Vernon Hills teen named Distinguished Young Woman of America
By any measure, Dora Guo of Vernon Hills has an impressive resume.
The recent Stevenson High School graduate -- headed to Yale University this month -- was an integral member of the racial advocacy club, Fostering Intercultural Respect and Empowerment, or FIRE, and served as president of Catalyst, a substance abuse prevention club.
All this, and she also earned a perfect 36 on her ACT.
It turns out all of her academic success and leadership among her peers has not gone unnoticed. This summer Dora was named the 2019 Distinguished Young Woman of America at a competition in Mobile, Alabama.
She emerged from an initial pool of 3,000 high school girls, and ultimately 50 finalists, one from each state. As the national winner, Dora won $32,000 in total grants that will be wired directly to Yale, she says.
The Distinguished Young Women organization dates back to 1958 and formerly was known as America's Junior Miss. Organizers say that right from the start, its mission was to reward the accomplishments of high school senior girls seeking to pursue higher education.
Tiana Pequette serves as chairwoman of the state committee for the organization, which she stresses is not a beauty pageant.
"No points are awarded for beauty and there has never been a swimsuit competition," Pequette says. "No crowns or sashes have a part in this true scholarship program."
Dora and the other finalists were judged on scholastics, an interview, talent, self-expression and fitness.
In Dora's case, she has quite a story to tell, particularly with her involvement in Catalyst. During her junior year, she joined with members in lobbying for the passage of the Tobacco 21 bill, which raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco and tobacco-related products to 21.
During her reign as president her senior year, the Catalyst Club lobbied in Springfield and before the Buffalo Grove village board, among others, against the use of recreational marijuana.
"As president, my focus was internal, making sure that we were strong as a group," Dora says. "A drug-free coalition isn't the most popular group in the school, so I wanted to make sure everyone knew why we were making the choices that we were making, and that we could communicate that to the rest of the school."
Jamie Epstein, who directs the companion parent group Stand Strong Coalition, marveled at Dora and her leadership among her peers.
"Her combination of intelligence, leadership ability and compassion is truly unparalleled," Epstein said. "The 100 Catalyst high school students were so lucky to have her as their leader and role model. She will do great things in life and the world will be a better place because of her."
Dora now is the face of the Distinguished Young Woman organization in its online and social media presence, and what a role model she is. Currently, she is mentoring the winner of the Illinois competition, Emily Kang, a rising senior at Stevenson who lives in Long Grove. Kang will compete at nationals next July in Mobile.
Because of her work with Catalyst, Dora says she has developed an interest in legislation and public policy, but also sees herself possibly getting involved in educational administration.
"I'm a little nervous heading to Yale, but being around these super smart and ambitious people at nationals gives me a lot of confidence that I can do this," she said.