Dallastown Area teen wins first-ever virtual Distinguished Young Women

Junior Milana Schechtman, of Dallastown Area High School is the 2020 winner of the York County Distinguished Young Women competition. She will compete in the virtual statewide competition Aug. 22.

The York County Distinguished Young Women scholarship program was held virtually this year for the first time in its 55-year run.

Milana Schechtman, of Dallastown Area High School, placed first overall in the July 25 competition and also won in the talent, fitness and self-expression categories.

"I was so excited to find out that I won," she said. "I had never expected it."

And it was the culmination of quite an unconventional experience.

Though it was difficult to not be able to perform on stage, Schechtman, who danced for her talent, said the virtual experience challenged her to work on her choreography during quarantine and gave her more time to critique and self-edit — which made it even better.

"It was almost a blessing in disguise,' she said.

Distinguished Young Women of York County is part of a national scholarship program that promotes and rewards scholarship, leadership and talent in young women. The competition is open to high school juniors.

This year, the annual competition was forced in a new direction.

The pandemic pushed the competition, originally scheduled in May, back to July, “and then we realized every campus and theater was closing,” said program chair Lyn Bergdoll.

The next plan was to do a weeklong intensive program to avoid traveling  back-and-forth for practice and to give the 29 contestants time to bond, but when the governor’s restrictions prohibited more then 25 in a room, the program went all virtual.

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“That was our fourth plan,’ she said. “We wanted to do the safest thing, for the girls and all the volunteers.”

Each York County junior competing had to submit a video of their talent and fitness steps, which were forwarded to the judges in advance. On the day of the competition, the contestants answered interview questions on Zoom and recited a self-expression statement.

Categories included interview, fitness, talent, self-expression and scholastic achievement — and there were some special awards, as well.

Scores were calculated by judges that evening.

“This was a really talented group, too — a lot of great vocalists, a lot of tremendous dancers," Bergdoll said.

Despite not being able to offer the program the way it was intended, Bergdoll was determined to have the show go on so the girls would still have the opportunity to earn scholarships for college.

Schechtman received $9,100, and  various winners received about $28,000 collectively.

Multiple winners were chosen in each of the five competing categories, as well as for the Leadership and Be Your Best Self awards. The overall winners are listed below:

  • Distinguished Young Woman: Milana Schechtman, Dallastown Area High School
  • First Runner Up: Alexandra Clancy, York Suburban High School
  • Second Runner Up: Ruby McKeown, York Suburban High School
  • Third Runner Up: Riley Sharp, Dallastown Area High School
  • Fourth Runner Up: Brenna Richard, Central York High School

A full list of contestants and their wins can be found in the gallery above.

“That is really the focus of this program,” Bergdoll said of the scholarships, while adding that she still wants to be able to offer an empowering experience to go along with  the awards as well.

This year they just had to be creative in how they did that.

Though they could not bond as a group, every girl was assigned a professional woman as a “big sister” and was able to do practice interviews. The contestants submitted essays in lieu of activities for the “Be Your Best Self” platform of the program.

Bergdoll said she hopes to bring the group back next year to do some of those activities and perhaps even a big number on stage.

All over the country, performers are having to find new ways to exist in unconventional spaces, whether it be virtual stand-up comedy or drive-in concerts.

“You try to think out of the box and be as creative as you can,” Bergdoll said.

Schechtman will  represent York County in the statewide Distinguished Young Women competition Aug. 22 — which will also take place virtually.