As a self-proclaimed nerd, I look at life experiences as a chapter in the novel of my life. I’m blessed to have had numerous chapters in my 23 years on this earth, and by far the one that I have grown from and learned more about myself from has been the chapters that compile the section labeled the Miss America Organization. I’ve taken the past three days to reflect on the past two weeks in Atlantic City for my unique Miss America experience. I have zero regrets and a list of innumerable moments that I will cherish forever. I have returned with $7,000 in additional scholarships to be added to the already incredible $50,000 scholarships I have earned in this program. I’m thrilled that the $25,400 I raised for CMN Hospitals will benefit countless lives of children and families by staying right here in North Carolina. I was one of the few contestants who didn’t want the crown and sash…instead, I wanted the job of Miss America. And there’s a very important difference….
When I arrived in Atlantic City, one of the questions I was asked by the media that has stuck out in my brain was “What is the most challenging thing about competing for Miss America?” Sitting here writing this blog, I still agree with my answer I gave the journalist: “Having more or less than 13 minutes to make a panel of complete strangers fall in love with me.” That’s it. Your life, community service, countless hours of preparation in the gym, watching the news, perfecting your talent technique, standing in front of a mirror practicing your modeling, doing mock interviews, wardrobe alteration appointments, EVERYTHING comes down to less than 15 minutes. It’s always been the scariest part to me- as a competitor- that no matter how hard you work or how prepared you are to do the job of Miss ____, it all comes down to whether 7 people (or in my case, 14, including the celebrity judges) make enough of a connection with you to give you a high numerical value. But the shining light in this startling reality is that this in NO WAY puts ANY value on who I am as a woman, a leader, and an advocate. It is only an opinion.
As a little girl, I would watch Miss America with my family. I would sit there in awe at how smart, beautiful and talented the contestants were. My grandpa used to tell me “Pumpkin, you can do that someday.” But I vividly remember shaking my head and saying “No, Pa Pa. I can sing and I can speak. But I’m not pretty.” Growing up and traveling across the state and nation as a singer and speaker, there would always be negative people who would say hurtful things. “She’s from Robeson County? Nothing good can come from there.” “She’s so fake. Her parents programmed her.” “She’s good, but she’s not great.” “She’s cute, but she’s too young/old/dark skinned/light skinned/over the top.’’ You fill in the blank, I’ve been called it. But I’ve always persevered. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what other people think of me; it only matters what my Heavenly Father, my family and I think of me. I was- and still am- confident in my abilities to do the job of Miss America because of my unique qualities of maturity, perseverance, work ethic, and commitment to service.
To be completely and authentically honest, I never imagined or prepared myself for NOT being called into the Top 15. I had checked off every box in my mind that I had done everything I could to become Miss America 2018. My heart leapt out of my chest when I heard Chris Harrison say “Miss North”…then pitfall as he said “Dakota”. The heartbreak in having to sit on the benches provided, knowing I would not get to sing, wear my beautiful evening gown, or give my opinion on world events felt like an elephant on my chest. I felt as if I had let my state, family, supporters, and the little girl dwelling inside my soul down. Then, thankfully, I was reminded of this verse as I was sitting there watching my friends compete in Lifestyle and Fitness. It came as clear as a ray of sunshine through a cloud: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) I am a firm believer in God’s providence and protection. He has directed my path and protected me throughout my life. Why should I begin to doubt Him now? I may not ever understand why I wasn’t granted this particular desire of my heart, but He DID grant the greatest desire of my heart to be a Miss North Carolina who dedicates her life to the glory of HIM and to serving others. I was greatly blessed to live my dream to sing on the Miss America stage. I did that. I was completely supported by my Board to do exactly what I wanted to do according to my vision of who I would be as Miss America. I had countless people, those I know and strangers, who have messaged me saying the pure joy I displayed during my time in Atlantic City was a blessing to them. Or the people who asked me and my supporters “What does Esther 4:14 mean on the back of your shirt?” throughout the week. That is what I consider my greatest crown and sash: the opportunity to be a positive role model and shine the light I have been given for HIM, and HIM alone.
I love being Miss North Carolina. I serve the greatest and most considerate people on earth. Thank you for believing in me. My business plan has only just begun to unfold, and there’s so much more that I am going to continue to work hard to accomplish for our state and Alzheimer’s families. I may not have been born to be Miss America, but I am Miss North Carolina. And that, my friends, is amazing and the most incredible honor of my life.