There are four points of the Miss America Crown: Scholarship, Success, Service and Style. Basic meaning? Miss America contestants are far more than a pretty face. They’re women who are intelligent, hardworking and talented- but who also style themselves as leaders, as role models and as advocates for causes they believe in. Who work every day in their communities to empower others and to make a difference in the lives of those around them. That’s why when people tell me how Miss America is losing relevance, I get really irked. Because I’ve seen firsthand just how relevant it is.
Pictured: Me, the night I was crowned, sharing my spoken word piece “the Yearbook”.
Currently, the Miss America Organization is the single largest scholarship provider for young women across the country, helping them to pursue higher education and to achieve their dreams, regardless of whether or not they make it to the state or national stage- even if you never win a title, there are countless opportunities to earn scholarship money at the local level, and many young women have been able to totally fund their education from scholarships earned competing in the Miss America Organization. That, in and of itself, clearly establishes it’s importance, especially since many of the young women competing plan to pursue a graduate level education.
But, perhaps even more importantly, it gives young women a platform to speak out about issues with personal meaning that are also critical issues in their communities. For me, as a young woman on the Autism Spectrum, that’s breaking down barriers for people on the spectrum and raising awareness about misconceptions people commonly have about those with Autism. This year, I’ve gone to multiple community events, have spoken at schools across the state ranging in age from elementary students to high schoolers and have even been able to do multiple presentations on disabilities at a Fortune 500 company.
Speaking about my platform at the Mental Health Symposium hosted by the Children’s Hospital of Richmond
I’ll never forget the time a woman came up to me and told me about her son, who was on the spectrum. She and her husband had been told repeatedly that their son wasn’t college material, even though he had aspirations to one day be a scientist. She told me that hearing my talk had given her something she hadn’t gotten from the articles in newspapers and magazines sharing overblown horror stories about people and their families on the spectrum- hope.
To put it in perspective, if a local titleholder goes into only four elementary school classrooms during her year of service, that means she still speaks to around 100 students about her platform. 100. Which means 100 students get to hear about her platform. 100 students have their ideas changed and minds opened, and see. 100 students come into contact with a young woman who serves as a positive role model for community leadership in an age when many young students look up to the Kardashians. 100 students get empowered to go out and make a difference. It’s pretty phenomenal how much of an impact a local titleholder can have on her community, and it’s awe-inspiring how much of an impact a state titleholder has- assuming she goes to five schools a week and speaks to 150 students on average at each school during her reign, she’s able to affect the lives of around 39,000 students. Obviously, this is an estimate, and that number is likely much higher. But the point remains: any titleholder in the Miss America Organization, from local titleholders like me to Miss America herself have an enormous opportunity to inspire empower students who may lack positive role models in their lives.
In a time where social media encourages young people to look for validation and acceptance from likes and comments, the job of every Miss America titleholder is more important than ever- to show young people that what’s on the inside of a person, how they behave and how they treat those around them is more important than their snapchat score. To educate them on issues they may otherwise not have been exposed to. To show them that true beauty always lies within their hearts and stems from their actions. That success sometimes requires failure. To empower them to speak out, to be a voice for the voiceless. To show them that they are enough. That they are worthy. For students who struggle with self-esteem like I used to, this can be life changing.
Yeah, it’s pretty incredible that one young woman with a crown and a sash can make that much of an impact.