Ashley Stevens, a 17-year-old who finished her junior year of high school in the spring, was given the state title Saturday night after having already won her local program back home.
Hailing from Tullahoma, she said she was first inspired to take part in the Distinguished Young Women program when she was still too young to participate. She was a “little sister,” a younger helper with the Tullahoma program. When it came time to head to Cleveland for the state competition, she was eager to start.
“I’d been really excited about it,” Stevens said.
She and 23 other young women first arrived in Cleveland on July 6 for a week of rehearsals leading up to competitions in Lee University’s Dixon Center Friday and Saturday night.
Stevens said her favorite part of the week was getting to know the girls during long days of rehearsals for dance and fitness routines and individual talents. She said she cried when it came time for everyone to leave.
While it made her “a little bit nervous,” Stevens said she approached the competition with a desire to have fun.
Because it was a competition, she explained that was keeping a mental tally of who did well at what and tried to predict the winners during it. Stevens didn’t think she would win.
However, she won the scholastics portion of the competition with her school grades and the talent portion with her singing prowess after performing “Let It Go” from the movie musical “Frozen.” Those scores led to her overall win.
“It was a surprise,” Stevens said. “It was kind of a whirlwind.”
She will now be making plans to head to Mobile, Ala., next summer to take part in the national program to determine who will be the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2015.
This fall, she will begin balancing the responsibilities that come with her title while keeping up with her studies as a senior at Tullahoma High School.
While what lies beyond her senior year is not definite yet, Stevens said she thinks she may choose to study at New York University. Her future dreams include becoming a Broadway actress and a writer.
Though some may see those dreams as lofty ones, she said being in the Distinguished Young Women competition has allowed her to believe that she can accomplish more than she once thought she would. Stevens said that view fits with the program’s main platform, an instruction to “Be Your Best Self.”
“I feel like I’m a more confident person,” Stevens said. “That’s something everyone can take with them.”
Parents Geoff and Rhonda Stevens were there to cheer their daughter on Saturday night, though her father said he was “surprised” about the win as well.
However, both said they had been supportive of her throughout the program and are looking forward to what’s next for her as she prepares for the national competition.
“We’re very proud,” her mother said. “We’re excited about the journey.”
Distinguished Young Women is a scholarship program that evaluates its contestants on talent, scholastics, fitness, self-expression and interviews. Up until 2010, it was known as Junior Miss.