Alaska’s Maire Nakada is The 2015 Distinguished Young Woman of America

Originally posted on June 27, 2015 By Tamara Ikenberg |

At Saturday night’s 58th Annual Distinguished Young Women National Finals, a very talented lady from the snowy non-contiguous state step-danced her way to success.

2015’s Distinguished Young Woman of America is Alaska’s Maire Nakada. And along with the title comes $50,000 in cash for college.

After the announcement, streamers fell from the Mobile Civic Center Theater ceiling and the audience clapped and cheered for Nakada, who wowed the crowd with her Irish step-dancing and excellent interview and physical fitness skills.

Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina Kadee Beasley, was first runner-up, winning a $20,000 cashSCHOLARSHIP. Second runner-up, Kentucky’s Kassie Miller, won a $10,000SCHOLARSHIP

The other seven finalists— Florida’s Shannon Wade, Mississippi’s Tanner Fant, South Carolina’s  Caitlyn Penter, Hawaii’s Tianzhen Nie, Illinois’ Chase Dorn ,  Arizona’s  Joanna Gurr, and Alabama’s Bria Kalpen, each received a $3,500SCHOLARSHIP.

TalentSCHOLARSHIPS in the amount of $1,000 each went to Nevada’s Kaylyn Taylor, Georgia’s Sophia Inaba, Gurr and Wade.

InterviewSCHOLARSHIPS in the amount of $1,000 each were awarded to Massachusetts’ Kelly Reading, Virginia’s Claire Hungar, Miller and Kalpen.

Five $2500SCHOLARSHIPS were also given to the women with the highest overall scores in each category. Pennsylvania’s Catherine Zhang won for overall scholastics, overall fitness West Virginia’s Kristiana Sklioutovskaya-Lopez won for overall fitness, Ohio’s Claire Coder won for overall self expression, and Nakada won for overall interview and talent.

The $2500 Joy Mitchell Spirit Award was given to Zhang.

In total, thePROGRAM awarded $150,000 in cash for college throughout the preliminaries and finals night.

Saturday night’s competition was the culmination of two weeks of communityACTIVITIES, events, rehearsals and preliminary rounds.

The ten finalists competed onstage in the categories of talent, physical fitness and  self-expression. The scholastic and interview portions of the competition were conducted prior to theEVENT.

The judges were Dr. Doretha Walker, anASSISTANT professor, activist and author; Matt Vinson, a composer, pianist and musical director; Laura Asiala, a former Michigan Distinguished Young Woman; Jenny Hamilton, another alumna who is the executive director of the New Orleans Ballet Association; and actor Eric Dysart.

The event was hosted by David Weincek and Amy Goodman, and featured special appearances by local luminariews including Mayor Sandy Stimpson and Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson.

The talent portion came first on Saturday. Each woman reprised the oneMINUTEand thirty second  performance they displayed during the preliminary rounds.

The impressive displays of talent included  Wade’s strong, dramatic performance of a Mozart piano  sonata Tanner Fant’s balletic dance to Sia’s “Titanium,” Caitlyn Penter’s version of   the Etta James classic “At Last,”  and Nakada’s amazing IrishSTEP dance in which she let her powerful muscular legs and fantastic feet tell the story.

Dorn twirled a baton to a swingin’ big band standard with perfect timing and total control of her tools,  Gurr proved that playing violin is anything but a stuffy and stiff as she walked the stage, bent down and smiled sweetly while playing the festive Hungarian gypsy piece “Csardas,” and  Kalpen delivered her own version of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” with dynamic pop star presence.

Next, the finalists showed their enviable strength and  stamina in a fierce choreographed team fitness routine demanding enough to make audience members breathless just watching.

Using moves from yoga, pilates and aerobics, the ladies lunged, squatted, stretched, jumped and kicked a to the tune of  “That Power” by

The final category the ladies competed in on Saturday night was self-expression. For that portion, they spontaneously  answered randomly selected questions. The queries included  “When was the last time you tried something new?” and “What is the best decision you’ve made?”

Nakada got the best decision question. She said her decision to move to Ireland toSTUDY dancing was the best choice she’s made so far because it taught her independence.

While the votes were being  tabulated, 2014 Distinguished Young Woman of America Brooke Rucker did a cool, flapper-esque danceNUMBER and reminisced about her year as the top DYW.

The Distinguished Young Women representatives touched down in Mobile two weeks ago, and have participated in nonstopEVENTS, appearances and community service all over the Mobile area.

Distinguished Young Women, founded in 1958 in Mobile, is the largest and oldest nationalSCHOLARSHIP program for high school girls. Over its 58 years of operation, the program has provided life-changing experiences for more than 740,000 women, and has provided more than $102 million in cashSCHOLARSHIPS to participants at the local, state and national levels.

The mission of Distinguished Young Women is to positively impact the lives of young women by providing a transforming experience that promotes and rewardsSCHOLARSHIP, leadership and talent.

In 2010, the organization changed its title from America’s Junior Miss to Distinguished Young Women.

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