“It was so shocking — one of the most shocking experiences of my life,” Rucker said about her reaction upon hearing her name being called as the program’s winner. “I figured after winning some of the preliminary awards, I had a chance at winning, but in those kinds of situations, you just never know. So to hear my name, it was just unbelievable — such a dream come true. To me, winning this title means that I actually have the opportunity to give back all around the country and be this role model for girls and just show them that it is possible for them to reach their dreams and go after their goals.”
From June 26 to 28, the 18-year-old daughter of Donald and Tanya Rucker competed in the 57th annual DYW National Finals at the Mobile Civic Center Theater in Alabama. Along with the 49 other contestants, she was evaluated in the areas of fitness (15 percent of overall score), interview (25 percent), talent (25 percent), scholastics (20 percent) and self-expression (15 percent). In the talent category, Rucker performed a tap routine that she choreographed to the overture from the musical “Chicago.”
Formerly known as America’s Junior Miss scholarship program, America’s DYW dispersed more than $150,000 in cash scholarships at the national contest. In addition to being awarded a $50,000 cash scholarship for winning the title, Rucker also received funds for obtaining the following awards — preliminary self-expression, $1,000; preliminary talent, $1,000; overall fitness, $2,500; and overall interview, $2,500. In all, she has received $65,300 in scholarship funds from participanting in the DYW’s local, state and national programs.
“It was the most surreal, exciting moment,” said Abbey Hufstetler, Georgia’s Junior Miss for 2009 and co-director of the local DYW program. “It was clear she had done well; on Friday night she received the preliminary self-expression award. When she received not only the preliminary talent award but also the overall fitness and interview awards, we all got so excited. The tension built as they announced the first and second honoree, and when they called ‘Georgia’ as the national representative, I’m pretty certain our entire Georgia delegation went crazy.
“It was truly a once in a lifetime moment to get to be there, support her and watch her shine. From the moment her name was called, you could see the excitement from her fellow participants, which I believe is a testament to her character and personality. Attending the after-finals party with her was icing on the cake, because we got to hear from so many board members, sponsors and volunteers about how much they loved watching Brooke perform. It was great to see that not only the judges loved her, but also the people of Mobile and the participants who spent the last two weeks with her. That’s the mark of a truly distinguished young woman. We are just so proud of all she has accomplished, and we know that she will represent Bartow County, Georgia and our nation very well over the next year.”
As the second black American to win the Distinguished Young Woman of America title since the program’s inception in 1958, Rucker is hoping her achievement will help broaden its participant base.
“[It is] one of my goals because I have firsthand experience and I know what it’s like coming from a minority race,” Rucker said. “You look around and it’s really hard to find a role model that you can relate to and, like I said in the past, I have such a great, supportive family, so that’s really helped me go after those dreams. But I definitely hope getting to be this representative helps other girls who are just like me be able to look up to me and see that it is possible for them to go after their dreams.
“This program is just such a life-changing experience. It has helped me, I feel, grow up as a person. Before I was one of those people who was like, ‘Oh yeah, I don’t need to know what’s going on in the world around me with current events, and oh yeah, interviews aren’t important.’ But getting into this program, it really gives you the skills that you’re going to use for the rest of your life. I now can walk into job interviews or I now know what’s going on in my world, which helps me so when I go out to vote I actually know what events are going on. So it’s just giving you [skills] like that. It gives you new friendships and it just really helps you, I [think], grow up and get ready for what’s ahead of you in the future.”
A 2014 graduate of Woodland High School, Rucker was a well-rounded student. Some of her achievements included WHS Student of the Month for January 2013, Miss Woodland winner, Governor’s Honors Program state finalist in Theater, Best Dancer in Cartersville’s Artistic Talent Showcase from 2011 to 2013, 100 percent Award in C.A.T.S., Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, C.A.T.S. Leadership Award, C.A.T.S. dance captain and secretary of the Thespian Society her sophomore year. She also has been involved in Wildcats for Kids, WHS Chorale, WHS Theater Department, Student Council, Act I Community Theater and National Honor Society. Preparing for a choreography career, she soon will be a student at Florida State University, pursuing a degree in dance.
“[I] definitely [want to thank] my community, because they’re the ones that prepared me to go on to nationals, and then Mobile — going there, it’s just wonderful,” Rucker said. “Everybody is so sweet. I’m just so thankful for all the people who are giving of their time [and the] sponsors who are giving up their money, so they can make sure that girls just like me get to go after their dreams.”
“... I want to give another thanks to everyone in the community. From the minute that I started at the local program, this community has been supporting me. It’s not just something that came right after I won Distinguished Young Woman of America, they’ve always been behind me and I’m so thankful. So this is for them just as much as it is for me.”
In honor of Rucker’s accomplishment, the local DYW program will present a meet-and-greet event that will be open to the public Friday at 10:30 a.m. at Gilreath Hall, 10 W. Main St. in Cartersville.