At first, Portage High School junior Andrea Vance didn’t realize she had just been named the Distinguished Young Woman for the class of 2018.
After her name was called, she stood still on the stage, still believing she was just another one of 27 girls who participated in this year’s program. Then, her eyes widened in surprise before she broke into a smile and met 2017 Distinguished Young Woman Emma Havrilla in the middle of the stage for her medal and a hug.
“I didn’t believe it for a second,” Vance said.
The annual Distinguished Young Woman competition is the largest and oldest scholarship program for high school girls in America. The program promotes leadership, talent, and confidence in young girls, who leave each year with incredible memories, friendships, and self-esteem. There are local, state, and national competitions every year and in February of next year, Vance will represent Portage at the state competition in Kokomo. But in the mean time, she said she will focus on what she needs to do to improve before then.
“I’m looking forward to working harder, doing my best and helping others,” Vance said.
Vance’s experiences as a member of the Portage High School Thespians helped prepare her for performing the segments in front of an audience, she said. As student director, Vance spends more time behind the scenes than onstage, but she has also performed in the high school’s “Into the Woods” last spring and variety shows. Martin-Williams said this is one of the easiest groups of girls she’s ever dealt with, including her new titleholder.
“Andrea is a great, well-rounded girl,” Program Director Carrie Martin-Williams said. “There is a special something, a quiet confidence, that I really admire.”
For DYW, junior girls are judged in five categories. The interview and scholastic achievement portions are both completed before finals night begins and are each worth 25 percent of a contestant’s final score. Talent is 20 percent, and fitness and self expression are 15 percent each.
Judge Mariah Blackwell’s memories of her time in the competition are still relatively fresh. Blackwell won Portage’s DYW of 2015 and is now a junior studying Psychology at Indiana University. She is the youngest Portage winner to ever judge. For Blackwell, it is the confidence she gained during her time as DYW that draws her back to the program and she looked forward to helping choose Vance to carry the title.
“The people who really stand out are the ones who speak from the heart,” Blackwell said. “There’s a lot of room to grow from this program.”
This year, the competition saw itself faced with a couple of differences.
Usually, there are five performance by non-finalists or past DYW participants that are scheduled to entertain the audience during final judging. Only four young women, three seniors and one Portage alumna performed this time.
Because the judges leave the auditorium at one point of the process and go into a separate room to debate their favorite candidates and final choices, the missing performance forced Martin-Williams to stall while the final scores were tallied. Showing the character traits that made her last year’s Distinguished Young Woman, Emma Havrilla used the time to tell the audience how much she enjoyed working with the class of 2018.
The DYW competition is a scholarship program, so every year the winner is awarded scholarship money that she can put towards college. This year, Vance took home $1,500.
Other winners included fourth runner-up Cassie Prohl; third runner-up, Jessica Cretors; second runner-up, Mickalya Edmaiston; and first runner-up, Madeline Aldrich. In addition, the other five finalists were Sydney Ford, Kristin Gaffney, Mary Yong, Jasmine Cuadrado and Jamie Valadez. Corrine Ball won the Hanley Award, Jordan Simko won the Stevens Award and Mary Yong won Spirit of DYW.
Great job to all who participated in this year’s Distinguished Young Woman and congratulations to Andrea Vance for such an incredible accomplishment!