Carlton, Miller recall ‘unforgettable’ week
Two Fort Dale Academy seniors, Mary Claire Carlton and Hannah Miller, represented their counties last month in Montgomery as the respective winners of the Lowndes County and Butler County Distinguished Young Women Programs. Both girls came away state category winners. The experience itself made an indelible mark on their lives, as they shared in a Q&A with The Greenville Advocate.
Q: Looking back, what three words would you use to sum up your experience at Distinguished Young Woman’s state program?
Mary Claire: Invaluable, unforgettable, amazing.
Hannah: Exciting, invigorating, and wonderful.
Q: How did you prepare for the state program—mentally, physically, artistically?
Hannah: Mentally, I kept myself up-to-date about local, state, and national news and big stories that I knew I might be asked about in interview. I practiced interviews with my mom and with several of my friends.
Physically, I made sure I was drinking a ton of water and staying hydrated. I worked out at home, and then I have dance three days a week, so that helps. I tried my hardest to stay away from Taco Bell, but sometimes I just couldn’t resist!
Artistically, I practiced my song several times before the state competition. I made a few changes for state . . . for example, there were some notes I held out longer at state than I did at local. I practiced my breathing so that I would have less stress about running out of breath near the end of the song.
Mary Claire: Personally, I focused on the on-stage performance by practicing my on-stage answers, perfecting my piano piece, and remaining fit through hours of workouts! The performance part of the competition was the most stressful for me, so I focused on that in the weeks leading up to State.
Q: During state DYW week, you can’t have ready access to your high-tech devices. How did that go?
Mary Claire: Honestly, that was not a problem for me. I enjoyed a pause from technology during the week of State. This allowed me to focus on the more important aspect of the competition.
Hannah: I’m not going to lie. I was worried about not having my phone for a whole week. But we were so busy every minute of every day that I really didn’t even notice it was gone. I didn’t have time to miss it, really. To be honest, it was a relief to be unplugged from social media for a while!
Q: You two are FDA classmates and good friends. Did you have any trepidation over competing against each other at state? Did it make things easier or harder?
Hannah: I can honestly say with a true heart, there was no trepidation for me at all. Mary Claire is such a genuine friend. Of course, in the back of our minds, I think we were thinking about it. But we were both really rooting for each other and not just ourselves, because we’re so close. When it comes to whether it made it harder or easier—I would say neither. It made it more fun, actually, to be able to go through this with each other, and to experience the same feelings and sometimes the same stress. I’m thankful we got to share this with each other. We will always have this between us.
Mary Claire: No not at all. Hannah and I have always been encouraging to each other, especially during the Distinguished Young Women of Alabama competition. I believe we each truly expected and wished the best for each other and cheered each other on constantly the whole week.
Q:You are basically adopted for a week by your host families. Will you/are you staying in touch with those from your temporary home away from home?
Mary Claire: My favorite part of the whole week was staying with a host family. I was blessed to stay with Sam and Emily Cooper. This couple has already greatly influenced me by encouraging and supporting me throughout state and by strengthening my faith in God. I quickly fell in love with my host family, and hope to stay in touch for the rest of our lives.
Hannah: I have stayed in touch with my host family. What makes it easier is that we knew them prior to the completion; it was just a blessing that I was put with a family I knew, since my roommate from Marion county couldn’t make it. I have talked to my host “little sister” everyday since the competition via social media. I know I’ll have a second family forever with them.
Q: Hannah, you won talent at state and Mary Claire, you took top honors in scholastics. Describe your individual reaction to receiving these honors.
Hannah: I was completely shocked. If you could have seen all the amazing talents we were up against, you would’ve been astounded. I honestly didn’t think that, as a singer, I would receive a talent award, because there were so many amazing dancers that were more phenomenal at dancing than I was at singing! It was a blessing, really.
Mary Claire: I was relieved and immediately grateful to the Distinguished Young Woman Foundation the moment my name was called. The scholastics portion was the part that I have worked the hardest on, particularly in the past two years. I am so honored to be considered as scholastics winner out of such an intelligent and hard working group of girls as there was at state.
Q: Hannah, I know that Nancy Idland and your fellow Ritz Players gave you a special send-off before the program. Would you each discuss how the support of your school/church/club/hometown helped you in preparing for state?
Mary Claire: My church and school, coupled with my family and friends, definitely provided the encouragement and love that I needed to get through that week. Everyday I came home to find flowers and cards waiting for me, and I could almost feel the love and prayers every time I performed. This was the exact thing I needed to defeat any stress or worries that I had concerning the performance nights.
Hannah: Without the support from everyone here at home, whether it be my Ritz family, my church family, my school family, my dance family, my biological family, I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the courage to compete in this competition. Everyone was so uplifting, and they all believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Q: What was your favorite part of state DYW? Was there a single toughest part/greatest challenge you faced?
Hannah: My favorite part of the whole week was meeting my new friends. I know these girls will be with me for the rest of my life. As a matter of fact, my “DYW girls” as I call them, are coming down for a movie day sometime soon. I couldn’t be more excited!
Mary Claire: My favorite part was staying with my lovely host family. My least favorite part, and the most challenging part, was defeating any worries I had concerning the performance, especially concerning my piano piece. However, this was easily remedied through lots of prayer and knowing that I had many people back home rooting for me.
Q: How do you perceive your participation helped you in your future life endeavors?
Mary Claire: This competition definitely requires girls to step beyond their boundaries. It is an experience of a lifetime, and it is one that requires dexterity, focus, and mental stamina—all of which are characteristics that will be extremely useful in my future ahead. This week especially helped me by providing an experience in which I had to hone all of these skills at once, and remain “distinguished” all at the same time. I know it’s an experience that I will look back at knowing that it helped to build not only my resume, but also my character.
Hannah: Participating in the state DYW competition taught me a VERY important lesson: there will always be someone smarter, there will always be someone prettier, there will always be someone who is better. and that’s absolutely okay. As long as you just focus on being the best you that you can be, you won’t have to focus on who’s better than you, but only on making sure you work your hardest in everything you do.
Q: What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to an aspiring DYW participant?
Hannah: If I could say anything to an aspiring DYW participant, it would be this: whatever doubt in your mind that you have about yourself, GET RID OF IT. You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for. I wish someone had told me that a lot earlier, because it;s 100 percent true.
Mary Claire: Just be yourself. It is the most inspiring and attractive you!
Q: Last question—college/career plans?
Mary Claire: I have not decided where to go to college but I do know that my major will either be neuroscience or microbiology.
Currently I am debating between Auburn University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. However, I am also looking at out-of-state colleges including Emory and Tulane. I plan to study on the pre-med track in hopes of one day going to medical school.
Hannah: I will be attending the University of Alabama. I really thought I had my heart set on going into dermatology, but I don’t think that’s what I want anymore. Until I find what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, I am going into college undecided.