“Viva La Femme!: the DYW competition has commenced”


Bobbie Knopp

Ananya Rajesh (’20) performed Bharatanatyam, a classical type of dance originating from South India, as her talent.

Fifteen young women stood anxiously on stage at Wisconsin Hills Middle School on January 12, 2019, as the judges deliberated over who would be selected to be the 2020 Distinguished Young Woman of Brookfield. Announced by former Distinguished Young Women alumnus, Mrs. Linnihan, the competition eventually declared Brookfield Central junior Riley Feng as the DYW of Brookfield 2020. Following her were competitors Ananya Rajesh (First Alternate), Madhavi Mani (Second Alternate-BEHS) and Neha Ajjampore (Third Alternate). In addition, BC junior McKenna Popek was named 2020 DYW of Pewaukee through the At-Large Program.

But what makes a young woman distinguished from her peers? Is she defined by her remarkable accomplishments, her personal experiences, her growth? Or is she constrained by the judgments of others on her physicality and her status? According to Distinguished Young Women–a national scholarship competition aimed at celebrating the outstanding efforts of high school girls–merit, leadership, and talent are three of the most essential elements of being a prominent woman. Its aim is to empower young girls, develop significant life skills and build community.

Although the structure of the program resembles a beauty pageant, it does not even remotely consider its contestants’ outer appearances. Instead, each contestant is evaluated on certain components of self: Academic Merit (25%), Interview (25%), Talent (20%), Fitness (15%) and Self-Expression (15%). While academic merit is determined and interviews are conducted before the official local program, the other three facets of competition are presented to judges in front of an audience. To break up the monotony of having fifteen girls perform the same competition components, the girls are split into three groups: red, green and blue. The three groups alternate, some performing the five minute fitness routine first, others showcasing their extraordinary talent or oratory skills before demonstrating their athletic ability.

Both Popek and Feng, newly crowned Distinguished Young Women, will represent their communities at the state level in August, competing against other talented junior girls to win additional scholarship money and the DYW of Wisconsin title. To Feng, the opportunity to compete in such an instrumental program was just as rewarding as winning the title. “Overall, it was a super fun experience!” she exclaims, “Those interested in joining will definitely appreciate the chance to gain important life skills and bond with other girls [in the program].”