Thursday April 16, 2015
South Burlington High School (SBHS) senior Neerja Patel has many impressive accolades to her name and she recently added yet another when she was named Distinguished Young Woman of Vermont. The Distinguished Young Women Program is a national scholarship program that recognizes and promotes the development of young, well-rounded women in society. The program is split into five different categories of evaluation: scholastics (20 percent), interview (25 percent), talent (25 percent), fitness (15 percent), and self expression (15 percent).
The program was founded in 1958 in Mobile, Alabama and is the largest and oldest national scholarship program for high school girls. In addition to cash scholarships, Distinguished Young Women participants are eligible for college-granted scholarships from almost 200 colleges and universities. More than $365 million in college scholarship opportunities were provided last year, some of which included full tuition, room, and board.
Patel was inspired to pursue the Distinguished Young Women Program by her older her sister Riya. Riya Patel placed in the top five for the interview category two years ago at the nationals, and won a $5,000 scholarship.
“After hearing about her experience at nationals, I knew I wanted to participate in it when I became a senior,” Patel said, “Being awarded the Distinguished Young Women (DYW) of Vermont on March 15, 2015 is so amazing and it’s the first time in Vermont history to have DYW sisters.”
Patel will be flying to Mobile, Alabama in June to compete in the Nationals. It is a two week program where Patel and the other state winners will participate in community service and team bonding activities. During the last three days of her stay, she will compete for the National Distinguished Young Women title.
“I’m so excited to meet everyone and I know it’s going to be a great experience! If I win, it would be the most amazing feeling. During these next couple months, I am going to do my best to work towards all aspects of the program and bring my best self onto that stage. In the end, it’s the experience that counts,” Patel added.
In addition to this achievement, Patel is very involved in her community and at SBHS. Currently, Patel is the Chittenden President of NextGenVest, Executive Vice President of the Student Council, President and Founder of the Bollywood Dance Club, Kiwanis Liaison of Key Club, Captain of the Varsity Dance Team and the Chair/Coordinator of the 5th Annual South Burlington Community Blood Drive. Patel is also involved with DECA and is the student representative to the South Burlington School Board.
SBHS Principal Patrick Burke said, “Neerja is one of the more respected and well liked members of this school community; she constantly looks for ways to engage in our community and serve others. A leader who is sought after by her peers and the adults in the community, Neerja possesses a presence and an ability to look at issues with confidence and maturity beyond her years.”
In terms of volunteer activities, she has amassed over 700 community service hours. In school, she is a member of the National Honor Society, PACT, Coalition for Community Service, and a high school mentor for Girls’ Group. All of these activities don’t even begin to touch on her volunteer work outside of school.
“To me, being involved with my school is really important. The clubs that I have joined have helped me connect with people and gain leadership skills,” Patel said.
Laura Hall, co-chair of the Distinguished Young Women of Vermont Program said, “We are thrilled to have Neerja representing Vermont at the National Finals this June in Mobile, Alabama. Neerja is extremely well-rounded and a natural leader, which is evident from all of her extra-curricular activities. We are excited for Neerja to share her culture and passion on the national stage by performing a self-choreographed Bollywood dance.”
Patel has been dancing Bollywood since age five and just recently started learning other styles of dance such as lyrical, jazz, hip hop, and pom at the beginning of high school.
“To me, it’s important to bring these cultures together in a fun, energetic fusion dance piece which helps me to express the type of dancer I have become today,” Patel said.
What does the future hold for Patel after competition? Possibly a career in business or medicine, but she has plenty of time to decide.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent