What a whirlwind week 6 has been. As I write this week’s recap, I am sitting in the Minneapolis airport waiting for my flight home. We started the day at 4:30 am in Orlando, but didn’t get out of Florida until after 11 am due to flight delays. Our connection back to Sioux Falls through Minneapolis was also delayed and doesn’t leave until 6:45 pm. This downtime is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past week and share with you all.
Monday I packed up all my bags for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, but before I could leave my mom and I had to make a pit stop in Vermillion to talk with the South Dakota Governor’s Camp participants. The SD Governor’s Camp is for 7th – 9th graders who excel in academics and extra curricular activities. Students participate in team-building activities, learn from their peers, and present a closing showcase of their learning. During my visit, I talked about my social impact initiative, Money $heep, and the importance of learning to apply basic financial concepts. I also discussed my journey in the Miss America Organization, starting as a candidate in the teen division and now serving as Miss South Dakota.
This presentation has been one of the most heartwarming for two specific reasons. First of all, I started with my piano performance. At the end of the presentation I asked for questions. One young woman asked, “Will you be my piano teacher?” To which I replied, “I would love to be your MENTOR.” I couldn’t believe I got this question. I was speechless at first and truly honored. This question is the epitome of the kind of legacy I want to leave as Miss South Dakota. I want to inspire young girls to chase their dreams. My mentors have inspired me, and will continue to do so, to relentlessly pursue my wildest dreams.
During this presentation I took a big risk that ended up paying big dividends. Last week I was driving home from Lincoln. The last two hours of my drive were really dragging. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to pick up my phone and call several of my friends from high school and college. My heart was exploding by the time I got home. I talked with about five different friends. To hear their voices and catch up on their lives was exactly what I needed. The Lord gave me the opportunity and time to make a connection, and I opened my heart to listen. It reminded me that in a world filled with texting and checking Facebook to “connect” with people, PERSONAL TANGIBLE CONNECTION is sometimes the thing we need most. I thought to myself, how cool would it be to try to create opportunities for everyone I meet to feel the effects of personal connection.
Halfway through the presentation, I asked the students to take their cell phones out and take 5 minutes to call a friend or family member that they haven’t talked with in a while. I discussed the importance of taking time to build relationships and feel the impact personal connection can have. The exercise went over better than I imagined. In fact, as my mom and I were driving back to Sioux Falls, I got a text from one of my sorority sisters. She asked, “Were you at the Governor’s Camp today?” I replied, “Yes.” She went on to explain, “My cousin was there. I got the sweetest voicemail today saying Miss SD told her to call someone she hadn’t talked to in a while to build relationships. Made my day!”
I was at a complete loss for words. Woah. That exercise had done exactly what I hoped it would do, and my heart was bursting all over again. So, if you attend one of my presentations this year, bring your cell phone!
Tuesday morning, my mom and I caught a 5 am flight to Orlando for the first night of preliminary competition at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. That evening was the first time I met my Miss America sisters. It is a privilege to stand amongst them. Tuesday evening, Jessica performed her talent to “100 Ways to Lose a Man.” She was vibrant! At the visitation, I finally met Cara Mund and got my first picture. I feel like I am dreaming.
Wednesday morning, I met September for the official Miss America Orientation (I still can’t believe it). Cara Mund, Regina Hopper, Gretchen Carlson, Marc Angeli, Brent Adams, Rodney Neely, and Mary Blackburn welcomed the Miss America Class of 2019 with open arms. Confession time. I had a total “fan girl” moment with Gretchen Carlson. We had additional meetings in the afternoon to ensure we are prepped and ready to take on Atlantic City. Later that evening, we had dinner at Maggiano’s before preliminary competition. Thank you to Regalia and the Miss Florida Scholarship Organization for an evening filled with great food, life-long friends, and belly laughs. Jessica, our Miss SD Outstanding Teen, competed in Evening Gown and Onstage Question that night. She looked stunning in her red silk gown from Black Swan and spoke eloquently, representing South Dakota with poise and grace.
Thursday, we had a special communications seminar with Debbye Turner Bell, Miss America 1990. She shared valuable communication skills that I am eager to practice as Miss South Dakota. This is why I love this organization. It takes the time to help young women develop professional skills. A piece of advice from Debbye that left an impression on me: “Making a real connection is never about you, but always about your audience.”
That afternoon we had a social media meeting with Veena Crownholm, a former Miss California. She shared her insight on promoting a candidate’s personal brand through social media. We could ask her questions and learn how to use social media to our advantage as titleholders. That evening, I attended the final night of preliminary competition, where Jessica competed in Lifestyle and Fitness. Her South Dakota roots of strength and discipline radiated for her pushup.
Friday morning, we had a training seminar with Patricia Stark over “what our body, voice, and communication styles tell the world through the lens.” I was on the edge of my seat the whole hour. Patricia talked about everything from body language to tone of voice and the impression it leaves with the audience. A small comment she made still rings in my ear: “The greatest gift you can give someone is your full attention.
Friday afternoon, I had promotional photoshoots and filming for Miss America. I had the best time hanging out with the other candidates and hopping in front of the camera. Be on the lookout for the incredible promotional work the Miss America Organization is developing. That evening, we attended the 2nd annual Miss America CMNH Dance Marathon. The teen candidates, miss candidates, family, and friends danced their hearts out for three hours to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. CMNH is the national platform for Miss America, and Miss America serves as the CMNH National Goodwill Ambassador. We raised over $35,000 in those three hours. That money goes to help pay for financial expenses that families incur as a result of hospital visits and medical care, specialized equipment, and Child Life Specialists that help make medical care less scary for kids.
On my last day in Orlando, I woke up for some final promotional filming. I took a much-needed nap before getting ready for the final night of competition at MAOT. During the week, I roomed with the spunky, kind Miss Nebraska, Jessica. I just adore her and had the best time cracking up at her jokes and posing “candidly” for some fun photos. The entire week was nostalgic, as it had been 10 years since I competed in Orlando as Miss South Dakota’s Outstanding Teen.
Before the competition started, we had an autograph signing for the state titleholders. The final show was incredible. From the candidates’ performances to the breathtaking production numbers, the show was simply the GREATEST. I could not be more proud of Jessica’s performance and beautiful representation of South Dakota. Congratulations to the new MAOT, London Hibbs, formerly Miss Texas Outstanding Teen.
I was sad to leave Orlando and the exceptional women I met this week. But it’s not goodbye, just “see you later.” Next stop, Atlantic City.