Deerfield Academy senior wins Distinguished Young Woman of Massachusetts contest

  • Mina Liang, a senior at Deerfield Academy, won the Distinguished Young Women of Massachusetts 2019 competition last month. Courtesy Mina Liang—BENJAMIN CHEUNG PHOTOGRAPHY

For the Gazette
Published: 8/6/2018 11:17:02 PM

DEERFIELD — As a rising senior at Deerfield Academy, Mina Liang was browsing online for scholarship opportunities when she came across the Distinguished Young Women competition, a national scholarship program for high school girls.

“When I first came across it, I thought, ‘This is interesting,’ so I decided to go for it,” Liang said.

Two months later, Liang, of Amherst, was named Distinguished Young Woman of Massachusetts 2019, earning a scholarship toward college and the opportunity to advance to the national competition next June in Mobile, Alabama.

Last month, eight young women from across the state took part in the competition at Holyoke Community College. Before the event, they had a training week in which the women got to know one another through mock interviews and group activities.

“The experience of meeting all these different girls from around the state was the most interesting part of the process for me,” Liang said. “They were all these really inspiring girls, and I liked learning what they’re up to and seeing how they’re changing their local communities.”

The contestants were judged in five categories, weighted accordingly: scholastics (25 percent), interview (25 percent), talent (20 percent), fitness (15 percent) and self-expression (15 percent). Liang won the scholastic, talent and fitness categories.

The 17-year-old’s scholarship totaled $2,300 — $2,000 for winning the overall competition and $100 for each of the categories she won.

The scholastics category involved the submission of an academic transcript and a statement from the student’s school counselor. Mark Spencer, Liang’s college adviser at Deerfield, said, “She’s a serious student that the teachers really enjoy teaching. They know that she’s doing the work for the courses and is inquisitive and dedicated to her studies. That’s a teacher’s dream.”

The interview category took place the morning of the competition. Liang answered questions from a group of nine judges.

“The questions were based on what each judge was interested in and circulated around current events,” Liang said. “They wanted to see how you responded under pressure.”

Among other questions, she was asked to name a female role model she admires and how she feels about gender-neutral bathrooms.

For the talent portion, Liang played Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor.

“I chose to play the violin, which is something I’ve done for 13 years now,” Liang said. “I kind of whipped out a piece that I had learned in the past.”

The fitness category involved the contestants participating in a group routine to a remix of “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts that consisted of pushups, aerobic-dance combinations and crunches, among other exercises.

“I found it exhilarating,” Liang said. “It felt like a dance party with all of my friends.”

For the self-expression category, each contestant had 30 seconds to answer a question they were asked the night before. This year’s question, Liang said, was: “If you could run in the next presidential election, what would be the most important aspect of your campaign?”

Liang said that her answer went something like this: “I feel like our government focuses a lot on foreign affairs, but with issues like gun control and kids dying in school shootings, I think we should focus more internally on problems that are not glamorous to fix, but need to be fixed.”

At Deerfield Academy, Liang is the captain of the track-and-field team, competes on the varsity swim team and serves on student council. Currently, she is working on college applications and has interests in economics and psychology, with a possible future career in behavioral economics.

“She’s a talented student, so she’ll have a lot of options for college,” said Spencer, who is also Liang’s swim coach. “I think what she’s been doing this summer is exploring her passions. This competition has shown a new side to her, not something I had seen in prior years. This is just part of her curiosity and intrigue — she’s not afraid to try something new.”

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