Christina Maxwell, Distinguished Young Woman of America 2012, said she enjoyed seeing how much the community supported the program. She also said the winner of Tennessee's state competition, Chattanooga resident Katherine “Katie” Ward, will have a lot of great things to look forward to when she competes in the 2013 national competition in Mobile, Ala. next June.
“I've had a blast being here,” Maxwell said. “It's so neat to see how much the community cherishes and supports the program. I've been so impressed by the generosity of everyone I've met — from my host family to local businesses.”
Maxwell said she stayed with the Free family in Cleveland. She was in town for the weekend to attend the state Preliminary and Final competitions and sang the national anthem to kick off the event the first night of competition.
The Distinguished Young Women of America competition for 2012 took place on June 30, and Maxwell said she felt “blessed” to be a part of it as she competed alongside other contestants like Tennessee’s Distinguished Young Woman, Lexee Hill.
“It was just such an honor to be there at all,” Maxwell said. “I was surrounded by some of the most beautiful, driven and compassionate young women I've ever met.”
The event itself takes place over the course of two weeks in Mobile, with everything from community service to rehearsals filling much of the time the contestants have while in the competition.
“Nationals is just a two-week whirlwind,” Maxwell said. “You're just so encompassed by the love of the Mobile community. You'll meet 49 other women who inspire you to be a better person. You'll have the opportunity to represent a part of every Distinguished Young Woman in your state. That's a huge honor.”
The 18-year-old national winner represented her home state of North Carolina. She was born in Raleigh and currently lives in Asheville, where she graduated from A.C. Reynolds High School this past spring.
Maxwell said she originally decided to enter her local competition after having heard stories from her mother about when she had taken part in the Junior Miss competition, as Distinguished Young Women was known before 2010.
“It's sort of a family tradition,” Maxwell said.
She said another thing that attracted her to the competition was that it was not a beauty pageant that focused on things like swimsuit competitions but a competition that emphasized talents and abilities. Maxwell said Distinguished Young Women takes a “unique approach” that is instead “about inner beauty” and matched her personal beliefs well.
“The values of this program—scholarship, leadership and talent—are things I've always worked to be representative of,” Maxwell said. “It was a natural fit.”
Looking back on her experiences throughout her local, state and national competitions, she said she is grateful for all the people she met and the things she has learned getting to know them.
“I think there's this huge overall awareness of what a blessing this program is,” she said. “It's opened so many doors for me.”
One of those doors was being able to attend college on the $44,000 in scholarships she won throughout her three competitions. This fall, she plans to attend the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to major in musical theatre. Maxwell said she dreams of one day moving to New York to pursue a career on Broadway.
“My freshman year, I played Maria in ‘West Side Story,’” Maxwell said. “I just had a moment of realization that performing was what I was made to do.”
She performed in many other school plays and musicals before deciding to compete in Distinguished Young Women. Through each play and competition, she said was happy to have friends and family cheering her on, including her 15-year-old brother, Cal.
“He couldn’t have been more supportive,” Maxwell said. “My friends and family have both been so supportive. It's meant so much.”
She said she believes she’ll continue to appreciate the support of her family and North Carolina friends even as she ventures up to Michigan to begin her college career.
As she prepares to start college, Maxwell will continue to spread word of the Distinguished Young Women program until next year's winner is chosen. She said being the Distinguished Young Woman of America is all about sharing what the program has taught her—from learning to work as a team to learning that she can accomplish any goal she decides to pursue.
"I just hope that throughout the year I can help people understand what this program is truly about,” she said.
Maxwell said the program is all about appreciating people for who they are and hopes that the contestants in this past weekend’s Tennessee state competition will focus on what they did accomplish and learn, even if they did not place as the winner or a runner-up. Her message to those who did not win is that they should know the winner is “carrying a part of you with her to nationals.”
“I just want to congratulate all the girls,” Maxwell said. “Whether or not their name [was] called, they have so much to be proud of.”