My perception of pageants has dramatically shifted this past year.
Throughout this past year many people have asked me, “Reyna, how did you become involved with pageants?”
Well, let me tell ya; it was never in my plan… but I have no doubt that it was always in God’s.
I competed in my first pageant within the Miss America system of February 2015 after having been convinced to compete by a friend three days before the competition. Since then my life has been significantly impacted; I have grown and learned from the performance, networking, and service opportunities that the organization has provided. However, prior to competing I thought of pageants as elaborate competitions for only a certain type of girl, specifically for someone who could walk confidently across a stage in a bikini and could answer political questions while never ceasing to smile. I believed pageants were exactly that of their stereotypical reputation.
But oh boy, let me tell you how very wrong I was.
Allow me to educate you for a moment about the Miss America Organization.
Style. Service. Scholarship. & Success.
These are the four foundational platforms which the Miss America system prides itself in helping young women across the United States with. Commonly known as the "four points of the crown", each woman who partakes in the system is expected to uphold the values and embrace the lifestyle that these elements embody.
However, the element that many people don't realize that is foundation to the Miss America Organization is the component of service. Many realize that there is great scholarship money involved (it is one of the leading providers of scholarship money to women in the United States!) and that the organization promotes beautiful and successful women; yet, many individuals (previously including myself) automatically assume that it is simply a "pageant", and that only pretty girls who can walk across a stage in high heels and smile are qualified to compete. However, this is not the case. The caliber of women who compete in this system never cease to amaze me. They are driven, talented, kind, educated, and passionate young ladies who have dreams of changing the world. Aside from being physically beautiful, their hearts and minds are what make them truly radiant. Every woman who competes is required to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network, as well as develop a personal platform of her own choosing. These personal platforms can be anything from developing an anti-bullying campaign to speaking about body image - anything that she feels passionate about and wants to promote. Each contestant is thus expected to promote her platform in any such way she desires, such as speaking to school classrooms or having a fund raiser supporting her platform.
Aside from developing a personal platform, contestants must compete in five areas of competition - the two highest percentage areas being talent (35% of contestant's score) and interview (25%). And let me tell you, these interviews are by no means easy. A contestant may be asked anything from current world news to her personal views on faith and religion. These interviews test girls - forcing contestants to learn how to effectively articulate their opinions on such issues. But the element that remains central to the Miss America Organization is service.
Before competing in the Miss America system I had been passionate about service. I have always loved being involved in my community and experiencing the feeling that I’m giving back in some way. However, upon entering college I discovered that it was difficult to find the time to volunteer and participate in community events as I had in high school. Although I knew that Concordia encouraged and provided ample opportunities for students to participate in community events, I found that I already had so many commitments that I wasn’t making service a priority as I once had.
However, this changed after becoming involved in the Miss America Organization. Upon winning my first local title I found myself at community events once again, but there was a difference from before. I recognized that I was no longer just volunteering as “Reyna”, but that I had eyes that would follow me whenever I put the sparkly crown on my head. I realized that I had been elevated to the status of being a heightened version of myself - a role model whether I liked it or not - and that I was expected to uphold a tradition of acting a certain way: to be kind, poised, inquisitive, and caring to all those whom I encountered. Not that I wasn’t acting this way before the crown rested on my head, but there was an even higher level that I held myself to after putting it on because I was aware of the many little eyes watching the sparkle.
However, regardless of the crown, being a part of the Miss America organization has given me the opportunities to make service a natural part of who I am. This past year I was able to speak to elementary school classrooms about my platform – “Embracing Differences through Kindness.” I helped and danced with hundreds of little girls at a daddy daughter dance. I was part of a talent show at a retirement home. I was able to raise over $600 for the Children’s Miracle Network. I volunteered at an overflow homeless shelter and was able to talk and hear stories from homeless individuals. I was inspired by a seven-year old girl who was my little “sister” during Miss North Dakota week. Would I have been a part of any of this had I not been a part of the Miss America Organization? Possibly. But likely I would have not because I would have been consumed with my own personal matters.
Being a part of this organization has touched me – altering and causing me to grow for the better. Just a few of these benefits include…
Now here’s my little “sale’s pitch” for the organization: If you are a woman who is between the ages of 17-24 and are passionate about giving back to others, I encourage you to compete in a local Miss America pageant. There are multiple local pageants open to any girls between the ages of 17-24 across the state of North Dakota (and every state!). For example, I competed in Dickinson this past year and was from Horace which is a town on the complete opposite side of the state. It is an excellent way to serve your community, be inspired, and gain incredible opportunities and experiences that will change your life.
Please, if you have any questions do not hesitate to reach out.
It's funny how many sides there are to each and every one of us.
For me, there's the "wilderness camp counselor" side of myself that loves camping out, wearing nothing but gym shorts and t-shirts, hiking mountains, and being outside and in tune with God's beautiful creation.
On the flip side, there's the "all-dolled-up" side of myself that loves wearing pretty dresses, doing makeup, getting pedicures, and shopping for anything and everything.
There's the adventure seeking "I AM COURAGEOUS AND CAN DO ANYTHING" version of myself ... And then there's the fearful side that at times makes its presence known too.
There's the people-oriented side of me... And then there is also my introverted side that seeks opportunities of peace, quiet, and alone time.
There's the scholarly school-oriented version of me... But there's also the literally-cannot-sit-still side of me too.
To go even further, there's the side of me that is selfish... Seeking alone time and doing things that satisfy ME and what I want... a side that craves independence and freedom from commitment.
But then there's the side of me that desires to serve... To be present and giving towards others. The side of me that enjoys volunteering at church potlucks, speaking to elementary school classrooms, and being a listening ear to friends. It's the side of myself that fulfills me - being a servant and loving towards others.
For each and every one of us, there isn't just ONE characteristic or quality that dictates who we are and who we're called to be. We each possess multiple gifts and traits that make us unique. It's what makes us individuals. We each have different sides of who we are depending on our environment... And that is ok. We have numerous desires and goals as a result from our various experiences and encounters with people. We are a culmination of our experiences and interactions, so of course there isn't just one side to each of us. These various sides are what makes us well rounded - giving us perspective and empathy towards those who are different from ourselves.
I've realized that the more I learn and develop these aspects of who I am, the more I realize just how much I don't know... But how much I want to know. The more I explore and develop these "sides" the more I continue to understand and yet grow in curiosity.
Don't stop expanding your "sides". Continue to explore who you are. Keep pushing yourself and expanding your interests, and in turn you will learn more about yourself and the people and places all around you. EMBRACE those around you... Those who are like you, but also who are different.
A few weeks ago I was taking the off ramp into Moorhead, Minnesota from the interstate. I pulled up to the light and there was a homeless man with a sign asking for help. I nudged my mom who was sitting beside me in the passenger seat because this was just the opportunity that I had been waiting for.
A few nights previously I had stuffed a ziploc bag with random food from my family’s pantry and hid it under my seat to wait for the opportunity such as this to come around. Far too many times I had driven up to this specific off ramp and tried to avoid eye contact as a homeless person stood right outside my car door asking for help. I was done with experiencing that feeling of guilt in my gut.
However, this time around I was ready. I rolled down my window and quickly called out to the man, “Hey! Want some food?”
The man quickly smiled and enthusiastically came over. He had the biggest smile on his face as I handed him the bag of snacks. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m on a ‘see-food’ diet so this is just wonderful!”
We exchanged a laugh and at that point the light turned green and we quickly buzzed away. Although his “see-food” comment bothered me, it didn’t change the fact that it felt good to do something as small as this, and it brought joy to not only the man, but also to myself and my mom in the car.
I don’t tell this story to promote or to give myself a pat on the back, but to share just how easy this was to do. It literally took me one minute to fill that bag with food. Although I realize that in the long run that small bag of food won’t do much, it was at least something. And what if, what if every person with these resources took just one minute and did something as easy as filling a ziploc bag with extra food from their kitchen cupboard and sticking it under their car seat?
One idea, one minute, one Ziploc bag, and some food… multiply that by every person with these resources and the motivation to do it and there would be a significantly less amount of hungry people in the world. That’s not only what I think, but what I know.
One simple act.
Do it. I promise you will not regret it.
currently lives in Fargo, North Dakota where she works remotely as a Policy and Communication Manager for the First Lady of North Dakota. Photography and writing are a passion that help her better appreciate the details of the world.