That’s the day this year’s Distinguished Young Women contestants were invited to the Sunrise Rotary meeting.
The teenagers are used to getting up early this week — the meeting started at 7 a.m. — because of all the rehearsals, special events, community service projects and competition work they are involved with — all in just a week’s time.
Charles Fant, the co-chair for the state of Tennessee’s DYW program, introduced the young ladies competing in this year’s event to the Cleveland/Bradley Sunrise Rotary group.
This is just the fourth year the DYW competition has been held in Cleveland, although the program itself has been in existence for 55 years.
DYW, originally called Junior Miss until a few years ago, is a nationwide scholarship program that started in 1958, Fant said. Millions of dollars has been earned since its inception by women for their educational goals.
“Thousands of women in the state of Tennessee have participated in this program,” Fant said.
During the meeting, this year’s participants regaled the Rotary audience with some of the group dance numbers, as well as some of the individual talents they will be performing at the Friday and Saturday night competition events — starting at 7 each night — at Bradley Central High School’s Fine Arts Building. This part of the competition event is open to the public.
Later Thursday after the drop-in visit with Rotarians, the ladies started their first rounds of competition — the interview portion. And, going nonstop after finishing their interviews Thursday, the contestants started “teching” — making all the final adjustments and tweaks — to their onstage and talent presentations, according to Chelsea Milligan, one of choreographers for the DYW competition and also a former Tennessee Junior Miss in 2010.
“They’ve learned a lot in a short period of time,” Fant said. “They’ve learned all except the closing number, so far.”
The five divisions of competition include fitness and self-expression, which are both worth 15 percent each of the overall score; the talent and the interview portions are 25 percent each; and scholastic/academic achievement is 20 percent.
In the competition, some of the ladies will sing. Some will perform dance numbers — modern, ballet and even clogging. Others said they will play the piano, others the saxophone and some will perform a dramatic reading. Some will perform gymnastics and even twirl a baton.
To showcase their talents at the Rotary meeting, the entire group performed their opening dance number. Next, a group of around eight contestants performed another dance number.
One young lady sang, "There's a Place for Us."
Another sang a song that seemed to describe what these distinguished young ladies might have been thinking and hoping, “I'll find my way. I'll find my life in my own way. To shine brightly as the sun. My great adventure has begun — and there's no turning back.”
Also at the Sunrise Rotary meeting was the most recent DYW winner, Lexee Hill of Rhea County. She spoke briefly to the assembled group, reminding all the contestants they already are winners, already accomplished women, and only a representative for DYW will be chosen on Saturday night.
“It’s amazing how much this week will change your lives,” Hill said. “I have grown so much in the past year ... I have changed so much.”
Hill continued, telling the teenagers they can do anything they want, be anything they want. They can be president of the United States, she told them. By being part of DYW, she explained, each of them can find it within themselves to accomplish anything they want to achieve.
“It’s a joy to watch,” Hill said.
And Pat Fuller, president of the Sunrise Rotary and a coordinator as well as a host family for some of the DYW contestants, said in closing the meeting, "After meeting these young ladies, I have confidence in the future of our country."
For anyone who would like to volunteer to help with this year’s DYW, there is still time, as well as work to do. Contact Ty Cardin, a Sunrise Rotary member, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 368-6220.