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Distinguished Through the Decades: 2022, Madeline Cooper

Progress 2022

This year’s Franklin County Distinguished Young Woman is Russellville High School’s Madeline Cooper.

Cooper went to the state competition in January after winning the local competition in August 2021. She said DYW has “done nothing but uplift me and make me want to do the same to other young women.”

“Distinguished Young Woman has impacted me in countless ways I could have never imagined,” said Cooper, daughter of Greta and Matt Cooper. “This program has given me so much confidence in myself and my ability to do things that are out of my comfort zone.

“I have come out of DYW with so many life lessons,” she added. “I’ve never cared for a program so much in my entire life. I can confidently say that Distinguished Young Woman has changed me for the better – and changed me forever.”

There’s a ringing endorsement, if ever there was one.

At Russellville High School, Cooper has been involved in the gamut: varsity cheer, performing arts, varsity tennis, Student Council, Annual Staff, Christian Students United, FBLA, FCCLA, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Key Club, Library Club, Chemistry Club, Spanish Club and the ACT 30+ Club. “I am very outgoing, I enjoy performing, and I always strive to be a good leader,” said Cooper, who serves as the varsity cheer chaplain and the Student Council president. This year she competed in the Walter Trumbauer district and state competitions for theatre, scoring superiors at both. She said she also spends a large majority of her time at Tharptown Baptist Church, where she loves singing in the Student Praise Band every Wednesday night.

Cooper said she first became interested in DYW when she was asked by Lauren Mae Sturdivant to be a “Little Sister” in the 2020 program. “Sadly, the Little Sisters were not able to perform in 2020 due to COVID-19,” Cooper said. “Even though I was not able to be a part of DYW that year, my interest was sparked.” With a little bit of research into the requirements and the rewards, Cooper was sold. “I have always had the goal to pay for my own college through scholarships, and I love performing and being on stage, so I knew DYW was right for me.”

The RHS senior said her favorite part of the program was “making so many friends from different schools and counties. I loved meeting all of the contestants and learning all about them.”

“My DYW friends have been some of the most supportive girls ever, and we all just lifted each other up,” Cooper added. “Nothing about the program even feels like a competition because we have so much fun being together.”

At the local competition, Cooper said waiting together for their individual interviews was one of the most fun parts. “All of the girls stayed in the lobby of Norton Auditorium all day, and we would leave one by one for our interviews. We had so much fun talking and laughing that we forgot all about the nerves of the interview process. When I went into my interview, I was so at ease.

“I also really enjoyed the interview process,” Cooper added, noting the girls got the opportunity to meet the judges that morning over breakfast. During the interview later that day, “they asked me about traveling and about my family and personality, but they also asked me what two women I would add to Mount Rushmore and why,” she said. “The range of questions was difficult, but I had confidence in myself and showed them who I really was.”

She said the most challenging portion of the program was self-expression. And yet, “when I reached the microphone, all nerves were lost. Everything about the process was just so fun, when I got up there, I said my piece with a smile and walked away.”

As her high school graduation approaches, Cooper is looking to the future. She said she plans to attend the University of North Alabama in the fall, pursuing a business degree with a minor in political science. “I chose UNA because it truly felt like home when I came to campus,” she explained. “I love the campus and the location but also the legacy UNA holds in my family.

“I love my hometown, and after college I plan to come back to Russellville and open multiple small businesses,” Cooper added. “I want to start with a clothing store, but I see so much potential in our downtown. I want to come back to Russellville and give back to this city that has done so much for me.”

Beyond that, Cooper said she hopes to go on to earn her doctorate in business. “I have always loved education, and I hope to keep furthering my education as long as I

possibly can,” she said. “I love to learn, and I don’t know if I’ll be ready to let that go after my bachelor’s degree. I hope to be a college professor in my later years.

At the local DYW program, Cooper said the most memorable moment was winning the Spirit of Distinguished Young Woman award.

“This award is voted on by all of the contestants for every county. We were told to choose the person who embodied what DYW meant to us,” Cooper said. “I never in a million years thought that those girls would vote for me. I have never been so happy as I was when they handed me that bouquet of flowers. I wanted to hug every contestant so badly and thank them for making it one of the best weeks of my life.

“I would have been happy if I had walked off the stage right then,” Cooper added. “That award meant the world to me, and I was honestly still thinking about it when I was called for Franklin County’s DYW. There was so much happiness and love for girls I had only met a week prior and such thankfulness to God for allowing me to be there in that moment.

“I hope that while I am Franklin County’s Distinguished Young Woman and while I represent my county at state that the only thing people see in me is gratitude. That is truly all I feel – thankfulness and praise to God for bringing me to this beautiful program with so many wonderful young women.”

Cooper praised the DYW program for everything it taught her and her fellow participants – from confidence and self-worth to the value of friendship and mutual support.

“I now have a friend in almost every county in Alabama,” Cooper said. “No matter where I go in this state, there will always be someone to call.

“I wish I could convince one hundred girls from Franklin County to compete next year because I truly believe it would impact every single one of them for the better. If you are even thinking about doing the program, please sign up. If nothing else, you will come out of it with more than 20 new friends and confidence to know you are capable of hard things. Distinguished Young Woman changed my life, and I know it can do the same for so many other girls.”

As DYW co-chair Katernia Cole Coffey put it, it’s likely “the best is yet to come” for Franklin County’s Distinguished Young Woman 2022.

“My biggest dream is to never stop going and doing,” Cooper said. “I want to travel the world, learn and experience as much as I can.”

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