Sometimes it's easier for me to put thoughts on paper (or a webpage) than it is for me to say them out loud. That is the case with my Miss America experience.
I arrived in Connecticut with one dream, and a ton of goals that had nothing to do with winning--this is something I recommend to anyone who is competing in the scholarship competition that has blessed me with more than financial assistance toward my education. Make goals that you have some control over. Here were mine:
To absorb the memories
To be my authentic self
To make new friends and foster deeper relationships with those already made
To divest from my perfectionistic self
To dance from a place of vulnerability and connection
Looking back on the week and back on my goals, I feel mostly satisfied. People will ask "How was it??" and I simply respond with "It was a wonderful experience." It was, truly. No convincing me there, but it was a hard week to say it lightly. No one warns you of the emotional tunnel you go into and honestly, it is hard to describe until you finally see the light on the other side.
I want to break my experience down into categories, because I think only then will clarity come of it: the competition and the rest of it.
For those of you who don't know about the Miss America Scholarship Competition, it is a competition of varying levels and phases of competition. Prior to going to the national competition, you must first earn your title as a state titleholder. Prior to state, you must become a local titleholder. At each level, you compete in the phases of private interview, on-stage question, talent, and social impact pitch and along the way, you earn scholarship dollars to achieve your academic pursuits.
I had competed in the Miss America Organization for 3 years (4 if you count 2020: the year the state and national competitions were canceled) before winning the title of Miss Washington and the ticket to grace the stage at Miss America.
The first phase of the competition was the Private Interview. My interview was amazing. I left the room at peace with everything I said, feeling as if I was my truest self. It wasn't until two days later that I felt 'off'. When I stepped on stage that night to perform my talent, it didn't feel as if it was me dancing. The story that had been so interwoven with who I am and who I have become had lost its touch in the movement. The biggest stage I may have had the honor of performing on, and it didn't feel like me. I was unsatisfied. Redo, please??
But the following night, in the second round of preliminary competition, I had the chance to share a message--my message--of hope and healing, encouragement and empathy. My social impact pitch. This moment made my entire Miss America Competition experience worth it.
On finals night, they called us out in 5 groups of 10. We introduced ourselves and from the group of 10, only two were called forward from each group to continue in the competition on the live streaming broadcast of the finals show--our top 10. My name was not called, and I retreated back to the dressing room with the other 40 girls who were also not finalists. It was at that moment that many of us had tears in our eyes, for varying reasons--for me it was the realization that this chapter of my life was over. That would be the last time I stepped on a stage to compete for a title.
The night ended with the crowning of our 100th Anniversary Miss America (drum roll please...) Emma Broyles! I also learned that night, do NOT, I repeat do not under any circumstances open your mouth when there is confetti falling from the sky. I'm pretty sure there is a picture of the group hug where if you look closely enough you can see me choking on a sliver of gold foil...
The rest of it...
And then there was the rest of it. The inside the jokes, the friends, the laughs that made my abdominals hurt so bad (thank you Jaeyln, Miss West Virginia). From Ashleigh, Miss Oklahoma, making a list of class superlatives (say hello to your Bean Queen aka coffee addict from the PNW!) to secret Santa gift exchanges (shout out to my gal Mallory, Miss Texas, for expanding my rubber spatula collection). The "rest of it" is probably not what most pageant fans out there think of Miss America, but this is what I want to remember my experience by.
A lot of our rehearsal time was spent sitting around in the company of others. This led to a LOT of Tik-tok making moments, Reyna, Miss North Dakota capturing my snoozing self on video, and conversations about New York City street rats. IYKYK. When we happened to finish rehearsals for the day, we begged our security team to roam the resort with us, making a pit stop by Starbucks and Sephora for the necessities.
Yea, COVID was/is still a thing. Masks were still a thing. But I am pretty sure our class, the 100th-anniversary class, will still be the most iconic, not for the mile marker of 100 years in existence as an organization, but because we will probably be the only class to wear masks and follow COVID protocols at the annual Miss America Scholarship Competition.
Speaking of 100 years, I don't think it dawned on me how special, how incredibly special it is to be a part of this class. "For such a time as this..." I think this perfectly describes every woman who wears her state crown this year. These women, ranging from Alabama to Wyoming, and every letter in between have to be the most precious beings that have ever graced the organization. Because of them, my Miss America experience is unforgettable. Because of them, the future of our country is in good hands. Because of them, I know for a fact that I am blessed beyond measure.
Oh, and one last tough thing...
Upon returning from Miss America I reflected that most of my life has been a series of me seeking validation from others. Okay, okay, I already realized this once or twice before, but I guess seeking validation crept back in when I was amongst a group of the most talented, intelligent, determined, hardworking women in the nation. Tough place to realize this, when you are quite literally on stage seeking the approval of panelists who determine the fate of your next year. Yikes. But at the same time, the outcome is SO out of your control. If your dream is to become Miss America, you only have one shot, and even if you perform to the best of your ability, you still quite literally, have no control over the outcome.
Achieving my dreams has been a form of validation. If I succeed, it means I am worthy of whatever comes my way. If I don't it means I'm not good enough. BUT. This is an old way of thought. Now I find solace in the idea my worth is not in my accomplishments or achieved dreams.
And I'll leave you with this:
The other thing that I learned about Miss America: Miss America is not the crown. It's the organization, it's the volunteers, it's the local titleholders, it's the service, it's the growth, it's about becoming who you believe Miss America is to you. It's not about winning. I'll stand by that statement for the rest of my life.