“I couldn’t say that I was completely surprised only because when they were calling out the overall awards I got three of them and I was just like, ‘This has got to be it,’” Inaba said. “But ... they were calling out the preliminary awards first and my name wasn’t being called out, so I was just freaking out because I thought that I didn’t do such a great job. But then I was so relieved when I heard my name a couple more times. It was surreal. It felt like all the work had paid off.
“To me, it doesn’t really seem like winning. I feel like I was just chosen just because I had a high score. Getting to represent all these wonderful girls, that’s really what it’s all about. I just can’t wait to share all their stories at nationals. I am definitely proud to make Bartow County proud. It’s an honor to be part of the Bartow family, because we have such an amazing program, and it’s just great to be part of that continuing legacy and really embrace Bartow County and share all the great qualities of Bartow County to the world.”
On Friday and Saturday, the 17-year-old daughter of Mike and Fujiko Inaba competed against more than 20 participants in the areas of fitness (15 percent of the overall score), interview (25 percent), scholastics (20 percent), self-expression (15 percent) and talent (25 percent). Held at the Performing Arts Center at Marietta High School, the program is a preliminary for the national competition in Mobile, Ala., where more than $150,000 in cash scholarships will be dispersed next summer.
Along with the title netting her a $5,000 cash scholarship, Inaba also won three overall awards for scholastics, self-expression and talent, increasing her state winnings to $6,200. In the talent category, Inaba performed a beatbox flute piece.
“Watching Sophia perform on the stage throughout the weekend at the state finals for Distinguished Young Women of Georgia was so exciting,” said Abbey Hufstetler, Georgia’s Junior Miss for 2009 and co-director of Bartow’s DYW program. “It was so clear to see how her hard work and growth have paid off as she shined on the stage. Throughout every phase of the program, Sophia was cool, calm and collected, and never looked like she was nervous. She simply looked like she was having a great time, and that’s what we really want for our girls.
“Even if Sophia hadn’t taken home the top award, I still would have been incredibly proud of the hard work she did to prepare for the state program. When they called out her name as the Distinguished Young Woman of Georgia, I was just filled with excitement for her. This program is life changing, and I am grateful that she gets the opportunity to experience yet another level of it.”
Hufstetler continued, “Watching Sophia’s talent piece is an experience like no other. Her skillful use of the flute combined with the percussive sounds of beatboxing create a truly one-of-a-kind performance. Everyone was amazed at her unique talent, so I am certain that this surely set her apart. Her scholastics are also phenomenal, and her answer to the self-expression portion of the program was truly remarkable. In a beautifully worded, conversational manner, she answered her question about her generation and current events flawlessly.”
A senior at Woodland High School, Inaba maintains a 4.0 GPA while being involved in numerous activities, such as drum major for the marching band, Women’s Choir, Tri-M Music Honor Society’s president, Partnerships for Success’ secretary, Girls Trio, Cat PAWS (Peers Assisting Woodland Students), Math Cats and Beta Club.
Inaba advanced to the state level after becoming the Distinguished Young Woman of Bartow County in March. In addition to winning the local DYW medallion, Inaba also received a $1,300 Overall Winner Award Scholarship and a $200 Scholastics Award Scholarship.
Her accomplishment strengthens Bartow County’s legacy in the Distinguished Young Women program. Along with six state winners since 2008, the local DYW program also recently featured its first national winner. In late June, Cartersville’s Brooke Rucker became the fourth state representative to win the Distinguished Young Woman of America title.
“I know my mom, Myra, and I would both agree that we feel Bartow County has been so successful because of this community’s support,” Hufstetler said, referring to her mother, who also serves as a co-director of Bartow’s DYW program. “We have so many volunteers who assist at the local level and are committed to helping these girls. It’s not just about the competition. Yes, the program gives the venue for young women to have an interview, answer a question onstage, demonstrate their physical fitness and talents, and have their grades assessed, but that isn’t the point of the program. The point is to help each individual young woman to reach her full, individual potential. Our volunteers recognize the value of developing these life skills that Distinguished Young Women is teaching and are committed to assisting young women in developing those attributes.
“I also can’t go without saying how beneficial it is to have the help of previous winners whose lives have been impacted by the program. This year, we were grateful for the assistance of Mary-Clayton Gilbert, the 2012 Bartow and Georgia representative; Avian Brown, the 2013 Bartow and Georgia representative; and Brooke Rucker, the 2014 Bartow, Georgia and America representative. Each of these young women have given of their time and talents to support Sophia and to encourage her along the way. Caroline Lloyd, the 2011 Bartow and Georgia representative, was able to fly in just in time for the show on Saturday night. Having the support of our ‘has beens’ is a huge source of encouragement for our representative.”
For more information about the Distinguished Young Women program, visit http://distinguishedyw.org.