D uring Saturday’s 50th annual Distinguished Young Women program, Rebecca Lavin sung about being “part of that world.” By the end of night, she was on top of the world.
In front of an audience that numbered more than 600, Lavin was named this year’s Distinguished Young Woman.
“I feel completely surprised. There were so many talented girls and to be selected, I feel genuinely proud to represent them,” Lavin said.
“It’s special. I’m really glad it ended this way. This was a great experience and I got to know all the girls better.”
Seated in the audience to watch Lavin’s achievement were nearly 150 women who had participated in the community-supported event, which got its start as a pageant in 1962.
Last year, when organizers began planning this year’s event, they reached out to those contestants and invited them to attend this year.
“There were many more than I thought were going to come back,” said Eileen Rozell, who has played a role in each and every event during the last 50 years. “Some I hadn’t seen since school. We reminisced about their shows; it was wonderful. It made you feel so good.”
The very first Distinguished Young Woman program was held in Whitehall in 1964 and was known then as Jr. Miss.
Rozell said organizers had heard about the event and decided to try in Whitehall and it has endured for the last 50 years.
“The kids don’t change much. The talents and what they wear changes, but the kids don’t change much,” Rozell said.
Cheryl Putorti, who has been involved with the event for the past 30 years, credited the community for the event’s longevity.
The program, which has awarded participants with more than $130,000 in scholarships, is dependent on the donations of local businesses and individuals.
“It’s the (Jr. Miss) committee and everyone out here in the audience. Without them, Jr. Miss couldn’t have survived the last 50 years.”
Organizers, who had dubbed this year’s event as “50 years of excellence, scholarship, leadership and talent,” recognized all the women who have participated in the program over the years.
All of the former contestants were invited on stage — introduced by the decade in which they participated — during Saturday’s opening ceremony. Organizers also took time to recognize Patricia and Francis Norton and Rozell and her husband Robert, who were credited with bringing the event to Whitehall
“It doesn’t feel like 50 years. It doesn’t’ feel like we’ve been doing it that long,” Rozell said.
This year’s event featured 16 participants, each of whom was judged in five categories: an interview, scholastic achievement, talent, fitness and self-expression.
Lavin, who is a member of the soccer, basketball and track teams, and active in chorus, band, drama club, dance, rifle club and yearbook committee, won the self-expression portion of the event and the Spirit Award, which was chosen by her fellow contestants.
She moves on to compete at the state competition which will be held next spring at the University of Albany and could advance to the national competition in Mobile, Ala.
Carli Varmette was selected as the first runner-up (she also won the fitness portion of the event) and Megan Lane was the second runner-up.
Other winners included: Paxton Peterson for scholastic achievement, Ali LeClair was deemed the best interviewee, and Kendra Rocque won the talent portion for her tap dance to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
“Everything was terrific. The audience was very responsive and I think the girls were all pleased with how they did,” said Rozell.
“It was a great night.”