Friday, August 20, 2010

Miss Teen of New York Farewell Speech

As promised, I've posted a video of my Miss Teen of New York farewell speech (forgive the few choppy spots - my mom's not quite ready for her directorial debut), as well as the text of my speech. I had to cut it down for time, but below is the entire speech, unedited.
While recently working on my Miss Teen scrapbooks, which you saw throughout the weekend, I found I was having difficulty deciding what to include and what not to include in their pages. I was no longer certain what counted as a Miss Teen event or not. Should that award ceremony be included? Should a page go towards my high school graduation? What about that college visit? After being a titleholder for two years now, I was unsure where the small town girl who scrubbed pizzeria fryer baskets ended and Miss Teen of America began.

When I competed for Miss Teen of New York in 2008, I could have never imagined the impact this new aspect of my life would have on me. I assumed I would always have to separate these different parts of myself into isolated compartments. That Sunday in 2008, it just seemed so strange that I was chosen as Miss Teen of New York. I would never have anticipated it. That morning before finals, my mom told me that she had a feeling I was going to win. She knew I was going to get it, she said. I took it as mom talk, and told her she was crazy. Even as I stood onstage with my first runner-up, Katie Ball, I thought to myself, “What a cool story to go back to school with? How I was first runner-up to Miss Teen of New York. Weird.” I was uncharacteristically speechless during the four hour ride back home, following the pageant.

You see, being a pageant girl was never a part of my life’s plan. Like many of our candidates this weekend, I didn’t grow up watching Miss America, formulating dreams of my future in the pageant world. All my Barbies went to Harvard, not pageants. (Yes, on that note, my Barbies should have gone to Yale, but I was young and misguided.) I guess you could say I was a bit of a skeptic.

I’ve told this story many times, but I’m going to tell it at least once more. I received my first Miss Teen of New York application when I was 14. I took a look at all the Miss Teen of Americas from the ‘80’s with their big hair and shoulder pads, and figured that the application’s protest of “THIS IS NOT A BEAUTY PAGEANT” was a big old lie. So I threw it in the trash.

Two years later when I was 16, I walked into math class one morning to find a very familiar envelope waiting for me. It was another application. I was about to throw it in the trash once again, before a very good friend, my best friend, Eileen Hayes stopped me. Eileen had also receive an application, and she tried to convince me that it was something fun we could do together. She got my mom on board, and the two of them talked me out of throwing the application in the trash for a second time.

It’s a really good thing they did.

Two years later, it’s hard to imagine how my life would have been had I thrown that application away. It’s almost scary, actually, to think of the people I would have missed out on meeting, the friends who would never have been able to become like family, the places I wouldn’t have seen, and the opportunities I would have missed out on.

For starters, had that application landed in the trash, I wouldn’t have been able to meet all of you wonderful girls in the audience. I wouldn’t have been able to meet these people running the show backstage. There are so many more amazing people who are a part of my life now who aren’t here today, people I’m willing to give up Thanksgiving dinner for every year to go see at the Distinguished Youth of Texas pageant, a director who’ve I’ve traveled to the ends of the earth with and we’ve yet to kill each other, amazing titleholders who have become like sisters to an only child, one of which I have to thank for giving me the support and courage and pride in my abilities to apply to my dream school. If it weren’t for that former Miss Teen of North Carolina Meredith Potter, a rising sophomore at my new alma mater, there’s no way I would be headed to where I am in one week’s time. Without this program, there’s no way I would have had the resume or life experiences or overall maturity to get me into Yale. Had I thrown out that application, I don’t know where I would be going next week.

There’s so many people I’ve been blessed to meet, outside of the immediate Miss Teen family. There’s my host family, the Tomes, in Wagga Wagga, Australia, who taught me about drop bears, and Karmello Koalas, and so much more about their beautiful country. I think of the Pink Dragons, the middle school girl empowerment group I got to speak with who reminded me of what it was like to be their age, not so very long ago. I think of the adults and politicians I’ve gotten to work alongside and come to consider my peers through the Tobacco-Free Coalition. And I think of Alden Malachowski, a little girl , a brave girl, who shared the name of my high school and hometown, and who I got to meet because of pure timing and serendipity. It just so happened that I was traveling to receive the national title in Austin, where her family lives, just weeks after her father contacted our school, asking for support for his daughter. I only got to meet 12 year old Alden once before she passed away from Leukemia on December 13th, 2009, but she’ll always live on in my heart, urging me to do her proud. I cherish the contact I’ve been able to maintain with the Malachowski family, including their recent trip to Alden, New York.

As for the places I’ve been, places I would have never imagined going to by the time I was 18 years old? I’m a New York girl. (Even though it was my title that took me to New York City and Albany for the first times.) I’ve always been accepting of other races and ethnicities, but as a New York girl, I think I tended to put blinders up to certain areas of the country. The South? I allowed stereotypes and jokes to cloud my ideas of our neighbors to South, until I spent a week in Atlanta in between staffing North Carolina and Georgia. Now? I run when I come across a Chic-Fil-A in an airport. If I can find authentic sweet tea at a restaurant, I jump for joy. I had grits and sushi for the first time in Atlanta, and while I’m not yet a convert to either delicacy, I do now know the meaning behind “Bless Her Heart”.

As for our neighbors to the west, I didn’t know a thing. But after spending the St. Paul’s Winter Carnival with 89 pageant girls from Minnesota and Wisconsin, including Miss Corn Cob and Miss Cheese Curd, I came to have a whole new appreciation for the Midwest.

And Texas? Before the title, I knew about oil and politicians. I had no idea about the kind people, keeping Austin weird, Longhorn pride, the San Antonio river walk, or the beauty of the Alamo lit up at night.

Going to Australia was a fulfillment of the dream I had had since I was 8 years old, that came about from watching Mary Kate and Ashley’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” in conjunction with the Sydney Olympics. To have the coat-of-arms lunch, of kangaroo and emu, on the banks of the Murimbidgee, to climb to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge as the sun was setting, to sit on a plane for 27 hours, opened my mind up to all the possibilities that my life could have.

What if I had thrown the application in the trash? What if my mom and Eyes hadn’t been so insightful, hadn’t stopped me?

Back when I was 16, I never thought I would be a titleholder. Standing before you now, as an 18 year old heading off to college in a week, I can’t imagine my life without it.

The title is nice, but the experiences I’ve been able to have with this program have become an integrate part of my foundation as a person. I see the world differently than I did two years ago. I view myself differently. I don’t have an on-off switch for when I’m in titleholder mode or not. It’s become a part of my character.
I hope that’s something all of the candidates take with them after today’s ceremony.

There will be one Miss Teen of New York, there can only be one, but it could have been any of you. You may not leave this building today with a sash, but I hope you leave with a different view of yourself and your abilities. You don’t need a fancy title to meet amazing people and to have life changing experiences. You just have to have confidence in yourself and a desire to do some amazing things with your life.
To be here, right now, you’ve already proven your capable of that.

And to the girl who will take my place in a few minutes, I hope she takes the fullest advantage of the opportunities presented to her. It can change your life.

And remember, I was the first Miss Teen of New York to become Miss Teen of America…but I WILL NOT BE THE LAST!

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