Pitman High School student Gabrielle Sotomayor considers herself a feminist. So, when her sophomore English teacher encouraged her to enter the Turlock Distinguished Young Women program last spring, she was hesitant. Fast forward five months and after being crowned Turlock’s Distinguished Young Woman of 2018 and winning the Self Expression category and Spirit Award at the California state competition, Sotomayor says the program was one of the best experiences of her life.
“Sometimes, to step out of your comfort zone can really build you as an individual,” she said.
Sotomayor is no stranger to being in the spotlight. The incoming Pride senior is a varsity athlete in both water polo and swim, an honor orchestra musician, a member of Pitman’s Associated Student Body, the student representative on the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees, president of her school’s Relay for Life club and a dedicated volunteer at Jessica’s House, a place where youth and families go for grief counseling. The Distinguished Young Women program, however, would put more of an emphasis on her as an individual rather than her efforts as part of a team.
“I like public speaking, but I don’t really perform. This was out of my comfort zone,” she said.
Sotomayor said she decided to join the program, however, for the opportunity of winning scholarship money for her college plans. The DYW is a national program that makes over $1 billion in scholarships available each year. Each DYW program evaluates participants in the following categories: Scholastics (25 percent), Interview (25 percent), Talent (20 percent), Fitness (15 percent) and Self-Expression (15 percent).
During the California state program, Sotomayor — along with two other contestants — stayed with a host family in Bakersfield during the last week of July. The contestants would gather each day at 8 a.m. to practice the fitness routine portion of the program and then attend luncheons where they practiced public speaking and also worked on their individual talents.
Sotomayor said when she first arrived at the state competition, she was intimidated by all the amazing young women participating. But they soon became like a family — and the best part of the experience, she said.
“This whole program is full of amazing girls, top of their class…there were 25 girls at state and every single one of them was amazing. It was just nice to be around them for a whole week,” she said.
Sotomayor’s positive attitude towards her fellow contestants is probably why she won the Spirit Award, an honor voted on by the participants and given to the person who best exemplifies what it means to be a Distinguished Young Woman.
Turlock’s DYW also won the Self Expression category of the state contest. This is where the contestants display their poise and public speaking ability. Sotomayor impressed the judges with her desire to find a cure for cancer, as it has both a personal meaning to her and is a worthwhile endeavor to help the millions who suffer from the disease each year.
While Sotomayor won’t be moving on to the national DYW event in Mobile, Alabama — that honor goes to Bakersfield High student Kimberly Marquez — she said she can’t wait to help out with next year’s Turlock DYW program and the state competition. She was inspired not only by her fellow contestants, but also by the local and state coordinators who donated their time to the program.
“Win or lose, you can take away something from the experience. That’s what this program is all about,” Sotomayor said.
To find out more about the Distinguished Young Women program, visit http://turlock.ca.distinguishedyw.org/