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Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan, who’s not just pretty, but pretty smart, epitomizes why the Miss America Pageant has value for young women. She was in Washington D.C. recently spreading the message of the Miss America Organization’s advocacy for higher education for all women.  Turns out The Miss America Organization is the largest provider of scholarships to women, $45 million every year (yes, you read that right).  Teresa explains why the Miss America pageant has been so important to her in her op-ed which appeared in The Hill.

 

Young though she may be, 17 when she won this past January, she is wise beyond her years. Following a meeting with the Nebraska (her home state) delegation on Capitol Hill, Teresa had a substantive discussion with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, did an interview with The Hill newspaper, and then met with Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) who is the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

She rounded out the Congressional visits by attending the Congressional Correspondents Dinner, which honors journalists who cover Capitol Hill, where she was the guest of The Hill newspaper. Seated with Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), she received a round of applause after a shout out from the podium.

She spoke with Jenny Yeager Kaplan, Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, about the historical significance of the Miss America Organization as the largest provider of college scholarships and Miss America’s advocacy to encourage all young women to pursue college education, specifically those interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

Tuesday, Miss America took her message directly to the children in a visit with students from Washington’s Martin Luther King Elementary School. As Teresa concluded her events on Capitol Hill, she emphasized that the Miss America Organization is eager to work with Congress and the Obama Administration to help promote education initiatives nationally. Teresa believes that being Miss America means being a role model to young women across America, and advancing affordable and high-quality education for young women is a priority for her.

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On January 30th, a new Miss America will be crowned. She will be the 89th woman chosen.  It has been said that other pageants look for a model, but the Miss America Pageant looks for a role model.

The women who become Miss America are so much more than the stereotype. They have a dream and the drive to achieve it. Disciplined about doing what it takes to reach their goals, their passion, persistence and resilience push them past obstacles and help them deal with adversity.   These women turn out to be not just pretty, but pretty smart!

For my award-winning book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas, I met with twenty-two of them in their homes, at their offices or over lunch, in places like Memphis, Denver, Louisville, Los Angeles, Birmingham, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, St. Petersburg and New York

In person, they shatter the “it’s only a beauty contest” perception with their intelligence, thoughtfulness, poise and eloquence. As Frank Deford, the award-winning Sports Illustrated writer and four-time Miss America judge, says in his book, There She Is: The Life and Times of Miss America, “No matter how many times it happens, the press finds itself surprised every time a beauty pageant winner is something other than a classic dumb blond.”

The Pageant, started in 1921, evolved from just a beauty contest into one that strives to provide opportunities for young women to stretch themselves in many directions. In 1945, Bess Meyerson was the first Miss America to receive a scholarship. As today’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women in the world through both the national, state and local chapters – over $45 million of in-kind scholarships in 2009 – it requires that the contestants be competent, curvaceous and directed, even though others may disparage the role.

Many people don’t see beyond the swimsuit competition. They think you can’t be beautiful and smart. This complicated mix of beauty and brains has always been a contradiction in American society, which often dismisses the possibility of being both. It takes guts, creativity, endurance, lots of plain hard work and a fire in the belly to achieve that pinnacle of femaleness.  Contrary to popular opinion, the Miss America Organization had a liberal feminist agenda years before Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. The Miss America Organization promoted higher education for women starting in the 1940s when women in aprons were more the norm than women in business suits. Tens of thousands of young women, who participated in the pageant system at the local, state and national level, have acquired the means to get a college education and have enhanced their skills.

Mostly small town girls with big hearts and big dreams, they see the Pageant as an opportunity to actualize a larger vision for themselves. Being Miss America provides them with a platform to achieve their dreams of a higher education, access to a broad audience to promote a social cause and exposure to people who could help them get where they wanted to go. Rarely is the crown an end in itself. And, as for smart, most of them were or become graduates of the finest colleges and universities in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, Skidmore and Virginia Polytechnic University. Their ranks include magna cum laude graduates and Rhodes Scholar finalists. In 1974, a law student crowned a Ph.D. candidate. And then, they go on to make a difference.   They serve as role models for all of us.

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