Lexee was the overall winner in the self-expression and interview categories and winner in the preliminary fitness competition a year ago in the state program and took home a total of $6,250 in scholarships on that night. The Rhea County program was her first step into the world of competing as an individual against other girls on the local, state and national levels.
“It was really nerve-racking because you really don’t know what you are getting yourself into,” she said. “I knew after I competed and won Rhea County that I was going to get ready for state. I was so much more confident and I was just more excited for the experience than anything. Now, I can’t believe I was ever on the fence about doing the program because it has given so much to me and it has changed my life so much. I can’t believe there was a time when I didn’t know if I could have done it or not.”
She represented Tennessee in the national contest in Mobile, Ala., in June. She did not add to her scholarship winnings last month, but the young woman feels the experience she gained is worth more than scholarship money.
“I didn’t walk away with any scholarships but I gained a lot about what I want to do in the next couple of years in college and about what I want to do with my life. That’s the greatest thing you can get from the program,” Hill said. “Confidence is a big thing and it’s not just feeling more sure in your abilities and what you can do, but also getting to know yourself better. I’m so much more sure of myself and I don’t have the doubts I use to have.”
In high school, she said students don’t really learn how special they are as individuals unless they are good at sports.
“But in the Distinguished Young Women program, I learned how special I am because of my mind, how I could talk to people and how I was,” she said. “You value yourself differently after you go through this and put less worth on how physically attractive you are and you learn more about showing people your mind and what your values are. I think that’s a different type of attractiveness when you can open up to people and show them who you are. That’s the kind of attractive girl I want people to see me as, one that’s real and not one that’s just superficially pretty.”
Before embarking on what turned out to be a yearlong journey, the current titleholder said she did things more for fun than anything else.
“When I signed up, I wasn’t an actual competitor, not that I didn’t think I had a chance, but I didn’t see myself as an in-it-to-win-it type even at state and national. I was dedicating myself and putting my heart into it, but it’s not like I was ever set on winning anything,” she said. “But, coming away with almost $10,000, you kind of have to look back and you have to notice how special you are. You have to understand these judges picked you for a reason and you have to learn to look at yourself and see the things in you they saw.”
She has always tried to be aware how people saw her, but as a titleholder, “you want to try that much harder to not just be a normal teenage girl as act as a role model. Every part of this program has altered how I’m going to act for the rest of my life. It has just given me so much and I know that I give my title away on Saturday, but that’s definitely not the end of the impact of the program.”
Lexee graduated from Rhea County High School in the spring and plans on entering the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where she intends to earn an undergraduate degree in English, which she will use as a steppingstone into law school.
“I want to be a criminal defense attorney,” she said.
Lexee has always been intrigued by the adversarial court process, an interest that grew from reading crime books and case studies. The idea of becoming a lawyer was always in the back of her mind, but she was never confident enough to really embrace the thought. A mock trial in her junior year helped her realize she could potentially practice law in real court and her interest turned to passion after she won a mock trial in criminal justice class.
“I was appointed as head of the defense in a murder trial and I was the first woman to win it — ever, in the history of the school and the first person to win it, period, in over 15 years,” she said. “I was just really, really passionate about how it works, how you create your case — I just really knew that was what was right for me. I absolutely love speaking in front of people and I just feel it’s right for me.”
The theme of the 55th annual state program is “Flashback: One Moment in Time.” Katye Brock, the Distinguished Young Woman of America and Tennessee for 2011 is returning to Cleveland to emcee the program. Chelsea Milligan, 2010 Tennessee Junior Miss, from Gallatin; and Katharine Kolp, 2009 Tennessee Junior Miss, from Hendersonville, are doing all of the choreography. The preliminary and final performances are Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Building at Bradley Central High School. Tickets are on sale at Perry’s Petals. For more information, please email Jen Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 423-304-7098.