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Easthampton’s Distinguished Young Woman Rachel Connell wins Spirit Award at state finals

  • Winner Rachel Sara Connell (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Winner Rachel Sara Connell (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton's Rachel Connell, 17, at right, poses with the eight other candidates at the state finals of the Distinguished Young Women program on Feb. 23.<br/>Photo courtesy of Distinguished Young Women of Massachusetts

    Easthampton's Rachel Connell, 17, at right, poses with the eight other candidates at the state finals of the Distinguished Young Women program on Feb. 23.
    Photo courtesy of Distinguished Young Women of Massachusetts Purchase photo reprints »

  • Winner Rachel Sara Connell (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Easthampton's Rachel Connell, 17, at right, poses with the eight other candidates at the state finals of the Distinguished Young Women program on Feb. 23.<br/>Photo courtesy of Distinguished Young Women of Massachusetts

— Rachel Connell was surprised to win the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman title last November, but she was even more shocked when her name was called for an award at the state finals in Franklin Feb. 23.

Connell, 17, a senior at Easthampton High School, won the Spirit Award, which comes with a $200 scholarship. The award is bestowed on the participant deemed the most positive, enthusiastic and compassionate.

“It’s a nice honor for her because it’s the only award that’s voted on by the candidates themselves,” said Jennifer Lawton, chairwoman of the local program’s board of directors.

While Connell didn’t win the top prize at the state competition, formerly called Junior Miss, she said she was happy with the Spirit Award. She also won it at the local competition in November.

“I felt it was a big honor, especially because it was voted on by all the candidates so it showed that I made an impression on them,” she said.

She said she enjoyed the competition as well as her weeklong stay in Franklin, where she and the other eight candidates stayed with host families while preparing for the finals Saturday.

“There were three other candidates staying at the house, too, and in just a week we formed such strong bonds,” Connell said.

In that week, they had to learn a dance number, a fitness routine and a “self expression” routine to perform on stage. Connell, who didn’t have any dance experience before preparing for the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women program, said it was daunting.

“For the Greater Easthampton one, we had two months to learn the routines, and choreography isn’t something that comes easily to me,” she said. But she pulled it off on stage last weekend, and said the hard work was worth it.

“When I was on stage and went up to the microphone to introduce myself, the whole right side of audience lit up with glow sticks and about 40 people were screaming my name,” she recalled. “I love that I can represent the people who have been so supportive of me.”

Since winning her title here, she she has represented the area Along with appearing t Easthampton’s Holiday Stroll in December, she will give a speech next month at the Greater Easthampton St. Patrick’s Day Committee dinner and will be the centerpiece of the committee’s float in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Connell, who won $4,000 in scholarships at the local competition in November, plans to study nursing at Elms College in Chicopee in the fall.

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