We refer to the contestants of this year’s Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee scholarship program. It doesn’t seem possible that a full year has come and gone since our DYW special guests, and their hundreds of family members, friends and other loved ones graced the landscape of our welcoming community.
To quote a familiar adage, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
And that’s exactly what happens each year in July when Cleveland takes the spotlight as the center stage for the popular DYW program.
This is certainly not our first.
Who would believe this is the sixth consecutive year the popular statewide DYW event has chosen our community as its host city? In truth, the widely respected program over the years has traveled from city to city — in most cases, the bigger metro areas — in order to bring its zest and the beautiful smiles of its contestants to different corners of Tennessee.
We use the word “beautiful” in a special context.
Those who are familiar with the premise of the Distinguished Young Woman scholarship program — formerly known as the Junior Miss — best understand it as being a life-changing and experiential event in the lives of young women.
It is about beauty. But this beauty comes from deep within ... the heart, the soul, the very fabric of what makes these young ladies the apples of their parents’ eyes.
It is about graciousness. Some believe this to be a dying trait in today’s society where words like “rat race” and “deadline” and “hurry” dominate the day. But we know better ... because we know programs like Distinguished Young Women remind us of the value in treating others as we wish to be treated.
It is about community service. The heart of the Distinguished Young Woman contestant is probably the biggest of all because its path in life is one that is directed to the needs, to the comfort and to the well-being of others.
It is about talent. The young women of the DYW program are among the finest in self-expression. They sing. They dance. They make the music of generational love. They recite poetry. They understand that life is a gift and the greatest gift that can be given is the expression of life.
It is about education. DYW contestants don’t enter this program for glory or prestige. They do it for the scholarships and for personal growth. To educate the mind is to prepare the heart for the challenges of another day.
It is about ambassadorship. Everywhere a DYW contestant travels, she represents her family, her school, her church, her hometown and all who have had a hand in influencing her direction.
Today, the Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee contestants arrive at 1 p.m. They will convene at Cleveland Middle School and will be greeted by Courtney Miller, Distinguished Young Woman of Tennessee 2014 who shined on a Cleveland stage last year and who hails from Rhea County.
Host families will also be on hand to escort them to their weeklong homes away from homes.
Although their week chock full of activities will begin with a calm picnic tonight at Red Clay State Park, they will launch four days of rehearsals, interviews, community service projects and personal visits first thing Monday morning.
Their week will include a volunteer activity at Garden Plaza Retirement Community on Tuesday and another civic service Thursday along the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway. They will rehearse twice a day for long hours Monday through Thursday in preparation for Friday night’s preliminaries and Saturday night’s finals, both at the beautiful Dixon Center on the Lee University campus.
We wish them well, these 24 adopted daughters of Cleveland and Bradley County. We hope you, your family, friends and loved ones, enjoy your stay.
For the next week, Cleveland’s population will swell just a little.
And we couldn’t be happier!
Our warmest welcome to: Hannah Kimberly Reese, Allyson Elizabeth Coyle, Caitlyn Marie Moro, Kadee Lynn Klimowicz, Kathleen Michaela Guice, Cara Leigh Creighton, Choe Michaela Lyle, Savannah Beth Willard, Madeline Deneen Fest, Charnae Gyana Hines, Julia Zarianna Hurley, Peyton Kirby Wilson, Allyn Mackenzie Guice, Hannah Darlynn King, Ryleigh Paige Stewart, Macy Jean Marin, Destiny Irene Mears, Rachel Michele Moffett, Lacy Cheyenne Slinker, Emily Melissa Wilt, Ashley Rebekah Stevens, Savannah Eloise Stone (Distinguished Young Woman of Cleveland), Courtney Sherry Johnson and Elizabeth Neely Merriman.