“For so long, it didn’t even seem real,” Medin said. “I still can’t believe it.”
Distinguished Young Women is a national scholarship competition for high school girls. The top national finalist earns $30,000 in scholarships for her placement. More than $365 million in college scholarships were given to participants last year, according to the organization’s website.
The program used to be called America’s Junior Miss, but the name was changed in June 2010. Elkhart program director Julie DiLorenzo said the name was changed to bring in young women who might be turned off by the word “pageant.”
“There’s no swimsuit, there’s no crown, we don’t like to use the word ‘pageant’,” DiLorenzo said, adding that winners are given medals instead of tiaras. “We give the girls scholarship money to go to college, we give back to them confidence-wise, we give back to the community ... so it’s a little different than what most people think of as a pageant.”
"Just like ’Miss Congeniality,’” Medin joked, referencing the “Miss America”-themed movie. “’Don’t call it a pageant!’” She and DiLorenzo traded lines from the movie, laughing.
Medin and DiLorenzo have worked together since Medin joined the local competition in August 2013.
Medin said her sister, Jean Rogers, always tried to push her into scholarship competitions. But she wasn’t interested until she saw photos of Miss America contestant Nicole Kelly, who was named Miss Iowa in 2013. Both Medin and Kelly were born without a left forearm.
“She has the same situation I do,” Medin said. “Something inside me clicked and I knew this could be my one opportunity to push me out of my comfort zone. I kinda just got into it without thinking too much about it and here I am.”
Distinguished Young Women competitors are judged on academics, talent, fitness and self-expression. The competition also includes an interview portion.
Medin’s talent is ballroom dancing, which she has done since she was nine years old.
“People might think, ’how can you ballroom dance with only one person?’” she said.
DiLorenzo chimed in: “I did.”
But Medin said she’s inspired by famous dancers like So You Think You Can Dance’s Chelsie Hightower, who performs individual ballroom routines.
“In ballroom dancing, you have a certain syllabus and certain dance moves, which you do with a partner, but you can get away with doing it yourself,” she said. “Because practicing ballroom dancing, we often do it by ourselves.”
Between the local Elkhart competition and the Indiana competition, DiLorenzo said, Medin has earned $11,800 in scholarships. The money will go toward her education at Purdue University.
Medin said the competition has also helped her with real world skills, including preparing her for job interviews and boosting confidence.
“I’ve always been afraid of talking into a microphone,” she said. “It really teaches you to be comfortable with your own speaking. You just learn so many skills that will help you in the real world.”
Medin leaves for the national competition in Mobile, Ala., on June 15. She’ll represent Indiana there for two weeks as the contestants give presentations at local schools and participate in public events before the preliminary rounds of competition on June 26 and 27. On June 28, 10 competitors will move to the final round, which will be available for online viewing at ajm.org.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how much I grow within these two weeks,” Medin said, “and meeting all these successful and motivated young women who will change the world one day.”