- Cullman, Alabama

May 19, 2013

Distinguished Young Women program June 1 at WSCC

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— This year’s list of Distinguished Young Women is filled with the names of girls who have truly distinguished themselves in the community, at their schools, churches and in the arts.

The local program will be held on June 1, 2013, at Wallace State Community College, in the Betty Leeth Haynes Theater at Wallace State Community College  at 4 p.m.

This year there will be eight Cullman County girls participating in the preliminary to Alabama’s Distinguished Young Woman, which will be held January 17-18, 2014, in Montgomery.

The program is an academic, leadership and talent competition, not a beauty pageant, although every entrant is beautiful as well as being gifted with various athletic, motivational and personality traits which have led them on a path that has allowed them to attain experience in a wide array of forums, including community involvement, travel, spiritual growth, public speaking and political activism.

The girls have various reasons for entering this prestigious program, for Vinemont’s Emily Marie Holcombe, Anna Caroline Keefe, who attends St. Bernard Prep, and Cullman High’s Hollie Bennett, it is a way to attain valuable scholarships for their college funds, and to build relationships.

Other girls, like Katie Owens of Hanceville, and Mackenzie Bockhold of St. Bernard Prep, saw this program as a way of stepping out of their comfort zones, pushing themselves to achieve new goals, and meet new people.

Payton Palmer and Savannah Smith, both Cullman High School students, and Mary Grace White of West Point, see this as an opportunity to learn more about their peers and express themselves, while sharing their gifts with others.

All of the girls will be seniors in the 2014 graduating class at their respective high schools. Each of them has a college in mind. For Katie (daughter of Billy and Lynndy Carson) and Savannah (daughter of Michael and Susan Smith) that college is Auburn University. Katie’s goal is to become a pharmacist, while Savannah’s will study to become a physical therapist.

Mary Grace (daughter of Rick and Nina Mathis and the late Tim White) plans to attain a degree in nursing, and Payton (daughter of Shane and Christy Palmer) has her mind set on becoming a speech and music therapist. Both girls plan to attend the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

The other girls plan to attend various colleges. For Emily (daughter of Mary Holcombe) that will be the University of North Alabama, where she will study elementary education. Hollie (daughter of Wendell and Rita Bennett) has chosen Samford University where she will pursue a degree in public administration.

Mary Caroline Keefe (daughter of Dr. Lisa Weeks and Jon Duke, and Patrick T. Keefe, Jr) plans to become an orthodontist, and will attend the University of Mississippi, while Mackenzie Bockhold is headed to Georgia Tech to attain her degree in chemical engineering.

All of the girls have set the bar high, and since each of them has applied themselves diligently throughout their high school years, this program is a way to help them, not only to attain additional scholarship money, but to network among other girls throughout the state and nation who have similar goals.

Mary Grace White, Mackenzie Bockhold, Anna Caroline Keefe, Savannah Smith, Katie Owens and Hollie Bennett are members of the National Honor Society.

Payton Palmer was chosen to be a representative on the 2013 CEC, Montgomery Youth Tour, and is a 2013 JSU Leadership Representative. Emily Marie Holcombe is a proud member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Cullman Area Teenage Republicans. Hollie is secretary of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Both Payton and Emily will showcase their talents by singing faith- based songs. Emily chose “How Great Thou Art” and will sing the moving piece in the style of Carrie Underwood, while Payton will perform a compilation of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America” which was arranged by Chris Beatty and Josh Agnew.

Savannah’s vocal presentation of “For Good” by Stephen Schwartz, is from the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

Mackenzie, Hollie and Mary Grace will showcase their dancing abilities in various forms – ballet for Hollie (“You Raise Me Up” by Selan), tap dance for Mackenzie (“Brand New You” from the Broadway production of ’13, The Musical”), and Mary Grace will dance a jazz rendition of “It’s About That Walk” by Prince.

Anna Caroline will provide a piano solo, featuring “Solfeggietto in C Minor” by C. P. E. Bach. Katie will entertain the crowd with her trumpet solo of “You Raise Me Up” arranged by Rolf Lovland and Brendan Graham.

In addition to being musically inclined, the girls have also distinguished themselves academically and socially. Payton received A/B honors, and was vice president of her class in both her sophomore and junior years, and Mackenzie was president of her tenth-grade class.

Each girl has left her mark in some form or fashion, according to her leadership abilities. Those abilities include Mary Grace’s participation as a People to People Ambassador, and as a Cullman Chamber of Commerce Youth Leadership participant, Savannah’s role in the Cullman High School Student Government Association, as a student ambassador, and a member of the staff of The Southerner.

Katie distinguished herself by her skill in mathematics, as a member of the math team. Both she and Hollie were also active participants in the Cullman County Youth Leadership Program.

Anna Caroline attended the High School Presidential Inaugural Conference in Washington, D.C. and represented St. Bernard Prep School at the Montgomery Youth Tour with the Cullman Electric Co-Op. She was also in Washington, D.C. as a member of the National Youth Leadership Conference, attended the National Youth Leadership Forum in Medicine at UCLA, California, as well as the National Youth Leadership Forum in Collegiate Success at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Mackenzie received a summa cum laude award on the National Latin Exam, and is a member of Mu Alpha Theta, and a National Merit Scholar Qualifier.

Many of the girls were also active in sports and athletically related school programs. Hollie is the dance line captain at CHS, Emily is Vinemont’s dance line captain, Katie is band captain and trumpet section leader, Savannah runs track and cross country for CHS, Mary Grace is a varsity cheerleader at West Point and Mackenzie is cheer captain at St. Bernard.

Katie is the 2013 Fair Queen Representative at Hanceville High School, while Payton was chosen as Cullman's 2013 Fair Queen Representative, and was also a talent winner.

"Caitlin Varquez, the current 2013 Distinguished Young Woman of Cullman County will be entertaining as well as our 2012 Distinguished Young Woman of Cullman County, Jordan Harrison," said local chairman, Patty Grier.

This group of multi-faceted young ladies has chosen to use all these scholastic, musical, athletic and personal talents and attributes in such a way as to bring honor to their schools and to make their parents proud, but they have also grown by each and every experience in a way that will last throughout their lives. They have achieved much in their high school years, been mentors to girls who will come along after them, and have determined to further their education by entering this program.

Should you see one of them out and about in our community, be sure to congratulate them on their past, present, and future achievements. They are our future in the making.

Contact Patty Grier, local chairman at or 256-734-8184. Visit to find out more about the program.

Tickets are $10 in advance and can be purchased from any participant or at the Colonel Cullman Museum. They will be $12 at the door.