I wanted so badly to become Miss America. I spent five years competing at the local and state level because I have always felt my life is about making a difference in the lives of others. I wanted the Miss America platform to help me do it nationwide. Without a doubt, I know I would have made a great Miss America, but I didn't win a state title. Now, after "aging out," I never will. One of my deepest but unuttered fears was that this day would come and I would have to say that to myself. Here it is. And I'm ok. I am still alive and able to do great work in this world. I never needed a crown for that and I still don't.
So let me say this: it takes guts to compete for Miss Virginia and Miss New York. The process of self-awareness, growth and vulnerability that you endure as a contestant is quite unlike anything else I have ever experienced. And I loved every minute of it. It takes heart to walk into a room full of strangers waiting to fire a series of questions your way and be unequivocally you. You dodge controversial and loaded questions, sometimes with ease and grace, but sometimes you get stumped. Sometimes, you don't know the answer or can't think quickly enough on your feet. Sometimes your wit or humor doesn't come across as you planned. Sometimes even the very words that seemed to make sense in your brain roll off your tongue and even you don't know what they mean. But you remember that you are human and that's what happens to humans: we make mistakes.
But dreaming of becoming and competing for Miss America was not one. I wouldn't trade my experiences, self-growth or the lifelong friendships I made for anything in this world. I am who I am today because of the Miss America Organization, whether directly or indirectly. Only one young woman can win on a given night and whether my record in pageantry indicates it or not, I "won" more often than not. I am and will always be a winner.
My contentment has prepared me for what I call Life After. Until now, there has always been the possibility that someday I could be Miss America. There was also the possibility that someday I wouldn't. So I promised myself long ago that I would never put my life on hold or pass up incredible opportunities to win. Sure, I made sacrifices. I sacrificed my time more than anything and that's something I will never get back--the brunches, family get-togethers, Girls Nights and other events I missed. Looking back, it was worth it. And Lord willing, there will be more. My whole life is before me. I now never have to wonder What if? and that gives me more peace than you may imagine.
This fall, I will complete my master's degree at New York University. At this very moment I am taking a break from applying to full-time jobs to write this blog post. This summer has and I believe will continue to be my best yet. I have the best friends and family I could ever ask for. I have good health, a sound mind and an able body. In short, I am blessed. So here's to Life After. It's what dreams are made of.