committing to being your best self for the rest of your life. You strive to do your best irrespective of those around you. Some may do things better; some may do them worse. But all that counts is that you did YOUR best at being physically fit and drug free, serving your community, staying in school, setting and achieving goals, and living by moral and ethical principles. As a Distinguished Young Woman, you work for a cause, NOT for applause. You live your life to express, NOT to impress.”

As Carole proudly states, “We love this program and enjoy seeing these girls progress and become so professional!  It is so very gratifying.”

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For more information about Distinguished Young Women, visit http://distinguishedyw.org

Visit our local Okaloosa County chapter of DYW on Facebook at “Distinguished Young Women of Okaloosa County, FL”

For information about the charter bus day trip on Sat. June 28, send an email to okaloosa@distinguishedyw.org
  

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