Palmetto High School senior Melissa Vazquez received an email a few months back saying she had expressed interest in the Distinguished Young Women competition. The scholarship program formerly was known as Junior Miss. The email was intriguing enough to send her to the competition, held Oct. 31 at the University of Miami.
To enter the competition, the teens needed a minimum grade point average of 3.0. Vazquez topped five contestants in the local event to win the title of South Miami-Dade’s Distinguished Young Woman 2011. Lillian Podlog was the East Miami-Dade winner and Caroline Daudin won the North Miami-Dade crown.
“We had to do a five-minute workout routine and a 90-second talent performance,” Vazquez says.
Since dance is her preferred talent, she danced to Walk Walk by Shakira at the local event and Fireworks by Katy Perry in the state contest.
The contestants also had to answer questions in the self-expression phase of the contest. Vazquez says the winner is supposed to be a well-rounded female who is athletic and shows that she has talent.
“It’s all about leadership, talent and scholarship,” she says.
In January, the local winners went to upstate Winter Garden for a week-long competition that fielded a total of 17 contestants.
“We had to stay with a host family, with two girls per home,” Vazquez says.
She stayed at the home of a former America’s Junior Miss contestant, who is now one of the chief veterinarians at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. For eight days the girls visited churches and schools.
“One of the days we went to an elementary school and talked to the kids about staying in school, doing community service, eating healthy, achieving goals and having morals,” Vazquez says.
On the final evening, the girls performed in an opening number and introduced themselves. One group demonstrated a fitness routine, while the others prepared to perform their talent routines.
“I performed my talent program and then I continued on to do my fitness routine, followed by the self-expression,” Vazquez says. “Then we did a production number, which wasn’t judged because it was just for fun. At the end, the winners were announced.”
While Vazquez did not win the overall competition – that title went to Caitlin Mosley — she was named the Spirit Award winner in balloting by her fellow contestants. In the first round of voting, there was a three-way tie, followed by a second round of voting and a two-way tie. In the final vote, Vazquez was declared the winner and received a $500 college scholarship.
Vazquez says participating in the Distinguished Young Women contest was a great experience.
“I learned that all the girls were from such different cultures and such different places,” she says. “We became sisters. I got to see different talents and different people, how everyone reacts and how everybody gets along. It’s one of the best weeks I’ve ever experienced.”