Chester teen competes for full college scholarship

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CHESTER — Will a ukulele-playing Green Mountain Union High School graduate win the hearts and minds of 10 judges in Alabama this week?

Alexia "Lexi" White has grown up hearing stories about a contest where you can win a full college scholarship.

Her mother competed in the Distinguished Young Women scholarship competition more than 20 years ago, and White said she had always been intrigued about competing for a chance at "school for free."

"Twenty years ago, she did it," she said, referring to her mother, Venissa White of Chester. "It changed her life."

The ultimate prize gives the winning contestants a free college education to eight different schools, a prize which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This week, White, 18, is competing in Mobile, Ala., representing Vermont in the contest, which judges recently graduated high school seniors on fitness, talent, scholastics, self-expression, and an interview. Young women from all 50 states compete, she said.

"I am very excited and it's a little overwhelming," she said in an interview in Chester before she left for Alabama. "I've been packed for a week."

In an email from Mobile on Wednesday, White said she was ready for the competition to begin.

"I've been having such a wonderful time," she said.

Her mother and her four sisters are in Mobile to be her private cheering section, she said. While in Mobile, she's staying with a host family

White won all of her categories in the Vermont competition, and in Mobile this week she's playing her ukulele again.

"I've only played it for a year, and it's a fun thing to do," she said. She learned how to play by watching video on YouTube, she said, as well as playing with fellow students.

A ukulele, a small stringed instrument like a guitar, made her stand out in the Vermont contest, she said, and she thinks it will also do the trick during the national contest, which started Thursday and runs through Saturday. Most girls either sing or dance, she said.

White said she will be playing a "mashup" of several songs on the ukulele, including "Can't Help Falling in Love" by Elvis Presley, "Riptide" by Vance Joy, and "Count on Me" by Bruno Mars.

"Me and my younger sisters pasted it together," she said. "I'm excited to be unique."

She won wearing a lavender halter-top dress. Her dress for Mobile is red, knee-length "with a lot of glittery stuff on the top."

"It's fluffy on the bottom, it's pretty," she said.

White already has been accepted at her No. 1 school - James Madison University in Virginia - where she hopes to study elementary education. "It's right in Harrisville and it's just a perfect fit," said White, who said Madison wasn't on the full-scholarship list. If she wins the full scholarship? White will have a decision to make.

White was president of her GMUHS class for the last three years and active in many school activities, including the National Honor Society.

"My life is crazy," said White, who admitted to already being packed for the trip.

Before she left for Mobile last week, she had done some practicing with her family about the all-important judges' interview.

But, she said, family is no substitute for a stage full of judges.

Susan Smallheer can be reached at ssmallheer@reformer.com, or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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