Elizabeth Ann Pierce wins FC Distinguished Young Woman

By María Camp / maria-camp@outlook.com

The annual Northwest Alabama Distinguished Young Women Scholarship Program was held at 6 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Norton Auditorium on the campus of the University of North Alabama. The theme for this year was “Becoming Your Greatest Self.”

Elizabeth Ann Pierce of Russellville High School was selected as Franklin County’s 2019 Distinguished Young Woman and will represent Franklin County in the state program in January 2019.

A total of 24 young women from Franklin, Colbert and Lauderdale counties competed in scholastics, interview, fitness, talent and self-expression categories. Each category winner receives a $200 cash award. Each second alternate receives a $300 cash scholarship. Each first alternate receives a $400 cash scholarship.

“We hope you will all catch the Distinguished Young Women spirit and encourage others to become their greatest selves,” emcee Jocelyn Barnes encouraged. “It inspires young women in high school to develop their full and individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments. Distinguished Young Women strives to give every young woman the opportunity to further her education, prepare for a successful future and inspire her to be become her greatest self.”

Pierce first became involved with the program last year as a Little Sister – an arm of the program that gives girls entering 10th and 11th grades the opportunity to learn a choreographed dance routine and introduce her “Big Sister’s” talent.

Pierce said during her own experience as a Little Sister, she knew right away that she wanted to participate as a contestant this year.

“This program is about more than just winning scholarship money. It’s about instilling confidence in young women and making new friendships,” said Pierce, who was also selected as the winner of the fitness, scholastics and self-expression categories. “Because of this, I have learned how to be my absolute best self in every circumstance of life. I can only hope that some of the Little Sisters who were in the same place I was last year have caught its spirit this week.

For Pierce’s talent, she sang “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

Abbey Jones, of Red Bay High School, was awarded first alternate, in addition to winning in the talent category. Her talent was singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Jones said although the program was far outside of her comfort zone, she learned a lot from it.

“It was very uplifting to be around so many talented and intelligent young women this past week,” Jones said. “I feel so honored to have received the titles I did. I have really been inspired to do what makes me a little uncomfortable because that is how you grow. I have learned how to be confident in who I am. It taught me how to carry myself with poise and grace under pressure.”

Emma Claire Bragwell, of Russellville High School, was awarded second alternate for Franklin County. Her talent was musical theatre, “Life of the Party.”

Other Franklin County contestants were Cady Studdard, of the Alabama School of Math and Science, who performed a science experiment while the song “She Blinded Me With Science” played, and Maria Estrada, of Belgreen High School, who painted a moonlit forest scene.

For the scoring criteria, scholastics and interviewing each count 25 percent; talent accounts for 20 percent; and fitness and self-expression each count for 15 percent of each participant’s total score. The aim of the scoring procedure is to evaluate the characteristics and qualities the program purports every young woman should strive to possess. None of the criteria are based on physical appearance.

Alison Bryant, last year’s winner of the Distinguished Young Woman award for Franklin County, also took part in this year’s program, as is custom for past winners.

“Distinguished Young Women has helped to bring forward my best self as well as help me to encourage others to strive to be their best,” Bryant said. “As a result, I have learned to be confident, graceful and proud of who I am. I have learned so much about myself that would have never been possible without the help of the Distinguished Young Women program.”

Bryant’s advice for this year’s winner? “Cherish every moment because this next year is going to be one of the best years of your life.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has ties to the program. In 1963 she was a Junior Miss representing Wilcox County. Junior Miss changed its name to Distinguished Young Women in 2010.

Ivey, quoted during Friday’s program from a June 29 statement, offered the following words to the girls who will be participating in the Distinguished Young Women nationals in Mobile: “I learned that even I, a young lady growing up in a small town in rural Alabama, could have a future that knew no boundaries. The Distinguished Young Women program indeed has a legacy that challenges young women to be their best selves, to pursue lofty goals to be leaders and to make an impact in the world.”

Susan Hargett, chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Northwest Alabama Distinguished Young Women program, said this year’s contestants were phenomenal, excelling in every aspect.

“Not only were they hard working, but they were considerate, kind to each other, and they are all winners for doing their best,” Hargett said. “The girls bonded and built friendships that will carry over into their college years. They are already leaders in their schools and communities.”

Hargett said Distinguished Young Women helps to instill values and an awareness of young women’s abilities to improve their futures. She said each girl walks away with a sense of accomplishment at having completed a program that requires much.

For Hargett, the most rewarding part is watching young women bloom by polishing their skills and building friendships.

She cited the most challenging aspect as raising enough money to put on the program and provide scholarship funding for many girls.

“We would like to thank all of the many sponsors who make this possible through buying ads, providing food and supporting the program,” Hargett added. “All the people who work with us are volunteers who put in long hours to make sure the girls have an experience similar to the state competition.

“The staff believes Distinguished Young Women has the power to help change the lives of high school girls for the better.”

It’s a belief Pierce will now experience for herself.

“I can’t wait to see what is in store for me this next year,” she said, “as I represent my home county as its next Distinguished Young Woman.”

Barnes and Bishop Alexander served as emcees. Official choreographer was Molly Weems Tubbs, owner and artistic director of Applause Dance Studio. Official photographer was Scott Butler, owner and lead photographer of Butler Studio Photography.

For more information on scholarship opportunities for girls in this area, contact Susan Hargett at 256-710-9239 or Katernia Cole-Coffey at 256-541-5674.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer with the Distinguished Young Women Program can contact Hargett at dshargett@aol.com.

For more information visit www.distinguishedyw.org.

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