2021 Keizer Distinguished Young Woman co-title holders (from left) Leilani Morris, Esther Hudkins and Nicole Russell.

Esther Hudkins, Leilani Morris and Nicole Russell did not let the COVID pandemic mess up their plans to vie for the title of Keizer’s 2021 Distinguished Young Woman. The scholarship program was held as scheduled last May, albeit differently than in years past.

Last year’s program was conducted virtually, from interviews with judges to candidates expressing their talents via video submissions.

The 2022 Distinguished Young Woman program will go forward in the same vein. Candidates are being recruited and have until March 31 to finalize their applications.

All three of last year’s co-title holders say it was a great experience for them and they have grown because of the program.

“It’s still a very viable program,” said Hudkins. “It helps girls become stronger in themselves and their core values. I would most definitely recommend this program.”

“Juniors should join this program,” agreed Morris. “I know I’ve grown a lot from meeting these wonderful women. And the chance to put myself our there. It’s cool to see young women have a hand in their community.”

“It’s a great way to improve yourself,” echoed Nicole, whose sister, Elizabeth Russell, was one of Keizer’s Distinguished Young Women in 2017. “(The program) helps build skills, communication skills and public speaking and self expression,” she continued.

Talent is one of the five areas of judging in the program. Though many feel they don’t have a viable talent, all three of last year’s winners say that’s is not true. They all agree that everyone has a talent, it is just a matter of identifying it. Last year Hudkins did an Irish dance, Leilani performed a Hawaiian dance and Nicole played piano.

All three young women said the main thing they got out of the program was stronger self-confidence. 

Each of them were awarded $1,000 scholarships from last year’s program. Hundreds of millions of scholarship dollars have been award in the program’s 63 years. 

All three of the 2021 titleholders have or will graduate from McNary High School and have college plans: Hudkins to OSU/Cascade, Morris plans to attend OSU if possible, she has already enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Nicole will join her sister, Elizabeth, at BYU/Prov.

Originally called Junior Miss, Keizer’s first program was 1974. 

Though this year’s program will be virtual once again, organizers are confident that Keizer’s 2023 Distinguished Young Woman program will again be a live event at McNary High School.

If interested in participating in the program or volunteering, contact Mary Bauer Opra at 503-510-7483.