MSMS senior reflects on the highs and lows of DYW of Mississippi


Courtesy of Shelby Tisdale

The Distinguished Young Women program gives high schoolers across the country a chance to win scholarship money.

Jillian Snodgrass, Staff Writer

The Distinguished Young Women competition (DYW) may be a magical experience for some girls in Mississippi, but it didn’t fully live up to senior Shelby Tisdale’s expectations. Tisdale, the DYW of Rankin County, recently went on to compete in DYW of Mississippi. She has mixed feelings about the event and believes that, while it wasn’t for her, DYW has the potential to be a valuable experience for young women in Mississippi.

For the past few years, many MSMS students have participated in Distinguished Young Women. Some have even made it to the state and national level such as Lori Feng, Class of 2019, who was the first runner up in the 2019 Distinguished Young Women National Finals.

The competition involves five categories: self expression (public speaking), scholastics, fitness, talent and interview. It began in person last fall but, like many activities, turned to virtual programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring. It was this transition that allowed Tisdale to continue to take part in DYW.

Due to the two-hour commute from school to home, I dropped out soon after preparations/rehearsal for the program began,” Tisdale said. “However, in March I received word that DYW of Rankin County would be moved to a virtual format, so I still had the opportunity to participate.”

Tisdale voiced the concerns she had had about taking part, indicating that programs like DYW are “a giant leap out of [her] comfort zone.”

“I’m definitely not the pageant type,” Tisdale said. “While the official information clearly states that DYW is a ‘scholarship program,’ it certainly retained many elements of pageantry.”

Additionally, Tisdale felt that she didn’t entirely fit in with the other competitors, and despite enjoying aspects of the competition, she ultimately “felt alienated from the ‘life-changing’ DYW experience and programs that were described to [her].” This was partially due to a difficult financial situation.

“[I] felt that to be successful in the program I would have to have the means to afford luxurious dresses and shoes and jewelry, which I did not,” she said. “When the program was postponed due to COVID-19, I decided to attend and bought a $5 dress I found at a local thrift store, which luckily fit. My grandmother volunteered to buy the rest of those clothes, though my father said he would have sacrificed the money for the program in a heartbeat.”

Although Tisdale became the Distinguished Young Woman in her home county of Rankin, she felt that she was not a good match for the competition, saying that her “unorthodox talent and admittedly clumsy fitness routine” were not typical of the program. In addition, the scholastic portion of DYW did not take into account the increased difficulty of MSMS classes, which set her behind others in that section.

“Overall, I don’t believe DYW and I were a very compatible pair,” Tisdale said. “Regardless, I learned several valuable lessons from my experience. I believe the program encourages good values but has great lengths to travel in terms of equity, inclusion and diversity.”