By Marie Roberts / Guest writer
The Meridian Star
Les Brown once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
For Mississippi’s Distinguished Young Woman, MacKenzie Ross, this motto aligns closely with her frame of mind for the upcoming national competition to be held in Mobile, Ala., July 27-29.
“I will be in Mobile for exactly two weeks with 49 other girls from around the country, and we will visit places like Bellingrath Gardens and the USS Alabama,” Ross said last week.
While preparing for competition, the state representatives will spend one day doing various community service projects, and spend time with local Girl Scouts.
“It’s going to be a busy two weeks, but as you can tell, I am so excited,” Ross said.
The Distinguished Young Woman (DYW) program, formerly known as Junior Miss, is a national scholarship program that inspires high school girls to develop their full, individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments.
Program participants compete in Interview, Scholastics, Talent, Self-Expression, and Fitness.
Before the on-stage competition begins, 45 percent of the each participant’s total score has already been calculated through scholastics evaluation, which makes up 20 percent of the score, and a 10-minute interview with the judges, which makes up 25 percent of the score.
During the actual on-stage competition, state representatives will demonstrate their poise and ability to think quickly on their feet by answering a question in the Self-Expression portion, which is 15 percent of the score.
Then, every contestant performs a 90-second talent of their choice, which is 25 percent of the score. Audiences see everything from classical piano to martial arts during Talent.
Lastly, the candidates participate in a group fitness routine that usually lasts around 10 minutes and makes up the remaining 15 percent of the score. During Fitness, contestants showcase their stamina, strength, and coordination.
Ross, who went on to be named the state representative for Mississippi in July 2012, is looking forward to the fitness aspect of competition most.
“I have never been a very athletic person, but when I decided to compete in the DYW program, I knew becoming physically fit was a top priority," Ross said. "Two years ago, I had absolutely no upper-body strength, which made doing push-ups in the fitness routine a bit of a challenge. Between local and state last year, I started running, and it has had the biggest impact on my endurance levels.”
For her talent selection, Ross will be playing the third movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano.
As for what led her to become involved in the DYW program, her positive interactions with volunteers, as well as a visit to the historic Temple Theatre years ago, led her to becoming a candidate for her local program in Lauderdale County.
“The people are what make this program truly distinguished,” Ross said. “Through every level of this program the volunteers have made sure all of us participants feel like celebrities, and I am forever grateful to their commitment and service.”
“When I was seven, I went to my first Mississippi’s Junior Miss program at the Temple Theater. Although at the time I did not understand the significance of the program, I made a promise to myself that someday I would compete on that stage as Lauderdale County’s Junior Miss. Unfortunately, I was never able to be Lauderdale County’s Junior Miss because the program name was changed two years before I competed, but being Lauderdale County’s and Mississippi’s Distinguished Young Woman has been such an honor and an experience!"
With plans to attend the University of Alabama to pursue a career as a legal analyst, Ross is confident and hopes to make her friends and family proud.
“I have set high goals for myself, and I strive to achieve my dreams. Though I may not always succeed, I am confident that my experience working towards those goals will make me a better person. It’s the journey that counts,” Ross said.
Ross, who grew up in the Topton Air Estates community in northeast Lauderdale County, is grateful for the love of support shown to her by the Meridian area.
“I love how supportive our community is of this program! Whether it’s hosting state contestants, donating food to contestants and judges, or just coming to watch the program, their help is what makes it all possible,” Ross said.