And so do residents of Cleveland and Bradley County who for three years running have served as cordial hosts to this glorious event that heralds the finest in young women from across our Volunteer State.
They brought their best — all 23 contestants — for our community to see and to bear witness in categories that measure not only depth of soul but size of heart. Each performed admirably and with great humility in showcasing their abilities in fitness, talent, self-expression, interviews, scholastics and spirit.
Congratulations to 17-year-old Lexee Hill, the Distinguished Young Woman of Rhea County, whose smile of joy and tears of happiness graced the beautiful Dixon Center stage as she was named Saturday evening the new Distinguished Young Woman of Tennessee. She now advances to the Distinguished Young Woman of America competition in Mobile, Ala. in June 2012.
As happy as we are for Lexee, our pride bubbles as well for Cleveland’s own Distinguished Young Woman, Ariana Kim, who finished as First Alternate among the talented and diverse field of competitors. Likewise, we offer our warmest salute to Madeline Johnson, the Distinguished Young Woman of Jefferson County, who finished as 2nd Alternate.
Leading into Friday evening’s preliminaries and Saturday’s finals, it was a unique and heartfelt week for these youngsters as they became the adopted daughters of an appreciative Cleveland and Bradley County community.
They shared their lives, their hopes and their dreams with host families whose doors were opened to them gladly, warmly and lovingly.
They shared their warmth giving hours of community service at the Garden Plaza Retirement & Assisted Living facility.
They represented their families respectfully and their own hometowns pridefully in public appearances throughout the week whether in restaurants, tours of their host community or inside the private homes of Distinguished Young Women supporters.
They worked hard during daily rehearsals — early morning and most of the afternoon — learning new dance steps and entertaining stage routines taught by professional, and patient, choreographer Heidi Longwith.
They were the epitome of graciousness throughout a busy, and perhaps at times even a hectic, week of activities that tested their perseverance, their energy levels and assuredly their social skills.
Many volunteers should be recognized — and thanked — for their hours, days, weeks and months of preparation in gearing up for this exciting state program. Most notably are Charles and Traci Fant, the co-chairpersons for the Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee event.
Loyally working at their sides have been state committee members Beverly Dunn, Tom Jenkins, Bob Edson, Larry McSpadden, Holly Williams Kesley, Donna Christian Lowe, Marty Lowe, Tara Pollard, Ramona Thompson, (Heidi) Longwith and Julie McCaslin.
All are equally responsible for bringing Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee to Cleveland for another year and for helping our entire Bradley County home to open its doors to this inspiring celebration of youth.
But most of all, we thank the young contestants who gave us their eager smiles, warm hearts and endearing passion.
We wish for their safe return to our hometown soon and often.
Regardless of last week’s final rankings, each is a distinguished young woman in our hearts.
Today. Tomorrow. And beyond.