It is Miss America time once again. Just twelve months ago, my home state of Wisconsin saw its second titleholder crowned Miss America. The first was in 1973, which my mother remembers quite vividly, and this time it is a special memory for me as the winner is a young woman with whom I spent time during her preparations as Miss Wisconsin. I’ve only seen her twice since winning that coveted title as she is on a whirlwind tour across the U.S., but it’s been grand to watch her in the news and follow her social media postings. She’s a busy young woman with a great purpose, and it will be exciting to watch her head into the future. As our new Miss Wisconsin vies for this year’s title, I wish her all the best as I have also witnessed her growth and development through her journey to the big stage.
Miss America celebrates its 92nd year this year, but I’ve only been involved for 22. The big questions I’ve heard throughout my association are: Is Miss America still relevant? And what exactly is the “the ideal?” And in the end, who really cares? I’m convinced only a minority know what the program and the young woman involved are about. Most people confuse it with Miss USA. I find it amusing that women from both programs very much dislike being mistaken for the other. I’ve never been involved with the USA program, so I won’t speak to its relevance, but I can theorize as to what goes on with the Miss America system.
This program is relevant because of the role it plays in communities. There are thousands of young women across the U.S. involved in the Miss America Organization – from local to state titleholders – who really want to make a difference. Service is a cornerstone of the program; each young woman chooses a cause before she even steps on stage and if she wins, she promotes it during her ‘reign.’ Some, like our current Miss America (who competed at the local level twice) change her cause to something personal so they can be more passionate about promoting their service platform program.
Is the service work completely philanthropic and selfless? No, of course not. Some contestants never revisit their cause once they give up the title, but most give 110% while in it. For a titleholder with a crown and a sash, it certainly is wonderful to put on a pretty gown, look glamorous and be acknowledged at a dinner or a parade. Ultimately, though, the focus is to promote the service platform to serve the community, and most titleholders in the America system are remembered for that.
The cause I chose was and still is dear to my heart: promoting adolescent literacy. It was a freeing and liberating feeling for me when, at six years of age, I read Charlotte’s Web cover to cover in an hour. The exhilaration reading provided wasn’t for entertainment only, but also to compete and succeed in what was and is an ever-changing, technological world. I wanted to share that feeling with others, so during my pageant years I worked with my local library system to make a difference – even when it was only one child at a time.
It’s good to stay true to those roots. Has it yet become completely selfless working on literacy programs to help people make positive changes? Of course not! While I don’t wear a rhinestone crown or a sequined gown, the joy and pride I feel when someone with whom I’m working is able to read and write and prepare themselves for this world armed with basic tools to help them succeed is something to cherish. It’s about making a difference and serving a community – or even one person – who is in need, and doing it happily. And that’s what I think Miss America is all about.