PEARL D’SOUZA, Teen of the Year 2002, shares with us the most enriching experience she had at the Pageant that shaped her life and that of all who were part of it once.
The year 2002 was a special year for me. It was the year I turned 18 and just a few days before my birthday I got one of the best gifts I could have ever asked for. I had been a reader of THE TEENAGER even before I turned a teenager! I remember the Dear Youth Counsellor column was a favourite. However, one aspect that completely caught my attention was the National Youth Pageant — TEEN OF THE YEAR. Here was something so different, very unlike competitions I had been part of and went beyond beauty pageants that were so popular. I remember deciding to send in my entry and after doing so, telling my mum that maybe I should have sent in my entry the following year — maybe I wasn’t yet ready for this special pageant. I still remember my mum encouraging me and putting my anxiety to rest saying: go and experience it and there is no better time than now! The memories bring a smile to my face!
The pageant spoke of youth from all over the country coming together, exchanging ideas and thoughts. And these were teenagers who were already making a difference in their school/ college and society that they were part of. This wasn’t a Pageant that was looking at external beauty but one that I truly felt was encouraging us to look within and putting the spotlight on our values, our talents, strengths and our desire to use our talents to make a difference. The design of the TEEN OF THE YEAR fascinated me. There were zonals held in different cities across the length and breadth of the country from where three participants were chosen as finalists. The finalists would come to Mumbai for 3-4 days during which there were personality development inputs, group discussions, personal interviews, even a Mumbai darshan
I can still remember walking in to St Pauls, Bandra, and meeting teenagers like me from across the country at the finals that I was part of. What a rich experience — to know how diverse our cultures were and yet how united we were all in the sense of awe, wonder, appreciation and belonging that we felt to one another and as youth of the country. I made friends I would never have otherwise got a chance to meet
When I think of this cherished experience what touched me the most was the friendships that we were blessed with. What I took away as a truly special moment was when I was announced as titleholder — I had all the participants gathering around me to congratulate me, I truly felt the warmth and the genuineness of their friendship and love.
This friendship continued long after those four days that we spent together in Mumbai — discovering the city, discovering ourselves and really soaking in an experience that built our personality and our ability to make a difference. The motto of TEEN OF THE YEAR — ‘Let your light shine’ — has become for me one of the guiding principles of my life. I very strongly have the Teen of the Year to thank for this. For giving me the confidence, the nurturing, the support and the opportunity to soak in values that are life-giving and life-affirming.
Being the titleholder enabled me to get to know THE TEENAGER family more closely. The next year I was back at the pageant and this time as an organizer. What was brilliant about the event is that past participants whether titleholders or not would come back to organise the Pageant. I had never been part of something like this! Till date I have some very close friends where our friendship has blossomed only because of TEEN OF THE YEAR.
At the core of TEEN OF THE YEAR is that it truly is a platform where discovery, friendship and support take precedence. Fr Alfonso Elengikal, the founder of TEEN OF THE YEAR, would explain this brilliantly to us participants. I remember the orientation wherein he was welcoming us to the event saying that we were not ‘contestants’ but ‘participants’ in this rich experience. It was a heart-to-heart conversation he had with us, and we embraced this wonderful experience of a lifetime waiting for us. The word ‘contestant’ thereafter was never used by us at all! This is one of my cherished and fondest memories — it defined for me what made TEEN OF THE YEAR special and unique
Whoever has met Fr Alfonso will not deny the huge impact he has had in truly helping us see the vision and the purpose of the Pageant. THE TEENAGER and the Pauline family, not only in Mumbai but wherever I have travelled, has become a second home for me. Fr Alfonso has played a big role in this — nurturing TEEN OF THE YEAR into a friend that lets us feel at home and comfortable; helped us believe in ourselves and helped us realize that we do make a difference. I feel truly blessed to have been a part and to continue to be a part of TEEN OF THE YEAR. Today, I can speak on behalf of all participants across the years: “TEEN OF THE YEAR has given us cherished memories, beautiful friendships, nurtured our growth and has throughout encouraged us to ‘Let our light shine’.