PRINCETON — On Friday, June 26, Aleksandra Sklioutovskaya-Lopez of Princeton, W.Va. received a talent award during the second night of preliminary competition at the 63rd Distinguished Young Women National Finals. The $1,000 cash scholarship was presented to five of the 50 state representatives receiving the highest scores on their individual talent performance.
Distinguished Young Women is a unique program that combines the chance to win college scholarships with a program that offers Life Skills training to prepare young women for the world after high school.
Sklioutovskaya-Lopez watched her two older sisters compete in the competition in 2013 and 2015. As a homeschooled, high school senior, 2020 was finally her year to shine.
“Distinguished Young Women is a scholarship program for high school women seniors and basically, they have a state program for all 50 states, and if you win that, then you go to the National program, which is usually held in Mobile, Ala.,” Sklioutovskaya-Lopez said. “I got involved because my older sisters both did it. One of them competed in 2013 and liked it so much that my other sister did in 2015 and she really liked it so I was able to go to Mobile, Ala. and watch them get it, so I really wanted to do it myself.”
The competition consists of fitness, talent, scholastics, an interview, and self-expression.
“The interview you and see how well you speak and if you are up to date on current events and then there is a talent where you can do basically whatever your talent is,” Sklioutovskaya-Lopez said. “Then there is self-expression, where you are given a question and you prepare your answer and say it out loud on stage. They combine all of those scores together and then the person with the highest percentage becomes that state representative and then you do that competition again on the national level and you win scholarships along the way.”
Sklioutovskaya-Lopez applied for the W.Va. state program and in early 2020, competed in Lynchburg, Va. and won two awards in fitness and talent. She also won overall for W.Va. and moved along to the national competition.
“I applied for the state program and did it and I became the W.Va. representative so I was able to do the national program, but unfortunately it was not in Mobile, Ala. because of COVID-19,” Sklioutovskaya-Lopez said. “For the talent and fitness portions, we recorded that ahead of time. For self-expression, we did that live over Zoom, where we answered the questions live so you cannot prerecord that. The interview was also on Zoom, then they just showcased everything. On June 26 they showcased everything and everyone’s talents and fitness and then they announced their winners and finalists after that.”
While the contestants were not able to meet and socialize in a traditional sense, as much of the world has, they adapted to an Online group.
“For the national program, it was different. We did not get to see each other in real life. Usually, all the girls become friends and we actually did anyways, we had a group chat, we were able to communicate a lot through that,” Sklioutovskaya-Lopez said. “We had some Zoom sessions where we just talked to each other so that we could get to know each other.”
For the live showcase of talent, the contestants had prerecorded their performances and submitted them, so they were able to sit back, relax, and chat during the show.
“We were chatting and congratulating each other as we went along,” Sklioutovskaya-Lopez said. “It was a really awesome experience because all of the other girls are supporting you and you feel like they are right there, even though you are not.”
Sklioutovskaya-Lopez’s talent is rhythmic gymnastics and dance. She has been honing her craft since she was four years old. She is actually on the national rhythmic gymnastics team in Puerto Rico, where she represents then internationally.
“I am on the national team for rhythmic gymnastics in Puerto Rico,” Sklioutovskaya-Lopez said. “My dad has heritage from Puerto Rico, he is Puerto Rican and last year there was a shortage of rhythmic gymnasts from Puerto Rico that were seniors, which means over 16 years old and they had a spot for me, so I was able to take that opportunity and then I went to the world championships and rhythmic gymnastics and that was really cool last year.”
Sklioutovskaya-Lopez was on the phone with her older sister when they announced that she had won the national talent showcase. The whole family was excited and hugging.
“It was really fun, and then winning the talent award, I did not think I was going to get that because there were some really talented girls,” Sklioutovskaya-Lopez said. “I was really surprised, I think I was the fifth one to be called, so I didn’t think that I got it, but I was just really excited when I won that award.”
Sklioutovskaya-Lopez plans to attend West Virginia University to study acting, but in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, she has decided to take a gap year to pursue gymnastics.
“Right now, I am taking a gap year for gymnastics, since the Olympics were postponed, I have a chance to qualify for them if I get a certain place at a competition, so I am going to take a gap year for that,” Sklioutovskaya-Lopez said. “I am going to go to West Virginia University, but everything is different now and because I did not go to normal high school, I was home schooled, I kind of want everything to calm down before I go to college.”
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