To learn more about the Distinguished Young Women program, visit distinguishedyw.org.
There’s not many people who can say they’ve met someone from each of the 50 states.
But that is something that Denver’s own Madison Manning will be able to tell people once she lands in New York this fall as she begins in her college career.
Manning, 18, was Colorado’s representative in the 65th Distinguished Young Women National Finals, which took place June 23-25 in Mobile, Alabama. There, she met teens representing all 50 states.
“It was really great to represent Colorado,” Manning said. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Manning arrived in Alabama mid-June, and during the time leading up to the competition, she and the other 49 competitors made new friendships with each other, participated in team building activities, completed community service projects and interacted with the community through various events.
Manning, a resident of the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, is a Colorado native and has lived in Denver her whole life. She is a 2022 graduate of the Cherry Creek School District’s Overland High School.
The Distinguished Young Women program is a national scholarship program during which participants have a chance to win college scholarships while learning life skills — such as public speaking and building self-confidence — that will remain with them through college and beyond.
It teaches young women to “be your best self,” Manning said, and prioritizes and supports women going to college.
The Distinguished Young Women program validates confidence in women, according to Greeley resident Alison Reed, who is the 2021 Distinguished Young Woman of Colorado and represented the state in last year’s national finals.
“By doing the program, I learned that everyone can be distinguished,” Reed said, adding that the program “offers a well-rounded approach to teaching young women life skills.”
For the national competition, participants compete in the following categories: scholastics, which makes up 25% of the score; interview, also 25%; talent, which is 20% of the score; fitness; and self-expression, which are each 15% of the score.
The competition is a “merit-based pageant,” Manning said, but added that it’s worth it for any female high-schooler to do because “just for participating, you get scholarships.”
Additionally, while it is a competition, it is not as cutthroat as most pageants are, Manning said.
Manning named a number of girls from states as far away as Alaska and Hawaii that she naturally “clicked with” during the national competition, and they have plans to keep in touch with each other for the foreseeable future.
Preparing for the national competition was a two-year process for Manning, which began during her junior year. Her mom, Nicole Manning, who was Colorado’s representative in 1990, told her of the Distinguished Young Women program. Manning decided to participate in the local competition, then went on to represent Denver in the state competition, which took place in July 2021.
As soon as she was named 2022’s Distinguished Young Woman of Colorado from the state competition, Manning started preparing for the national competition.
At the national competition, Manning was a trailblazer as Colorado’s representative. She became the first Colorado representative to place within the top eight of the overall competition, and in addition, Manning was the first African American to represent Colorado.
“I’m so proud to have had her represent Colorado,” Reed said. “It was a great moment to have everyone cheer on Colorado.”
By placing within the top eight — a competition finalist — Manning won a $5,000 scholarship. She placed within the top five in both the fitness and the self-expression categories.
The self-expression category was “kind of like public speaking,” Manning said, with its core goal being able to share an opinion on a topic.
“They can’t judge you on your opinion, they judge you on how you present it,” Manning said.
Manning’s questions were: “What is the best thing about your state,” for which Manning responded by discussing how Denver is becoming such a vibrant performing arts hub; and “What would you change about your state,” which Manning answered by saying Colorado needs a better response to gun violence, using Columbine and the Aurora movie theater shootings to back up her response.
The scholastics category was academic-based, and Manning admitted that because she’s not a good test-taker, she had to work even harder on the other categories. For her talent, she sang “Colored Woman” from the musical “Memphis.”
“The first time I heard her sing, I think my jaw just about hit the ground,” said Reed, who met Manning in July 2021 when Manning was competing in the state competition. “There’s a power and passion in her voice that’s so impressive.”
Manning’s dream job after college is to work on Broadway and/or with traveling theater groups. She realizes this is quite an ambitious goal, so she’s also thinking about pursuing a PhD and becoming a professor of theater.
“I decided that if I wanted to do what I love, then theater is it,” Manning said.
She added that “it’s a very white field, so it’s important to spread equity through it and tell stories of Black trauma and the Black experience, whether (storytelling) fact or fiction.”
Manning will be majoring in musical theater at Syracuse University. She leaves this August, and though she’s nervous about the move across the country, she is proud of what she has accomplished here in Colorado. Manning has a long list of accolades, ranging from coaching gymnastics and being part of the National Honor Society to placing second in the 2021 Denver Shakespeare Competition and performing the National Anthem in 2020 to open the city of Aurora’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration.
Participating in the Distinguished Young Women National Finals also taught Manning a valuable life lesson — to adapt. Though it was a fun and exciting experience, Manning said the competition itself was physically and mentally exhausting. Add a few COVID scares among the other participants and judges to the demands of the competition, it taught Manning and the rest of the competitors the importance of being flexible.
“This was way harder than going (out-of-state) for college,” Manning said. “If I can do Distinguished Young Women, I can go to New York.”
Reed agreed, adding that it’s Manning’s determination that sets her apart.
“I’ve been inspired by her from day one,” Reed said. “I’m excited for her to expand and grow who she is in New York. I have no doubt that she’ll be successful.”
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