When you think of pageants, I’d wager the first thing that comes to mind isn’t education. In fact, I have a nagging feeling that the word is more likely to drum up images of overly teased hair or a young lady from South Carolina who became famous for an answer she never meant to give. That saddens me, more than a little bit, because I’ve spent the last three years pursuing the Miss New Jersey crown and I can tell you that it’s so much more than that.
The “pageant girls” I know are bright and motivated—anxious and eager to make a difference in the world around them, and to pursue an education that will give them the keys to do so. I know titleholders who aspire to medical school, law school, business school, and careers in education, the non-profit sector, media, and more. In fact, that’s why I got involved… I needed scholarship money to pursue my education. I knew that attending college was imperative to my future, to achieving my goals. I stayed involved because I quickly realized how one rhinestone accessory gave me the power to make a difference in the community.
I guess it’s no surprise then why I fell in love with She’s the First. Much like the young women I’ve developed relationships with through the pageant community, She’s the First is a made up of savvy, intelligent young women who are passionate and strong-willed, constantly dreaming up new ideas of how to change the world. Furthermore, they take their work seriously. They know that their actions may motivate others to do the same, and that they are paving the way for generations of young women to come. Above all, they recognize the power of education to make a dream a reality.
You might have read about how I chose to sponsor the education of a girl in Haiti as my gift to this year’s Miss New Jersey contestants. The girls were incredibly receptive and anxious to know more about what She’s the First is and does—many of them have even volunteered to help with a fundraiser I’m planning for later this summer. Since then, a teen contestant has begun her own efforts to sponsor a girl, several parents and friends have expressed their interest and support in attending upcoming events, I’ve been able to sponsor a second young lady at the Kibera School for Girls, and we’re ordering “tiara” cookies from our new partner, Baking for Good, as a “send-off” gift for a young lady leaving for her first national pageant. I’m so thrilled! More importantly, I am so proud that She’s the First is demonstrating the power of young women everywhere to come together to impact significant change.
My involvement in both organizations has taught me one big lesson: the power of education is unparalleled. You are capable of accomplishing anything you dream of, if only you are given the keys to do so. The Miss America Organization gave me a key that I needed, and I believe that She’s the First is only just beginning to provide the tools that will change the lives of girls around the world.
Hairspray and textbooks—who ever would have guessed?