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High schooler shines as state’s Distinguished Young Woman

November 30, 2018

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — When Lori Feng was an elementary school student, her father took her to a Distinguished Young Women event where they were living in Washington.

Feng didn’t make too much of it. At that point, she said, she was content to immerse herself in academics and piano lessons.

But her father never forgot and when the Fengs moved to Starkville when Lori was a seventh grader, her father was delighted to learn Starkville had its own DYW program and guided his middle child into the program.

“Before getting involved in DYW, I just focused on academics,” said Feng, now a senior at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. “I was excited because it looked like a great, fun program and because of the scholarship money available, but now that I’ve participated in the local and state programs, I’ve learned it’s so much more than that.”

Feng, the current Mississippi Distinguished Young Woman, shared her DYW experiences during Monday’s Starkville Rotary Club meeting at Starkville Country Club.

Although DYW has been around for 60 years, a name change in 2010 from America’s Junior Miss to Distinguished Young Women has meant the program has had to re-introduce itself.

″(We) went to Tupelo High School last week and no one there had ever heard of Distinguished Young Women,” said Susan Keith, the Starkville coordinator for DYW. “We’ve been spending a lot of time getting the word out about our program.”

The national scholarship program provides high school girls with educational opportunities through scholarships and skill development through its local, state and national programs.

The DYW of Mississippi could have no better ambassador than Feng, who won the state title in July, excelling the academics and talent (piano) portions of the competition.

“More than anything else, being in the DYW program taught me the importance of having balance in life,” Feng said. “It’s about being healthy, mentally and physically. It’s also given me opportunities to improve the kind of skills I’ll need as I continue my education and start my career. It’s helped me in so many ways.”

The once bookish, introverted Feng said the opportunities to meet new people and connect with her community have been transformational.

As Mississippi’s Distinguished Young Woman, Feng has traveled across the state and beyond, something she said has made her more aware of the opportunities in her own community.

“On the first Saturday every month, I give community piano lessons on Main Street,” Feng said. “They have a piano on the sidewalk near Starkville Cafe, and I give 15-minute piano lessons. Kids love it and I also give lessons to husbands who are waiting for their wives to finish shopping or people waiting to eat at Starkville Cafe. They see this teenage girl standing by a piano and, at first, they are like ‘What’s going on?’ Then, after a while they warm up and we have a lot of fun with that.”

Feng, who has earned $9,000 in DYW scholarships, said she wants to someday open her own business, one that will provide a service to the community.

“I’m not sure exactly what it will be,” she said Monday. “But I do know it will have a social component.”

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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