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Mills to represent Ceres in state pageant
Jenna Mills, a junior at Central Valley High School, has been selected as Ceres Junior Miss, and will advance to the upcoming Distinguished Young Women pageant in Bakersfield in late July.

Competing against 22 local girls in the Feb. 19 Modesto pageant, Jenna was awarded $1,000 prize and given a title that hadn't been offered before: That of Ceres Junior Miss.

Distinguished Young Women, formerly the America's Junior Miss program, promotes the "Be Your Best Self" program and stresses five elements to contestants: be healthy, be studious, be responsible, be ambitious, and be involved.

During the Modesto competition, Jenna's talent segment included her rendition of the song, "Gimmie Gimmie" from the musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

"I picked that one because I thought it's a real show stopper," said Jenna. "I really like it. It's close to my heart."

Mills will spend a week in Bakersfield preparing for and appearing in the three-night pageant, staying with a host family while share learns routines.

"We have a different competition each night so that it's not a whole long performance," explained Mills.

Interviews, public speaking, dance and talent segments will put the 50-plus girls to a test of a panel of judges.

Jenna and others will be asked a question five minutes before a stage appearance for an impromptu answer. In Modesto she was asked how the Distinguished Young Women program helps to create healthy competition.

"My answer wasn't the best," admitted Jenna, "but I pretty much said that it promotes healthy competition by encouraging each young woman to be her best self, trying to better herself, not trying to be the best out of everyone."

Music is big in Keith and Laura Mills' family, with her sister and four brothers also musically talented. Besides having an impressive singing voice, Jenna learned to play the flute in the junior high school band, and now plays the trombone, clarinet, piano, violin, and harp.

"I've always loved music," said Mills, who regularly sings at her church. She earned some invaluable stage experience as a contestant at the Valley's Got Talent show held at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto. During the Sept. 4 show, Mills sang "The Climb," popularized by Miley Cyrus. Last month the center paid her $100 to sing the 3-and-a-half minute song in a showcase of last year's talent.

Only eight of the 26 performers performed at the event.

Besides music and dancing, Mills has enjoyed playing on the Hawks' varsity volleyball team.

Jenna has set sights on attending Brigham Young University where she will minor in music as she pursues a medical field career. Advanced Placement courses have allow Jenna to graduate from CVHS in June as a junior.

"I had to take a lot of extra classes and had to take on-line college English class to account for my 12th grade English, econ and gov. It's definitely been a stretch but I feel it's worth it."

The push to end her high school career early stems in part in her desire for a change and getting an early start toward her medical education as she sets his eyes on becoming a pediatrician's assistant.

Mills is not concerned with pursuing music as a method of achieving fame, believing that "fame is overrated and technically destroys a lot of lives and families."

"That would be great to sing in front of a lot of people," said Mills, "but essentially I don't want it destroying things."

If others are inspired to develop their own musical talents through her life, she'd be just as happy as being famous.

"I think there has to be some natural talent but ... I think how far you get is how far you push yourself. I believe there's some really talented people out there who I know who don't push themselves and they could be a lot better, a lot more driven."

Mills admits an internal drive to succeed and push herself, whether in music or academics, saying there is no other option.

"It's going to help a lot later in life."

Distinguished Young Women, founded in 1958, is a national scholarship program that inspires high school girls to develop their full, individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments. Participants are eligible for college-granted scholarships from nearly 200 colleges and universities.

Thus far other contestants in the Bakersfield event include Melissa Hand, Carmel Valley San Diego's Junior Miss; Molly Sessa, Greater Modesto's Junior Miss; Katie Withers, Linden's Junior Miss; Makiyah Ruggieri-Vesey, Modesto's Junior Miss; Caitlin Umphreyville, North Carlsbad's Junior Miss; Sidiqa Hooker, San Diego's Junior Miss; Rachel Latterich, San Marco's Junior Miss; and Manita Singh, South Carlsbad's Junior Miss.