Mikala Chenault, in blue, and Dolly Zhen, at right in red, were named 2013 Distinguished Young Women of Keizer in the annual scholarship program Saturday night at McNary High School. (KEIZERTIMES/Brian Rennick)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

It probably isn’t a stretch to say that Mikala Chenault and Dolly Zhen didn’t expect to become the 2013 Distinguished Young Women of Keizer, but both were deemed winners by a panel of judges Saturday, May 12.

Neither Chenault nor Zhen was completely sold on participating in the scholarship program at first glance.

“I think my mom was more interested in it than me at first,” said Chenault. “But I liked the idea of learning public speaking and interview skills.”

Zhen was roped into the competition at the urging of another contestant, Delaney Engle.

Ten contestants vied for the scholarship opportunities in categories ranging from essays to fitness and talent.

Chenault and Zhen agreed that the interview and self-expression portion of the program, where each contender has to answer a question on stage, were of the toughest.

“It’s just hard to come up with an intelligent, coherent answer for everything,” Zhen said.

Chenault performed a vocal solo and Zhen played the oboe for the talent segment.

“That was sort of nerve-wracking,” Zhen said. “It’s not often I get up in front of a crowd of more than two people.”

Chenault said the social aspect of the program, and the camaraderie formed with other contestants, was the most unexpected benefit of being part of DYWK.

“It was great being able to go through the program with girls my own age, at my school and who I might never have talked to,” Chenault said.

Zhen said there was a magic moment during preparation for the big night when everyone seemed to forget there was a competition at all.

“We just sat down and talked about school and life, random stuff. It was cool to be part of that,” she said.

What they got out of the program was a sense of self that transcended any of the doubts they had before decided to become DYWK contestants.

“I thought I was a shy person and invisible, but I learned that I was more confident than I thought I was,” Zhen said.

Chenault added, “I learned to carry myself with confidence, to hold my head high and be self-assured and to know that being me is enough.”

Both young women will compete in the state program later this year.

McKinzie Isaac was selected as first alternate. Zhen won the Be Your Best Self essay and scholastic achievement awards. Chenault won the spirit, self-expression and interview awards. Samantha Gorman won the fitness portion of the program and Johanna Hayes won the talent competition.

For more photos of the event check out our photo gallery.