They have come to us as ambassadors for their own beautiful communities and have excelled in presenting themselves as their families, schools, churches and friends would have wanted.
Truly, these young contestants are the epitome of enthusiasm and the exuberance of youth.
Theirs are the smiles that brighten a room, lighten the intensity of competition and offer a layer of warmth and comfort to any occasion, no matter the circumstance nor the level of nervous intrigue.
These youngsters have come to Cleveland on a mission.
One is the most obvious, to earn the prestigious title of Tennessee Distinguished Young Woman, thereby qualifying for the subsequent national competition on a far broader stage.
Two, they are here to bridge gaps between communities, to learn from new surroundings and to glean knowledge from the experiences of strangers, many of whom one day will become close friends and willing confidantes.
And three, they are here in pursuit of opportunities in education; that is, the invaluable scholarships that have become key components of the Distinguished Young Women program.
Hours and hours, and day after day of rehearsals, have taken these young women to a crowning moment. We speak of the official start of competition. The preliminaries begin Friday night and will be followed 24 hours later on Saturday in the beautiful new Fine Arts Center of Bradley Central High School.
Yet before taking the stage to determine the eventual winners and runners-up, these youthful humanitarians have reached out to those within our community all week.
They began with a Monday night visit with the residents of The Garden Plaza at Cleveland, a retirement and assisted living facility of Life Care Centers of America. On Tuesday afternoon, the lasses tried their hands at a few hours of bowling while entertaining their hosts at Leisure Time. On Wednesday evening, they had been scheduled to enjoy some down time at a pool party at the home of Heather and Blake Sims, but area storms forced its cancellation.
Early this morning, the group visited with the membership of Bradley Sunrise Rotary at SkyRidge Medical Center, and tonight the smiling youngsters will be found on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway (weather permitting) distributing bottled water, and yes, ice cream will be involved!
Keep in mind, these community activities are taking place after long hours of rehearsal each morning and afternoon on the Fine Arts Center stage. Their crowded schedule also has included individual interviews with the judges.
Throughout the week, these enjoyable teenagers have met, embraced and shared precious times and soft moments with their host Bradley County families.
They have conducted themselves with grace and eloquence in all situations whether it be meeting new faces and learning hundreds of names in this town of the state’s southeastern corner or simply taking the time to say “thank you” to a longtime Cleveland resident for again hosting the DYW competition.
They have extended hands of friendship and hugs of warmth to countless area residents whose paths they have crossed in the excitement leading to the program’s start, now only 24 hours away.
We wish them well in these endearing hours of their dreams-come-true.
Friday’s preliminaries begin at 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center. Saturday’s finals kick off at 7 as well.
We hope community residents will attend both evenings to support each of the 20 young starlets, and to help the rest of our state to understand why the Distinguished Young Women program has chosen to grace the Cleveland and Bradley County stage for the fourth consecutive year.