Ashlyn Nichols prepares for national Distinguished Young Women contest, encourages others to 'Be Your Best Self'

“Everyone can become their best self if they try.”

Hannibal High School senior Ashlyn Nichols shared that inspiring message with members of three classes in Hannibal in her role as Missouri’s 2018 representative for Distinguished Young Women. She visited with a kindergarten class she previously worked with at Veterans Elementary School, her brother Landon’s third grade class at Mark Twain Elementary School and members of the sixth grade Service in Action group at Hannibal Middle School. As she prepares to prepares to represent the Show-Me State during national competition, Nichols regularly demonstrates the five key points of what it takes to “Be Your Best Self” — Be healthy, be involved, be studious, be ambitious and be responsible.

Nichols earned her accolades after submitting an online application in December with Distinguished Young Women, the oldest and largest national scholarship program for high school girls. In January, she joined the state competition at Bluff City Theater — demonstrating her interview skills, scholastic abilities, fitness, public speaking skills and a talent of her choice.

She played a selection on violin showcased her musical skills and her school spirit — “He’s a Pirate,” from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. She even donned a pirate costume for the 90-second performance. She also spoke about a cherished rite of passage ceremony, sharing the importance of her transition from a child to an adult. When she found out that she was selected as the representative for the Show-Me State, Nichols said she felt a flood of emotions.

“Honestly, I was very, very surprised, because we had seven really intelligent, very talented women who participated in this,” she said. “It was definitely a huge honor, for sure, it was very humbling.”

Growing up in America’s Hometown, Nichols said opportunities that are unique to this community helped shape her success and career path — she will attend Southwest Baptist University in the fall with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and English — and she will continue to blog about what her activities and giving back to her community through the Distinguished Young Women website. Nichols credited her experience serving as the official Becky Thatcher ambassador in 2013 and her occupation as a tour guide at Mark Twain Cave for helping cultivate her public speaking skills and ability to address various audiences.

During Be Your Best Self Week from April 23 to April 27, she visited students throughout Hannibal to share her message. At Veterans Elementary School, she recalled how inspiring it was to hear kindergarteners talking about how they would strive to be successful and offering their own advice. Nichols said she enjoyed meeting with the students in each group, tailoring her presentation and games for each age group. She said highlights included opportunities for one-on-one interviews during each visit and sending cards and posters to members of each class to remind them of their experience.

At Mark Twain Elementary School, she said she was able to experience some valuable bonding time with her younger brother before she goes to college. And she said she got to know all of the sixth graders in Service in Action on a close level before her visit, thanks to a year of assisting them in the classroom.

Even though she’ll be away from Hannibal in the fall, Nichols said she would be happy to appear for events in Hannibal to help spread the positive message of how to “Be Your Best Self” — she stressed the five points are beneficial to children and adults alike.

“It’s really neat, because we tell kids, the goal isn’t to be perfect, because that will never happen,” she said. “We’ll still make mistakes, but the goal is just to improve and working on how you can become the best person you can be.”

Nichols has been preparing for Nationals competition in Mobile, Ala. from June 18 to July 1. The 51 young women representing 50 states and the District of Columbia will perform service projects in the area, tour the historic sites and check out the area’s other attractions before the intensive second phase.

During the second week, a complex fitness routine, a speech and a talent performance will encompass the competition.

Eight young women will reach the final round, and one winner will be named the 2018 Distinguished Young Woman of America and will receive a $30,000 cash scholarship. Ashlyn said she is excited for a unique opportunity with 50 other people who are dedicated to giving back to their communities and being their best selves. She has been practicing for the past few months for her routine, but she said the chance to win is just one of the benefits.

“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone of these people who have the same mindset as me... to represent their state well, and I think it’s going to be a very encouraging time,” she said.

To see Nichols’ blogs or learn more about Distinguished Young Women’s programs, visit distinguishedym.org or visit their Facebook page by searching Distinguished Young Women of Missouri.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com