West York student wins local Distinguished Young Women title
The Distinguished Young Women of York County scholarship competition named its 2018 winner — a junior from West York Area High School.
"I just felt very humbled and just thankful," said winner Rachel Ritchey, thanking God for helping her through the process, along with the support of family, friends, teachers and her fellow contestants.
Ritchey received $14,200 toward her college education — the $12,000 overall prize as well as an interview award for $1,200 and a talent award for $1,000.
"It was a tremendous group," said program chair Lyn Bergdoll of this year's competition, in its 53rd year.
Students from eight local school districts and two private religious schools — York Catholic and Christian School of York — competed Saturday, May 5, at Central York High School.
Ritchey sang "Till There Was You" from "The Music Man" as her talent and spoke about musical theater during the self-expression portion of the competition, in which students were asked to share what they were passionate about.
She said she believes theater is a way to give back to the community through performance, connecting with the audience in ways that showcase humanity.
York County has the largest local program of the annual national competition, Bergdoll said, awarding nearly $40,000 in scholarships to winners picked from 30 contestants.
Bergdoll said some people think of it as a beauty pageant, but "it's not at all."
Students rehearse two months, working on life skills such as interviewing and public speaking, which helps them learn and grow, she said.
"Scholastics are a very important part of it," she added, saying 25 percent of the competition is based on academic standing, including grade point average, class ranking and level of classes.
The rest of the score is based on 15 percent fitness, 15 percent self-expression, 20 percent talent and 25 percent interview.
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for young women in the community who are juniors to learn to be their best selves," Ritchey said.
They learn skills to take to college, such as how to be healthy, responsible and studious, she said, noting she had also heard wonderful things about the competition from friends who had competed in the past.
Bergdoll said the program is also a great opportunity for the girls to become united in their goals.
"They really bond as a group at the beginning of the process," she said.
Ritchey described her surprise at winning, saying she felt exhilarated in the moment and got teary-eyed.
"I was just happy for whoever would have won," she said. "All the girls and I became a big family."
The group also has "big sisters" chosen from the community — some past winners, women involved in community service or mothers of students who have competed — to give them advice on elements including the interview, talent and clothing.
Ritchey will have a mentor to help her through her next steps as winner as well.
She will continue in competition at the state Distinguished Young Women program in New Castle, near Pittsburgh, July 24-27.
Ritchey will also speak to Scouts and other students and perform throughout the York County area during the year, along with other contestants.
The platform of the competition is called "Be Your Best Self," Bergdoll said, which is about inspiring students of all ages to do their best.
Ritchey is considering colleges in Pennsylvania, such as Penn State University, for her next step.
She said she plans to continue her passion of musical theater either as a major or minor, while also looking into studying business or communications.