I’m having a hard time getting these goosebumps away, but I guess that’s a good problem to have.
It has been a very eventful week and I can’t even begin to explain the emotions that have been running through me within the past six days. A mix between shock, gratitude, joy, and overwhelming excitement would sum up my feelings fairly accurately, but unfortunately there isn’t a word for all of those combined.
Let’s back up a little bit. What’s going on?
Alright, I’ll start from the very beginning of this crazy journey..
Around this time about two years ago, I heard about a local scholarship pageant happening in my hometown. I’ve seen a little bit about pageantry before as I grew up watching the annual Miss America pageant (and a few glamorous episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras), and I always wondered what it would take to be one of those strong women standing on that stage.
Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to get involved in a program that would allow me to speak about issues I’m passionate about, earn scholarship dollars, engage in community service, represent my area, and ultimately make a change in my life and the lives of others. What do I have to lose?
As a senior in high school, I was mainly focused on the scholarship aspect in order to pay for my quickly-approaching college expenses, but I would soon find out that this organization offered so much more than just scholarships. I decided to participate in the pageant with absolutely no experience, no platform, no clue what to wear, how to walk, or what a private interview consisted of. Thankfully, I was able to reach out to some friends and classmates who were involved in pageants and I went into the event feeling excited and prepared.
The first pageant was a learning experience, as are all of the pageants I’ve done since then. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I walked through the doors, I was greeted by a few of the other contestants who continue to remain great friends of mine to this day. I was able to get to know the girls, hear their stories, and gain a sense of sisterhood. We were all there for the same reasons– to earn scholarships, serve our communities, and make a difference. Many people see pageants as a catty contest revolved around appearance, but that couldn’t be more false. When you put a group of young women together who have similar ambitions and views on success, it’s a truly remarkable phenomenon.
Once my first pageant was over, I realized the impact that the Miss America Organization was having on my life. I started to set goals; I had the drive and motivation to do something with my life; I felt that I had a purpose. For the previous sixteen years of my life before getting involved in the MAO, I participated in various activities simply because I enjoyed them. When this organization came into the picture, I began participating because I started to notice immense growth within myself. I knew that I wanted to continue my involvement.
Preparations were under way for my future competitions, but in the mean time, a few of my pageant sisters and I decided to attend the Miss Wisconsin pageant to see the local titleholders compete for the state title and the chance to compete at Miss America. After that experience, watching those women perform and showcase their passions at the state level, my love for the organization grew and I wanted more than anything to be able to have that same opportunity.
I went home and focused nearly all of my time on developing my platform, improving my talent, working on my interview skills, and embodying the true spirit of the Miss America Organization. I wanted this.
The next year came around and I was eligible for four more pageants in 2015. I took what I saw at Miss Wisconsin and I felt so much more prepared to take the stage once again. However, in 2015, I did not place in any of the local pageants I participated in. I had great experiences, met even more wonderful women, and was proud of what I was doing, but I still felt disappointed in myself and wondered where I was going wrong. Over-analyzing is my middle name, so I beat myself up in every way possible, thinking of all the hard work I put in and not being able to show it to my very best ability.
Over time, I began to understand that it’s okay to feel upset. It’s okay to be a little disappointed, but every stumble serves as a chance to pick yourself up and continue to improve. I took these experiences as lessons and used them toward bettering myself for the next year. There was no way I was going to simply give up. I had a dream.
In the summer of 2015, my pageant sisters and I attended the Miss Wisconsin pageant again to see the newest class of local titleholders compete. This time, I actually watched and learned. This time, I noticed what the Miss America Organization was really about. It’s not about fitting into the perfect “pageant girl” mold or wearing a sparkly crown. It’s not about instant gratification. It’s not just about a chance to stand on a bigger stage for recognition. It’s about setting goals, perseverance, service to others, hard work, and advocacy. It’s about the journey. THESE were the qualities that I needed to focus on.
Before heading into another year of pageants, I spent some time reflecting on my past experiences within the Miss America Organization and I realized I hadn’t really been focusing on the bigger picture. Winning a title through this organization means serving as an ambassador and an advocate for change. Being a titleholder comes with responsibility, selflessness, and a heart for service. I humbled myself and started working toward my goal to serve as a local titleholder because I wanted to positively represent my community, my platform, and the Miss America Organization with every ounce of passion in me.
This year, I was made aware of a brand new pageant in my area, the Miss Northern Lights scholarship program. I was already registered for three other pageants later on in the year, but I decided to give this one a shot. I thought of this opportunity as a chance to start fresh and to see how I’ve improved over the past two years. For the first time, I felt very calm during the whole day and I spent a lot of the time getting to know the other contestants, running through my talent performance, and snacking (surprise, surprise). I said a quick prayer while I was alone in my dressing room, asking God to allow me to relax and show the judges who I truly am. I thanked Him for the day and for my journey that led me to this point. In the past, I got so worked up before walking into my private interview with the judges, trying my hardest to focus on saying the right things and being professional. This time around, I just took a deep breath, put away my notes, and told myself to have fun.
I walked out of my interview feeling relieved and ready for the rest of the afternoon. We had one more rehearsal before the show began, I said one more prayer, and before we knew it, it was time to hit the stage. The actual show feels like one big whirlwind and each phase of competition flies by quicker than the last. Each time I was on stage, I felt an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment. It was the first time where I felt no nerves and I knew that at the end of the day, I couldn’t have been happier with how I improved and performed that day. I left it all on the stage.
Soon enough, it was time for crowning. I looked around at all the ladies beside me, feeling blessed to have spent this experience with so many amazing and influential people, being able to gain many new sisters that day. Any of those girls could absolutely fulfill the duties of Miss Northern Lights.
In a matter of seconds, I snapped back into reality as I was flooded with emotions. The tears fell and I soon realized what I had done. By the grace of God, I had just accomplished one of my biggest goals.
As I cried on my entire hour-long drive home that night, I stopped to pray once again to thank God for giving me this opportunity for a year of service to my community and to Him. I thank him for the challenges He put me through in the previous years, because they taught me valuable life lessons that I will take with me forever. I continue to thank Him for allowing me to spread my mission on a greater scale and soon onto the Miss Wisconsin stage. I pray that I am able to stay focused during this year in order to accomplish as much as possible with this opportunity. I have faith that this experience will challenge me and allow me to continue to grow and I wake up every morning looking forward to what is ahead.
Now, as I sit here with a crown and sash next to me, I feel so grateful to represent the Miss Northern Lights, Miss Wisconsin, and Miss America Organizations as a local titleholder. I look back to where I started and realize that a dream is only a dream until you take the steps to make it a reality. Through perseverance, determination, patience, hard work, a strong support system, a positive mindset, and faith in yourself and in God’s plan, ANYTHING is possible.
Your 2016 Miss Northern Lights, Jessica Hammer