Story and photo by Ron Benningfield
Symone Whalin, LaRue County’s 2017 Distinguished Young Woman, is participating in state DYW competition at Singletary Center for the Arts in Lexington this week.
The LaRue County High School senior arrived in Lexington on Sunday for the weeklong series of events that result in winners being awarded college scholarships worth thousands of dollars.
The 31 participants from throughout Kentucky will be judged on five criteria—scholastic (counting 25 percent of total score), interview (25 percent), talent (20 percent), fitness (15 percent) and self-expression (15 percent).
The scholastic area takes into consideration grade-point average, types of classes taken, such as standard or advanced, and standardized test scores, such as the ACT.
“I’m taking an AP (advanced placement) course in language and composition and I have already passed AP classes in U.S. and world history, chemistry and literature and composition,” said Whalin, who carries a 4.0 GPA. “Thanks to those classes, I have enough credits for a half-year of college already.”
The interview phase of competition, she explained, gives the judges a chance to see who the participant is as a person.
“Through the questions, they not only get a chance to know more about you, but also gain insight into your personality,” she noted.
For her talent portion, she will recite the poem, “Hair Revolution,” by Cynthia Cobalt.
“It tells about a black girl’s struggles with her hair,” she explained.
The self-expression phase of the competition judges the competitors’ poise and speaking ability. In the preliminaries coming up Friday evening and Saturday morning, the ladies will have been given their topic 24 hours in advance. If Whalin advances to the finals Saturday evening, she will have to draw the self-expression topic from a bowl on stage and speak off-the-cuff.
The fitness portion of the competition involves performing a group exercise routine set to music.
“During that routine, each of us will also go to center stage where they will judge us individually,” she said.
Program goals stress that those participating not only can win scholarships but also have the opportunity to develop friendships, self-confidence and other life skills that pave the way for future success.
Whalin, who will stay with a Lexington family during her time there, will participate not only in daily practice for the fitness routine, but will also join fellow local winners as they visit a Ronald McDonald’s House and a children’s hospital.
“Those visits will show us how important it is to think of and to help others,” she noted. “While at the hospital, we’re taking Teddy Bears and will be donating toys to the patients there.”
She explained that the toy donations are part of the Lexington-based Jarrett’s Joy Cart, an all-volunteer non-profit organization, that has touched the lives of tens of thousands of children from all across Kentucky and beyond.
Though the week holds a full schedule for her, Whalin is accustomed to being busy.
She is a member of her school’s speech and debate team, has been a member of the Kentucky Youth Assembly, including holding the position of executive cabinet secretary, and has also participated in the Kentucky United Nations Assembly.
She is also a member of the Beta Club, is Community Volunteer Service secretary, belongs to the National Honor Society, School Technology Leadership Program, school book club, and is a part of the senior class committee.
“Being in this DYW program has boosted my self confidence,” she acknowledged. “It’s helped me to realize as a young black woman that I can do what anyone else can do and that it’s perfectly okay that I’m different.”
Forensic Science Career
She is hopeful her scholastic accomplishments plus money awarded through the DYW program will provide a full scholarship to Western Kentucky University where she intends to major in chemistry with a biology minor.
“One reason that I plan to go to Western is that I want to continue in speech and debate and Western’s team is world champion,” she said. “I want to be a forensic scientist and though Western doesn’t have a program, I will use what I’ve learned from my degree there to continue my studies at Eastern Kentucky University which does have a forensic science program.”
The career field she’s planning on entering will give her a chance to use the advances in DNA and other technology to help people, Whalin explained.
“I see what I’ll be doing as kind of like what Abby does on the ‘NCIS’ television show,” she said. “Using technology, I’ll be able to find clues from blood, tissue, even small bits of hair.”