Shelby County Distinguished Young Woman Sara Grace, 17, is a busy senior at Spain Park High School. She’s involved in National Honor Society, Ambassadors, Senior Class Officers, Peer Helping, French Club, SPHS Honor Council, Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society and French Honor Society. She credits her family – parents Kim and Andy Estill and sister Sydney – with shaping her into who she is: a motivated student, a competitive dancer and an active member of her church and community.

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Why did you decide to participate in DYW?

Last year, I overheard a few senior girls talking about Distinguished Young Women. I asked one of them if they could explain what it was, and by the end of the conversation, I knew it was something that I wanted to pursue. I knew it was the program for me because by participating, I was able to interact with girls my age in my community that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise met; perform, which is something that is near and dear to my heart; and better myself through the entire process. I immediately started working on a dance solo and practicing my push-ups because the past participants told me that was the hardest part of the fitness routine.

As Shelby County’s newest DYW representative, what events or appearances are on your schedule this year?

So far, I will be participating in the Columbiana and Chelsea parades and plan to speak to the students at Rocky Ridge Elementary about being your best self, which is the foundation of the Distinguished Young Women program. From Jan. 11-17, I will be in Montgomery practicing and preparing for the state competition on Jan. 18-19 with other representatives from all of the counties in Alabama. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

What advice would you give other young women interested in participating in the DYW program? 

Go in with an open mind and be ready to have fun. It is unlike anything else you will ever experience. The competition week is full of practicing and making new friends, which is truly something each and every girl in the program enjoyed. No matter the outcome, every girl thoroughly enjoyed participating in the program and receiving scholarships that they can use toward their college education. However, it is never too early to get prepared. Considering that 25 percent of the participant’s score comes from a combination of the participant’s GPA and ACT score, being mindful of your grades this academic year is very important. I would also recommend becoming knowledgeable on local and national news stories, as 25 percent of the score is based on an interview with judges. Participants also get to perform a talent of their choosing, and 20 percent of the score is based on that. So get creative and have fun performing something that you are passionate about. The remaining 30 percent is split evenly between a fitness routine and self-expression which the girls learn during the week before the competition. I highly encourage young women to participate in this program to better themselves and as a way to get to know other young people in their community.

What other awards have you received?

Over the years, I have received many awards; however, there are three in particular that have really been special for me. The first, which I received last year, was the Finley Award. This award is given to four students from each grade level at each of the Hoover schools. The Finley Award is based on who you are as a person instead of what you have accomplished throughout your lifetime. It was so humbling to receive this award because it meant that I had made a positive impact on people by just being myself. The second award that is so important to me is the Doug Caldwell Passion for Dance award that is given to one dancer at the Jump Dance Regional convention. This award is based on your commitment and love for dance and how it radiates from within you. I was chosen out of 1,000-plus dancers which was also so humbling. Not only was I recognized for my artistic ability, but I was also recognized for my love of dance. The last award that I am most proud of is Student of the Month which I have received almost every year since sixth grade. This always brings me great joy because it is chosen by teachers and given to students who not only show excellence in the classroom, but also demonstrate outstanding character. All of these awards have meant so much to me and have encouraged me to continue being my best self.

What are your plans after high school?

After high school, I plan to attend the University of Alabama, where I will double major in mathematics and dance. I hope to work as a professional dancer with a cruise line after college doing two of the things that I love: dancing and traveling. Once my dance career ends (or when my body gets too tired), I plan to become a high school math teacher in hopes of teaching algebra.

Who are your role models, and why?

My biggest role model has to be my tenth grade Algebra 2 teacher, Mr. Sandlin. He is one of the most unique people I have ever met, and he teaches math in a way that everyone understands, which is usually impossible. He always keeps the class entertained by making math fun, even if it means embarrassing himself in the process. Because I want to become a math teacher myself, I plan to create a classroom experience just like I received when I was in Mr. Sandlin’s class.

What’s something interesting people might not know about you?

Although I dance and seem like a girly girl, I grew up loving the outdoors. My dad and I love to go hiking, mountain biking and canoeing when I have an off weekend. My favorite spot to hike is the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. We like to hike, climb a huge rock called “Shining Rock” and admire the views from the top, and then stargaze when we get back to camp at night. When my dad and I ride the mountain bike trails, we playfully establish rules before we take off. My favorite is “no running into trees,” which may or may not have happened before.