Thursday July 20, 2017
Mara Senecal-Albrecht is the 2017 Distinguished Young Woman (DYW) of Vermont, a title she won late last year. Earlier this summer, she attended the DYW National Finals held in Mobile, Alabama, where the program, previously known as America’s Junior Miss, was founded. Now in their 60th year, DYW is the largest and oldest national scholarship program for high school girls and has provided more than $104 million in cash scholarships and $1.1 billion college granted scholarship opportunities to program participants at the local, state, and national level. Senecal-Albrecht is a recent graduate of South Burlington High School (SBHS) and daughter of Daniel Albrecht and Nora Senecal.
“Winning this distinction means that all my hard work in school and in the community is being recognized and has, to some extent, paid off, which feels awesome,” says Senecal-Albrecht. She continues, “Additionally, this distinction also means that girls like myself, who maybe are not star athletes or math geniuses, can be recognized and awarded scholarships for their achievements.”
The mission of DYW is to positively impact the lives of young women by providing a transformative experience that promotes and rewards scholarship, leadership, and talent. Senecal-Albrecht was one of eight Vermont high school senior girls who competed to represent the Green Mountain State last November at the St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski. She says she was convinced to join the competition by her good friend Neerja Patel, who won the DYW state title in 2015.
At both the state and national competitions, participants are evaluated in the categories of scholastics, interview, fitness, and self-expression. In addition, there is a talent component. Senecal-Albrecht performed a contemporary dance solo to “Song for Viola” by Peter Bradley Adams.
“I had an amazing time at the National Finals. All of the girls were kind, fun, and truly inspirational. I feel so blessed to now have 50 new sisters who live all over the country,” remarked Senecal-Albrecht. Expressing appreciation for the entire event, including the city of Mobile and the countless volunteers, she said in regard to her hosts, the Bonner family, “The event could not have been pulled off without you and the experience was wonderful.”
Throughout the next year, Senecal-Albrecht will represent the state at various public events, serving as a role model to young people by spreading the program’s national outreach message of “Be Your Best Self” (BYBS). The outreach program is designed to encourage self-esteem and excellence through its five principles, “Be Healthy, Be Involved, Be Studious, Be Ambitious, and Be Responsible.” To Senecal-Albrecht, “Being your best self means you’re always striving to be your authentic self while being kind to others and pursuing your dreams.”
As a part of the BYBS program, the then SBHS senior visited the Orchard’s School’s Out Program. Senecal-Albrecht recalls, “In addition to explaining the five principles of the BYBS program with the kids, we made banana ice cream which is a fun, healthy, non-dairy alternative to traditional ice cream. I had so much fun and even though Nationals is over, I would love to continue to do presentations for BYBS before I pass on the DYW of Vermont title to the next lucky girl.”
The recent graduate describes her high school education in South Burlington as “fun, engaging, and as something that shaped me as a human being.” Senecal-Albrecht says she had many influential teachers at SBHS, but particularly noted Deirdre Donovan, Joyce Sheehey, Ryan Navin, and Aimee Bushey as making a difference. “Not only do they teach my favorite subjects, but they have also helped me deepen my understanding and my passion for these particular subject areas and taught me to embrace myself and what I love to do.” She points out, “Through my four years at SBHS and through the mostly ups and some downs, I have grown to understand myself more as a learner and understand what I want to do in the future.”
Senecal-Albrecht will be attending Connecticut College in the fall and pursuing a double major in dance and either international relations or history. Meanwhile, she will leave South Burlington with these thoughts for budding DYW participants, “If there are any upcoming senior girls even considering this program, I would implore you to take advantage of this opportunity. Even though you may not win anything, you will get the chance to become friends with some of the best girls in the country and have a once in a lifetime experience.”