By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> Young ladies making a difference at their schools and in their communities were honored at the first-ever YWCA Tri-County Area Tribute to Exceptional Girls.
The event follows the success of the YWCA’s Tribute to Exceptional Women. Sheri McDonald, YWCA director of program development, said the tribute for girls was established so that young women could be recognized for their works and continue to “strive for greatness.”
A total of 18 girls from the state and one young lady from Maryland in grades 4th through 12th were nominated for awards in several categories including the arts, health and wellness and having an impact on their peers. Families and community members gathered at The Hill School on Saturday to honor the girls with a ceremony.
Cheshonna Miles was the keynote speaker for the event. Miles is the school leader of KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School which she helped found in 2009. Miles used her love for the musical artist Beyoncé and the slang term of “slay” to describe exactly what it means to be exceptional.
The slang definition of slay means to “succeed in something amazing,” according to the urban dictionary. Miles said that a friend who is a choreographer for Beyoncé said she’s exceptional because the singer slays every day. Miles used this information to help motivate the young girls in the audience by making an acronym out of slay.
“Wake up every day and slay. Slay and be ‘smart.’ Slay and be ‘leaders.’ Slay and be ‘above average.” And say ‘yes you can,’” Miles said.
Pottstown High School senior Yuliza Cruz, 17, won the Health and Wellness Award for the high school age category. Cruz does both track and cross country. She said it’s such a relief every time she completes a race and crosses the finish line. Cruz also achieves in her studies. She takes dual enrollment classes at Montgomery County Community College.
“Believe in yourself. Trust your abilities and work hard,” is the advice Cruz has for girls that want to be exceptional.
Exeter Senior High School student Gabrielle Beauvais, 16, won the Rising Star Award. Beauvais is ranked 16 of 360 students. She is involved in many extracurricular activities and community organizations where she has leadership roles. She is trained in the violin, the clarinet and ballet.
“I think the most important quality for a leader is just to be confident in who you are and just be yourself. Don’t be afraid of failing,” she said.
The only out-of-state nominee and winner was Iyanu Bishop of Maryland. The 16-year-old won the YWCA Tri-County Area Mission Impact Award.
McDonald said Bishop encompassed the qualities necessary to work toward the mission of the YWCA.
“YWCA Tri-County Area is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all,” McDonald said.
Bishop was chosen as a 2016 Uniquely You Summit Inc. Cover Girl where she will represent for the #ForTheLoveOfBlackGirls movement. She is helping to eliminate the stereotypes of black girls by being a role model for her peers.
“I want to help black girls get in touch with their mental, emotional and physical health,” Bishop wrote in her nomination essay for the YWCA Tribute to Exceptional Girls.
The remaining award winners and their categories are as follows:
• The Arts, Elementary School — Shyloh Dugan is a 4th grader at Barth Elementary. She enjoys taking piano lessons even with her arm being recently broken.
• Health and Wellness, Elementary School — Rosario Clemens is a 4th grader at Barth Elementary School and a member of the Trojan Basketball Clinic.
• The Arts, Middle School — Jolyn Pena is a 7th grader of Pottstown. She’s a dedicated gymnast and competes in solo and group dance competitions.
• Coretta Scott King Award, Middle School (Given to a girl that demonstrates herself as an agent of change) — Kennedy White is an 8th grader of Pottstown. She volunteers to feed the homeless, participates in food drives and helped set up an anti-bullying program at her school.
• Health and Wellness, Middle School — Tyonna Brown is a 7th grader of Pottstown. She’s a basketball player and has been named “Most Athletic” at her school.
• S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Math), Middle School – Elizabeth Curry is a 6th grader of Douglassville. She’s self-taught in many art mediums including sewing, drawing and crocheting. She learns intricate patterns and creations.
• The Arts, High School — Audrey Cadogan is a 10th grader of Audubon. She’s a dancer with training in tap, ballet and jazz. She also teaches dance to younger students.
• Coretta Scott King Award, High School — Audrey Leese is a 10th grader of West Lawn. She’s an activist for both human and animal rights. She participates in peaceful demonstrations for social justice in her free time.
• S.T.E.M, High School — Stephanie Hanton is an 11th grader of Sharon Hill. She works with her peers designing robots. She was also awarded the Science and Engineering Apprenticeship with the Department of Navy.
• Additional S.T.E.M. Award, High School — Hannah Paczkowski is a 10th grader of Pottstown. She participated in a two-week summer camp for neuroscience studies at the University of Drexel Medical College in Philadelphia.
For more about the YWCA Tri-County Area and their programs, visit the website at www.ywcatricountyarea.org