Perhaps it’s a legitimate query, but we suspect the answer lies not in the question but in the mindset, and from the perspective, of the person who asks it. That’s just a kinder, albeit more awkward, way of saying, “People ask their questions based on preconceived notions or personal prejudices.”
So be it.
But last week, the Cleveland and Bradley County community found the answer to another question, “What’s right with kids today?”
Frankly, we discovered 24 answers. Each came in the form of an individual contestant in the Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee 2015 scholarship program.
DYW hopefuls may not be perfect — who is? — but they’re as close as anyone is going to find. These young ladies represent the finest their respective communities can offer — in scholastics, in talent, in self-expression, in fitness and in some categories that aren’t even categories at all. They’re just first impressions.
It comes as little surprise that a Distinguished Young Women theme is “Be Your Best Self.”
That’s what the DYW program is all about.
It’s about helping young women to build confidence.
It’s about supporting young women in learning how to express themselves.
It’s about nurturing young women on ways to serve as ambassadors for their communities, their schools, their churches and their families.
It’s about encouraging young women to explore the world around them.
It’s about teaching young women to value the role of education.
It’s about training young women to always put their best foot forward.
It’s about showing young women the importance of encouraging others.
And to encapsulate the DYW experience into a single thought, it truly is about “... being your best self.”
Last week, our hometown community saw for ourselves. We welcomed the best to our city and in turn each contestant displayed her best self every step of the way. It wasn’t a show. It wasn’t temporary. It wasn’t just to gain favor. It wasn’t just a perception.
It was real.
As with most any event involving competition, judging and prizes — in this case, invaluable scholarships to college — the Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee program named a winner, and a first- and second runnerup.
Yet, from our perspective all 24 contestants are winners. They didn’t just waltz into Cleveland for last week’s long hours of rehearsal, volunteer activities and two nights of on-stage competition. They earned the right to be here by prevailing in DYW events in their own communities, and that means each was already a winner before gracing the Cleveland city limits with their smiles, goodwill and ambassadorship.
But for the record, let us congratulate the three who most captured the hearts of the judges.
Ashley Stevens, a 17-year-old who represented the city of Tullahoma, was named Distinguished Young Woman of Tennessee 2015, while also earning special recognition from the judges in the “Scholastic” and “Talent” categories. She follows in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Courtney Miller of Rhea County.
Savannah Stone, a familiar face in Bradley County because she is a student at Walker Valley High School, finished as first runner-up. She received special recognition from the judges in the “Interview” category.
Macy Marin, who came to the state program representing Cumberland Valley, was named second runner-up. She earned a special nod from the judges in the “Fitness” category.
Another Southeast Tennessee favorite, Chloe Lyle of Signal Mountain, earned the program’s Spirit Award.
Yes, the DYW 2015 program named winners and recipients of scholarships. But it did much, much more.
It helped 24 young women to grow. It opened the eyes of detractors who don’t always understand the ways of today’s youth. It bridged a gap, one that sometimes divides generations of beliefs, values and cultures.
But most of all, it allowed our Cleveland and Bradley County community to embrace — and to adopt, if only for a week — a group of young daughters who brought us their smiles, their grace and their love of life.
And in turn, our hometown served as a stepping stone along a path leading to the fulfillment of dreams.
It isn’t the hope of a crown. It is a bold step into life’s journey, one whose destination is chosen by the traveler herself.