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Alison Bryant wins Distinguished Young Woman nod for FC

By María Camp for the FCT


The annual Northwest Alabama Distinguished Young Women Scholarship Program was held Aug. 5 at Norton Auditorium on the campus of The University of North Alabama. Franklin County’s 2018 Distinguished Young Woman is Alison Bryant.

Twenty-eight young women from Franklin, Colbert and Lauderdale counties competed in the categories of scholastics, interviewing, fitness, talent and self-expression. One participant from each county was selected to represent her county at the state program, which will be held in January 2018.

“I am proud and honored,” Bryant said, “to have this opportunity to represent the county I call home. This program has taught me many skills, including how to prepare for an interview and how to be confident in myself, all of which will help me to grow into a successful individual in society.”

Bryant, Russellville High School, said the most challenging aspect of the program was realizing she had to step out of her comfort zone in order to gain more self-confidence. The most rewarding part is the friendships she has gained and will cherish for the rest of her life.

“My favorite part about being in the program is that it isn’t just something you do and then forget about. It’s a program that will hold a place in your heart forever,” Bryant said.

Bryant also won the fitness, talent, self-expression and scholastics categories. The prize for the winner of each category is $100 cash.

Bryant, daughter of Loni Bryant, said she hopes to pursue a degree in pharmacy and plans to begin her studies at the University of North Alabama.

Russellville High School’s Brianna Wood was named 2nd Alternate. Wood, daughter of Sabrina and Brandon Wood, said participating in the Distinguished Young Women program is one of the most rewarding opportunities she has ever had.

“I had never before participated in anything like this,” said Wood. “The most rewarding part is having been able to meet so many other young women from my area. Many young women struggle with self-confidence, and participating in the Distinguished Young Women program really helps in that area.”

Wood said she plans to attend the University of North Alabama or Troy University to major in psychology and minor in criminal justice.

Cecilia McLemore, also of Russellville High School, was awarded 1st Alternate.

“My favorite part of this program,” said McLemore, “was getting to meet so many new friends.”

McLemore, daughter of Amy McLemore and the late Jeff McLemore, said the most challenging aspect was trying to remember all of the routines they were taught and to perform them well despite being nervous. “The most important thing I have learned about myself from this program is not to be scared, to have confidence in myself,” she said. “The judges want to know the real you, not some made-up version of yourself.”

McLemore said she plans to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she will study to become a cardiologist or neurologist.

The theme of this year’s program was “Dancing with the Decades.”

For the self-expression category, Bryant performed a flag and rifle routine, McLemore performed a twirling routine, and Wood played “Danny Boy” on the clarinet.

All three young women are in the National Honor Society (and its Leadership Committee) and the Future Business Leaders of America. Each is also a member of a variety of other organizations.

Susan Hargett, chairperson of Distinguished Young Women of Northwest Alabama, said this year’s group of girls are some of the most amazing young women she has ever had the opportunity to get to know.

“They were so appreciative of being able to participate in the program,” Hargett said. “These young women were genuine in embracing the spirit of the Distinguished Young Women motto, ‘Be your best self.’”

Hargett said the girls actually thanked her for not being able to use their cellphones Saturday before the show. “Instead, they talked to each other and played games they had brought from home.”

Hargett said Distinguished Young Women is a scholarship program, not a beauty pageant. “The winner receives a medallion and scholarship money; there is not a crown,” Hargett said. “All girls in the program are first class students and leaders in their schools.”

Hargett said she works as a volunteer with the program because she believes it has the power to greatly improve the lives of young women.

Distinguished Young Women is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as the only girls who can compete in it are those who will be entering their senior year of high school.

“I get thanked all the time,” said Hargett, “by women who have been in the program. They learn to appreciate their inner beauty and to be confident. This serves them well in all aspects of their lives.”

Beth Hammock, Judges Chair, added, “Distinguished Young Women is a wonderful program that builds self-confidence, as well as social and interview skills.”

“You get thrown into the mix with a lot of girls you have never met,” said Hammock. “One of the greatest perks is that scholarship money is available all throughout the state of Alabama.”

Board member Katernia Cole-Coffey said, “The young women who participate in this program learn important networking and interviewing skills. This helps them to increase their beliefs of what they are able to achieve. Those who win scholarship money are helped to have a good financial start as they begin the next stage of their lives.”

Cole-Coffey said she would like to see more girls from Franklin County participate in the program.

For more information on donating, helping with the program or learning about scholarship opportunities for young women in this area, contact Hargett at 256-710-9239 or Hammock at 256-668-0045.