I Found My Faith During College

College /ˈkälij/ (noun): a place where young adults go to seek higher education, spend life savings on tuition and cheap alcohol, gain weight, procrastinate, cry, and question their morals

Okay, okay… college is so much more than that.

In reality, starting college is the perfect time to try new things, meet new people, grow up a little, create your future, and ultimately re-invent yourself. On this journey, every college student will encounter a new situation that will test their strength and their morals. With mom and dad all the way back home, unable to intervene on your decisions, there are times when the little devil and angel will be arguing with your conscience…

Should I start this final paper that’s due tomorrow morning or go party with my friends?

Angel: “You’re in college for one reason… to further your education and get a degree. Stay in and work on your paper, your GPA and successful future self will thank you later!”

Devil: “Paper shhmaper. You know you’d have more fun with your friends than sitting on your computer all night. You’ll miss out on all the fun!”

The struggle is real! There is an incredible amount of pressure placed upon millions of college students…pressure from our parents, professors, the job market, and American society. It’s no wonder we are all hungry for a little bit of freedom and stress relief! With the freedom of college comes the chance to make decisions and grow and learn from those choices on your own. There are times of stress, temptation, and questions about the future. During these trying times, I found my faith.

Let’s sit down for story time…

Your homegirl grew up as the oldest of five children to two of the best parents in the world, who also grew up in crazy-huge fams (mom the youngest of six children and dad in the middle of eight). I guess you could say big families are kind of our thing. Every family has a different way of doing things; there are different values, rules, morals, lessons, religions, economic and social backgrounds. Growing up, I can remember a few lessons my parents taught me over the years, like “treat everyone the way you’d like to be treated” or “use your manners” or “don’t do drugs” or “don’t swim out too far without your floaties.” I remember always having an early curfew, always having to ask permission to go ANYWHERE (actually…this never changed), and I remember going to church and sitting through hours of Sunday school, which I thought was a big waste of time at the age of eight.

Throughout high school, I continued to attend religious education classes held through my church until I was confirmed at age 17. As I grew older, I learned a lot about religion and faith. However, I never fully understood what it meant to be a true woman of faith.

Why did I endure all those years of religion classes? When will these lessons truly apply to my own life? Can God really hear me?

These questions were answered as soon as I stepped foot into my freshman year dorm room.

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During my preparations for my first year of college, I never felt more nervous and unprepared. For the previous eighteen years of my life, my parents and peers were my main sources of guidance in all areas of my life. From tough decisions to curfews, I always turned to my family or my friends for answers. However, when I waved goodbye to my parents form my dorm room window, I was on my own. It was time to make my own decisions and somehow find a way to get all the answers.

Sure, mom and dad were just a phone call away, but college is a time to learn independence. I was adamant about this. As the oldest sibling in my family, I wanted to prove that I could be a leader and that I could make it on my own. This is when I realized that the little lessons from my earlier years and the lessons I learned about my faith would offer me the greatest guidance.

I openly admit that my freshman year of college was incredibly stressful for many reasons. I understand that thousands of college freshmen experience similar feelings of stress and anxiety, but for some reason, I still felt so alone. Luckily, I had an amazing roommate (hey Leah) and some incredible friends that I am so blessed to have in my life to this day. These people gave me the little pieces of strength that I needed to get through the rough days and enhance the good days. I kept asking myself where in the world I would be able to find the strength I needed to continue to endure this changing time in my life.

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One day, I reached a breaking point. I was homesick, severely anxious, in a tough long distance relationship, busy with a full-time college schedule, tempted by outside sources, and completely undecided on a path for the future with so many pressures to choose that path immediately. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t sleep, I barely ate, and I felt like my life was spiraling out of control.

By the grace of God, I found this quote:

“When you are going through difficulty and wonder where God is, remember that the teacher is always quiet during a test.”

This quote struck me and continues to stay with me to this day. At this moment, I turned to my faith. I finally began to ask God for guidance. I asked Him to help me to know what to do with my life. I asked Him to calm my nerves and give me reassurance. I asked Him to give me the strength to endure these obstacles as I grow to be a young adult. At this point, I began to understand what years of religious education prepared me for. Even though I felt alone at times, I never was and never will be. My upbringing prepared me for the hard times; the stress, the temptation, the moral tests of adulthood.

The interesting thing about faith is that it works in mysterious ways. Strengthening my relationship with God allowed me to stay motivated to make changes in my life. I tried to eat healthier, appreciate the easy days, stay hopeful through the tough days, pray daily, and stay open-minded about where my young adult life would lead me. I learned that I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself to be independent. The fact of the matter is that my parents and friends will always be there for me and it’s okay to call them every once in a while (they really start to miss you too). I learned that God answers the call as well, but sometimes He doesn’t answer right away. The teacher is always quiet during a test…

Today, as I prepare to begin my junior year of college in the fall, I look back on where I started. Many of my questions have been answered and God did answer my call after a few tries. After my freshman year of college, I made the decision to transfer schools, take the time I needed to choose a path for my future, get healthy (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically), get involved in my faith community, serve others through volunteer opportunities, and continue to strengthen my relationship with God. I became a woman of faith.

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Adulting isn’t easy and we all handle it differently. There will be temptation, stress, anxiety, tests, and questions. You may think that the answers lie ahead, but sometimes, you can find the answers in your heart and up above.

To anyone struggling with understanding their faith or dealing with a trying time:

Patience is key. As humans living in the 21st century, we want immediate answers. However, good things come to those who wait. God is working on you.

Take a deep breath. We often underestimate the power of meditation. Deep breathing works miracles and it allows us to gather our thoughts and be more productive. Take time to relax.

Reach out when you need help. You are NEVER alone. The Lord walks with you wherever you go. Family, friends, religious leaders, and community members are always there for you. Use this to your advantage and thank them.

Take time for yourself. This goes along with that deep breath. During a hard time, we lose sight of ourselves and what our goals are. It’s important to take a moment to remember what you enjoy, reflect on the things you love, and appreciate the positives.

Listen to your heart. Especially during college, there will be times of temptation and pressure, not only from peers but from the rest of the world. Remember what drives you and recognize the steps to get there.

God is always listening. This one speaks for itself. He listens, He answers, He saves.

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“If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” -Walt Disney

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Love always,

Your 2016 Miss Northern Lights, Jessica Hammer

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New Year, New Outlook

We’ve heard it all before…

“New year, new me! This year will be better than the rest!”

I’ve never had a New Year’s resolution, and to be completely honest, I think I’d cave by January 2nd. The typical “eat healthier” or “save money” or “exercise more often” goals tend to tick away quicker than the Times Square countdown and I knew that if I ever decided to create my own resolution, I’d be determined to make it a permanent part of my life.

This past year has been full of opportunities and significant life changes and I knew that I wanted to start the new year with a fresh mindset and clear direction of what I hope to accomplish in 2016. Instead of having superficial goals that I know I can’t commit to, I decided to make a list of small actions that I can tackle day by day that will encourage positivity, mindfulness, and overall happiness in my everyday life. I’m a firm believer that the simple things are the ones that truly matter, so here’s to a simply enjoyable new year.

Jessica’s Handy Dandy Pocket List of 2016 Resolutions

  1. Openly express gratitude
  2. Give compliments
  3. Find a good book
  4. Sing loud and proud
  5. Be courageous
  6. Stand up for what you believe is right
  7. Pay it forward
  8. When there is music, always dance
  9. Take time to relax
  10. Remain tolerant
  11. Get to know someone you used to judge
  12. Accept that there is no such thing as perfection
  13. Take care of your mind and body
  14. Believe in the power of prayer
  15. Visit a coffee shop and sit with a stranger
  16. Put down the cell phone
  17. Learn and understand all sides of politics
  18. Ask for help
  19. Make use of your talents and assets
  20. Practice honesty
  21. Keep promises
  22. Explore your hometown
  23. Serve graciously in any way possible
  24. Thank your parents
  25. Apologize for wrongdoing and learn from it
  26. Love yourself first

I plan to add more resolutions to this list as the year goes on and see how the many areas of my life take shape. It’s strange how day-to-day life never seems to change, but once we look back at the end of the year, we realize how much those little moments changed us over time. When each year comes to an end, I like to be a sap and reflect on the things I’ve learned, the people who have been there with me through it, and the areas of my life I will continue to work on. A flip of the calendar just feels like the right time to make a difference, but in reality, we wake up every morning with that same opportunity.

Take advantage of life’s simple chances for growth and happiness. Have a blessed 2016, beautiful people.

Love always,

Jessica

NEW YEAR

And The Liebster Award Goes To…

Hello friends!

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Courtesy of: Leah Mae Photography

‘Tis the season to be ridiculously busy, am I right?! I’ve finally found some time to sit down, slip into some fuzzy socks, and relax a little bit. First, I’ll give a little update on life…

Many of you have seen my blog post “To Today’s 14 Year-Old Girls” and some of you may also know that it kinda went viral… (say what?!) Well, not as viral as the Gangnam Style madness of 2012, but pretty close (okay not that big). I’d like to thank each and every one of you, from the bottom of my heart, for reading, supporting, and spreading that article around the world and even into the hands of the editors at MTV… (another SAY WHAT?!) Crazy, right? Check it out on the MTV website by clicking this link! I still can’t believe it. Because of YOU, I’ve been able to reach about 800,000 people and spread my personal experiences in hopes of touching at least one life. I am so grateful.

It has been a blessed holiday season with family and friends so far and I’ve been able to focus a lot of my time reflecting on the ups and downs of this past year. Lots of changes have occurred in my personal and professional life since last Christmas and there are still many more to come in 2016, but I’m taking advantage of every opportunity I come in contact with. I could be a sap for another 483659 pages, but I’ll leave it at that. THANK YOU for the amazing opportunities rooted right here on this blog.

I am more motivated than ever to continue writing as often as possible in between my full-time college schedule, dance practices, pageant preparations, three jobs, and a social life (wait..I don’t have one of those). I have lots of ideas of what I’d like to write about for future posts, but I am more than willing to take suggestions. You can find my contact info in the “About Me/ Contact Me” tab so feel free to shoot me an idea or two if you’d like!

Enough about me, let’s get onto the reason for this post!

I was recently nominated for the Liebster Blogging Award by a fellow blogger and pageant sista, Serena. The award is meant to help bloggers discover other bloggers and show a little blogging appreciation (say blog one more time, Jess). Here’s how it goes:

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Thank you for nominating me, Serena! Give her a little love at The Royal Introvert.

My Nominations

I would choose 11, but I’ll leave you with my top three favorites right now!

  1. The Wright Way, Miss Washington Teen USA
  2. Life Of Renee Blog, personal friend and new blogger
  3. Tianna Vanderhei, fellow MAO pageant sister

11 Questions From The Blog That Nominated Me

  1. What is your New Years resolution? I’m usually on top of things when it comes to procrastinating, but I find that my phone becomes an easy distraction when I’m trying to check things off my to-do list. So this year, I’m going to put down my phone a lot more often!
  2. If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? I’m currently sitting in a snow storm today, so Hawaii sounds nice right about now.
  3. What is your favorite memory of 2015? This is a tough one… but all of my best memories always happen with my college friends. Am I allowed to include all of those memories? Probably not, but we all break the rules once or twice.
  4. What is your favorite book? I’ve recently picked up John Green’s first novel, Looking For Alaska, and I can’t put it down.
  5. Why? It’s SO raw and a little controversial, maybe that’s why I love it. From the author of Paper Towns and The Fault In Our Stars, you know this one’s a good one.
  6. Sum up your personality in one word. Contagious
  7. What is your favorite song? Right now, I’m digging “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor and John Legend. I’m obsessed.
  8. What is your favorite blog to follow? All three listed above, I can’t pick a fave!
  9. Why did you begin blogging? A girl’s gotta vent somewhere right?
  10. What was your favorite Christmas gift? My grandma gave me a Love Your Melon beanie and I can’t get over how adorable it is. Even better, it’s a company run by college students aiming to put a hat on every child battling cancer in the United States. Does it get much cooler?
  11. Did it snow where you live? I’m from Wisconsin.. ‘nuf said.

11 Random Facts About Myself

  1. I have a small plant named Isaac.
  2. I can name all 50 states in alphabetical order in 20 seconds.
  3. You can find me smelling all of the candles in Bath & Body Works for hours.
  4. I sleep with a stuffed monkey every night.
  5. Shopping with other people stresses me out.
  6. Ellen DeGeneres is one of my favorite humans ever.
  7. I’m in my second year of college and I have no idea what I want to do with my life (actually not worried at all).
  8. Potatoes are my favorite food.
  9. If I were an animal, I’d want to be a corgi.
  10. I bite my nails..all the time.
  11. I eat when I’m bored and I’m proud of it.

11 Questions For My Nominees

  1. What is the best compliment you have ever received?
  2. What makes up your perfect pizza?
  3. If you could’ve witnessed any event in history, what would you like to have seen?
  4. What cheers you up?
  5. Who is your role model?
  6. Do you have any strange talents? If so, what are they?
  7. What is your biggest fear?
  8. What is your favorite topic to blog about?
  9. Who is your favorite cartoon character?
  10. What is your dream vacation?
  11. Have you ever met anyone famous?

award

There you have it, folks! Just a little fun post to get back in the swing of things as the holidays wind down. Once again, thank you Serena for this nomination and thank you ALL for encouraging me to do what I enjoy. Hit that follow button in the corner to get updates whenever I post new content and be sure to follow my Instagram (@jessicasusan96) for updates as well! I’ve got some fun ideas coming your way in 2016…

Love always,

Jessica

What I Learned After My Freshman Year of College

Transitioning from high school to college is one of the most significant changes a person will face in their lifetime. If you’re naturally a nervous wreck like me, you can imagine the thoughts running through my head during the drive to campus on freshman move-in day.

Will I like my roommate?  What if I can’t fit all of my stuff in my dorm?  How will I survive without my mom if I get sick?  What if everyone thinks I’m weird and I won’t have any friends?  What if I run out of money?  Do I really need to go to college?  I could just stay home with my parents forever.. WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF?!

I know what you’re thinking.. “She’s a hot mess.” Yes, you’re exactly right. Even after my first year of college, I’m still a hot mess… But now, I’m a hot mess who has grown, matured, and learned a few things through the experiences I had during my freshman year of college. I’d like to share those experiences and lessons with all of the soon-to-be college freshmen. It will be hard sometimes; you will miss your family and friends from home, you will get stressed out, you will want to give up and drop out (I don’t advise following through with that). However, going to college will be one of the most amazing experiences you will ever have, I can pinky promise you that.

Here are just a handful of things I compiled after asking some friends about the many lessons learned during freshman year of college:

Your parents are actually really cool. It’s like they saved all the coolness for when you moved out…unfair but definitely appreciated.

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Handwritten letters and care packages from home make it seem like Christmas year-round. Before you move away, give friends and family your dorm address. They’ll want to hear from you, and you’ll appreciate the goodies.

Get to know the people in your residence hall because they’re the ones who are gonna be there for you at 2:00am.

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Don’t save all of your laundry for Sunday afternoon, because you’ll be waiting in line behind everyone else who shares the same laundry room. I would suggest maybe a Tuesday night or during the day between classes when majority of people will be busy. That way, you get first dibs and you won’t have to awkwardly remove someone else’s underwear from the washing machine.

Take a moment every day to pray. Pray for your family and friends, for health and safety, and for guidance and strength through this transitional and often tempting time in your life.

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Staying organized is so important, especially without your parents or teachers telling you what to do and when to do it. Keep a daily planner and write down everything you need to do, from assignments to appointments to meetings and everything in between. For the sake of your sanity, KEEP AN AGENDA.

You’ll miss your friends from home, but don’t let that stop you from making new friends in college. You may even lose a few friends during this first year and that’s totally normal, so don’t stress out about it. The saying is absolutely true that you do meet your best friends in college.

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College classes are no joke and YOU are the only one responsible for your success. Take the time to study and don’t skip classes unless you absolutely need to, because you’ll regret it when you have to spend your winter break re-taking a class that you failed first semester because you were lazy.

Being sick sucks, but it sucks even more when your mom can’t be there to take care of you. Make your own First Aid kit and fill it with allergy medication, ibuprofen, Tums, cold medicine, cough drops, band-aids, Cup-O-Soup packets, tea bags, and anything else you might need to take care of yourself. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re confined to the futon for a week.

If you and your roommate respect each other, things will run a lot more smoothly. Determine room rules on day one, make sure you both understand that sharing a room means sacrifices, be open and honest with each other, and take time to get to know one another. I was lucky enough to have the best roommate in the world (hey Leah, if you’re reading this, I love ya), so this part was easy.

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Call your grandparents every once in a while, because they’ll miss you just as much as your parents will.

Crying is okay. Scientifically proven to relieve stress and make us feel better, a good cry can make all the difference. The pressure of difficult classes, sleep deprivation, and missing home puts a heavy load on our bodies, so don’t be afraid to just cry it out! By the way, the shower is the best place to do it…it’s actually a very relaxing experience. I recommend it.

Take too many pictures. Fill up your Instagram with memories you can look back on for years. After the school year ends and you’re stuck in your hometown again, you’ll be happy to have evidence of the good times.

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Just because you declare a major doesn’t mean you have to stop exploring! Think of your major as a starting point and give yourself room to grow and learn about your passions and strengths from there. If you limit yourself to the label of your major, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities for career exploration. Besides, switching majors is as easy as one appointment with an academic adviser.

Sure, ramen noodles are cheap, but that doesn’t mean you should eat them for every meal.

Take advantage of every opportunity that you come in contact with, because those will end up being the points you put on your résumé when you apply for future jobs or internships.

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Remember what you stand for, even if there are people who don’t agree with you, and do your best to act on the values you believe in. For example, if drinking, etc. is not something you believe in for yourself, don’t do it. If you value your faith, don’t be afraid to openly share it with others. College is a time to try new things, but it’s also a time where your morals and values are tested and put under pressure. Express what you hold close to your heart.

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College provides the perfect chance to find yourself and grow up a little. You learn so many things about yourself that you never knew before, you’ll have the opportunity to explore whatever you want to, and you have the power to make decisions for yourself and for your future. YOU hold the key to determine your own success and I think that’s one of the coolest things you’ll realize during this year. I am not currently attending the same university that I went to during my freshman year of college, but that allows me to look back and remember all of the amazing experiences I had and the best friends I met who I continue to keep in contact with to this day (to any of you LaXers reading this: Thank you for the memories, I miss you all more than anything, I’ll see you sooner than you know).

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Soak it all up this coming year, learn something new, be smart, be courageous, and be good to yourself.

Love always,

Jessica

To Today’s 14 Year-Old Girls

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Wow, times sure have changed. That’s me in the pictures above. I was a 14 year-old high school freshman just five years ago. Skinny, awkward, innocent, and desperate for social acceptance just about sums up who I was. I had no idea where I was going, but it seemed like the overwhelming roller coaster we call “growing up” started off on a rough path. Of course, I’m only 19 now, so I definitely still have a lot to learn (I will never deny that).  However, over the short amount of time since I was 14 years old, the standards have evolved dramatically among young girls and it has bothered me enough that I feel the need to address it.  Of course, every generation goes through a state of change that the previous generation may disapprove of.. (Has your grandma ever told you that your brand new outfit is ridiculous? So has mine.. P.S. Hey Grams, if you’re reading this, you’re still the bomb). Since 2010, I’ve learned a thing or two about being a teenage girl. Now as a young adult reflecting on the new wave of young people, I’m going to take everything I’ve experienced on my own journey through the early teenage years and be 100% real with you. Yes, this will be a long message, I might offend you, and it’s okay if you may not even relate to this at all. This will be directed as a letter to my younger self and to all of the young girls of today, but as always, feel free to adjust this message to apply to your own life if you’d like. Boy or girl, young or old, LGBTQ or straight, or whatever your personal circumstance may be… This message of strength, courage, and promotion of individuality comes straight from the heart toward anyone who needs a little bit of tough love:

Dear beautiful girl,

When I was your age, I cut my own bangs and chose the colors of the rubber bands on my braces. I called up my best friends on my flip phone and our moms had to confirm our plans. I spent way too much time on my Nintendo DS playing with my NintenDogs (may they forever rest in peace) that sometimes I forgot to do my math homework before I went to bed at 8:30pm. When I was your age, I just entered the world of high school and struggled to find confidence. I shopped in the graphic tee sections of Aeropostale and Hollister and got so excited when I was finally big enough to fit into my very own pair of American Eagle jeans. When I was your age, I thought I knew everything there was to know about fashion and makeup from what Miley Cyrus was sporting on the cover of Seventeen. My mom taught me how to apply eyeliner and I bought my makeup from the dollar store (still do actually…a broke college girl does what she’s gotta do). When I was your age, there was no Snapchat or Vine or “Don’t Judge Me Challenge.” When I was your age, I had never been to my boyfriend’s house because the only time we saw each other was during the school day. When I was your age, I was lost and vulnerable and I had a lot to learn about life. To you, beautiful girl, this may seem like the lifestyle of a child now. Little do you know, this was the normal life of ME, a 14 year-old just five years ago.

Times have changed (as they should!) but there are a few things to keep in mind as you enter this new stage in your life, as you grow from a beautiful girl to a beautiful young woman…

To 14 year-old me and to YOU, the young girls of today:

I hope you don’t spend an hour doing your hair and makeup in the morning, because there is so much beauty to be seen without it.

I hope you forgive your best friend, because she’s going to be the one hugging you goodbye when you both leave for college.

I hope you don’t post about your lame boyfriend on Facebook, because you’ll look back and cringe in a few years, I guarantee it. He doesn’t count as a real boyfriend until you’re at least 16 anyway.

I hope you never hold back from standing up for what you believe in.

I hope you write in a diary instead of all over the internet, because when you dig that baby up a few years later, you’ll have some noteworthy moments to look back on.

I hope you don’t look to the influence of society for guidance.

I hope you turn down the invitation to the drinking party this weekend that everyone is talking about, because I promise it really won’t be as exciting as the seniors say it will be.

I hope you don’t tell your boyfriend of two weeks that you “love him,” because chances are, there will be one hell of a guy waiting for you a few years down the road who will show you what love really means.

I hope you apologize for that horrible comment you said to your parents, because they love you more than you know right now.

I hope you look in the mirror every day and see something that is amazing and worthy of greatness.

I hope, when you experience your first heartbreak, instead of absolutely hating that boy and speaking negatively of him for the rest of eternity, that you thank him for teaching you something. If you liked him enough to date him, say “thank you” for the things that he did for you while you two were together. Tell that boy who broke your heart that he was a great stepping stone toward your future life partner.

I hope you do your homework and take pride in your intelligence.

I hope you make the choice to surround yourself with people who will encourage, motivate, and lift you up instead of trying to fit in with the “popular kids.”

I hope you don’t spend hours scrolling through social media idolizing celebrities who will never be able to relate to you.

I hope you always choose your words carefully, especially when speaking to other girls. I know it’s easy to get jealous, but don’t you dare put down another female for being thin or thick or tall or short or whatever; we all know how hard it is to be a girl so instead of putting other girls down, I hope you choose to rise up and join the army of estrogen. How bad ass does that sound?

I hope you delete that sassy status on Facebook about how “you’re hot stuff and nobody can mess with you,” because you will be more respected for being humble than trying to be invincible.

I hope you visit your grandparents, not because your mom and dad forced you or because you want to take a selfie with Grandma for some likes on Instagram, but because they have incredibly vivid and beautiful souls and they usually offer the best advice.

I hope you never let a boy call you “sexy,” and if he does, tell him to take a hike. There are so many other words to describe the incredible qualities that make up YOU.

I hope you are kind to everyone you meet, because the way you act and portray yourself today will carry over to how people perceive you from now on.

I hope you embrace your passions and keep them close to your heart, because they’ll be the perfect outlet for stress and they might make a good career one day.

I hope you don’t try to act older than you are, there’s plenty of time for that when you’re actually old.

I hope you know that no matter how much your boyfriend says he “loves you,” no boy will ever love you more than your daddy does. If your dad isn’t around, that’s okay too. The big man upstairs loves you just the same.

I hope you never give in to pressure from anyone, because it’ll feel a lot better to be proud of saying no than to regret saying yes.

I hope you choose not to share your innocent body and mind with a boy who won’t care about you five years from now.

I hope you don’t spend your money on things that don’t matter. Spend that hard-earned cash from your first job on life experiences, because pictures from a zipline adventure will look a lot cooler on your Snapchat story than a mocha frappuccino.

I hope you understand that life doesn’t suck if you focus on the things that are truly important to you.

Dear beautiful girl, I believe in you. Time has changed since I was your age and standards shift for every new generation, but there are some things you must always remember, regardless of how old you are. Never look to others for acceptance because what’s important is that you accept yourself. Do what makes you happy…but if those things are illegal or harmful, it’s time to do what will make you successful. Be humble, be intelligent, be kind…because people will respect you for it and good karma might be a real thing. Remember where you come from, thank the people who serve you in any way, write down your goals, and take one step every day toward achieving them.

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”

Love, Jessica

A 19 year-old young adult who is learning to be independent, courageous, and passionate…who used to be just like you.

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An Open Letter From A Retail Employee to Black Friday Shoppers

Dear Black Friday shoppers,

There are very few things that I hate more than this made-up holiday.  Working in a mall on the busiest shopping day of the year is like voluntarily admitting yourself to Hell.  From someone who has worked in the retail industry for nearly three years, I have just a few things to say to all of you Black Friday shoppers this year.  Along with my ranting, I will also include some helpful words of advice that will benefit you on your wild overnight excursion.  Don’t get offended, this is just a personal outlet so I don’t take out my frustrations physically..  If you do get offended, you’re probably one of the people that have done these things..jus’ sayin. You put this all upon yourself.

First and foremost, if, for one second, you think you will be getting outstanding customer service while shopping on Black Friday, ohhh do I have news for you.  The last thing retail employees are focused on is being your personal shopping assistant for the entire time you’re in the store.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other customers we also have to assist.  Don’t you dare get your panties in a bundle if I only have a minute or two to help you find something that your picky 12 year-old niece would like. Word of advice: check out stores online FIRST to find items you will be looking for.  Print a picture, take a screenshot, make a list, do whatever you have to do. You can get into the store, we can point you in the right direction, and you can be on your merry way.

Secondly, if you arrive at a store and notice that the checkout line is a mile long, YOU HAVE NO ROOM TO COMPLAIN. Listen here princess, if you feel the need to roll your eyes at the long lines on the busiest shopping day of the year, you shouldn’t go Black Friday shopping. Period. Word of advice: bring some crossword puzzles or Sudoku to help you keep your cool, take items off hangers to make things move quickly, and make sure you have your coupons out and ready by the time you reach the register.

Now, don’t even try to convince us to give you more discounts because your coupon is expired or “but the sign said..” or whatever the excuse is. For one, we as sales associates don’t make the prices.  Besides, it’s Black Friday for Pete’s sake..you’re getting a million percent off anyway. Word of adviceask an associate about the specific sales and deals as soon as you get into the store in order to avoid conflict at the register.  The signs in the windows are often slightly deceiving since it’s hard to read the fine print (that’s the way the marketing world works). Save yourself the time, and save us the frustration of explaining return policies.

Black Friday is already a very stressful event for both retail employees and customers.  It’s our job to be polite to you. We don’t have a choice, but you do!  It makes for a much better experience for everyone involved if we all keep our dignity and treat each other with respect (this includes fellow shoppers..I don’t want to clean up blood off the floor after an all-out brawl between an old lady and a 40-something soccer mom over the last purple hoodie in stock).

Leave your small children and crappy attitude at home and let’s keep this year’s Black Friday death toll count at zero.

Sincerely,

Jessica and millions of fellow sales associates

Lingo, Terms, and Slang Only Pageant Girls Understand

Everyone has that certain circle of friends that seems to speak their own language.  Whether it’s your work buddies, teammates, or sorority sisters, it’s comforting to know that you can turn to a few people who know exactly what you’re talking about when you’re together.  Having been participating in pageants for nearly two years, I learned some lingo along the way that I often have to define when I talk about pageants to people who aren’t involved.  I compiled a list of a few terms only pageant girls understand in hopes of clearing up many of the awkward conversations I’ve had with non-pageant people…because butt glue is not as weird as it sounds. Or maybe it is..

Miss Congeniality:  No, we’re not talking about the classic pageant flick starring Sandra Bullock (although this is a personal favorite).  Miss Congeniality is a term that most people think of negatively due to the reference to this movie.  However, most people don’t know that the “Miss Congeniality” award is nearly as honorable as being named the winner.  This award is decided upon by fellow contestants and is given to the girl that they believe is the most genuine, outgoing, friendly and helpful.

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Sticky boobs:  This is a very unique kind of bra that has no straps or back clasp, but an adhesive layer on the inside that sticks right to the skin.  Yes, there is a style of bra like this, but I may also be talking about duct tape..  Defying all laws of physics, sticky boobs are great because they can be worn with everything including backless gowns, swimsuits, interview dresses, and so much more.  They’re virtually invisible but offer incredible support.  Basically a God-send.

System:  Most people that I talk to that haven’t been involved in pageants have no idea that there is a difference between Miss USA and Miss America.  These are two different pageant systems and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different systems worldwide.  Each system has different rules, areas of competition, and judging.  Sure, pageant girls can do different systems if they choose, but every girl usually has one system she loves the most.

Platform:  A platform is something every pageant girl has, but no two are exactly identical.  A platform is any issue the girl feels passionate about and wishes to educate the community on.  She often dedicates a lot of time, service, and fundraising dollars to her platform.  They can be anything from “Autism Awareness” to “Eat Healthy, Fuel Your Body” to “Keeping the Arts in Elementary Schools.”  Every pageant girl has a heart for service and her platform allows her to spread her personal message.

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Miss America 2012, Laura Kaeppeler

Walking pattern:  When you’re on stage, it’s easy to get lost in the bright lights and hype of the crowd and forget where exactly you’re supposed to be walking.  If you watch closely at a pageant, every contestant walks the same way, turns the same way and poses in the same spot.  This is all thanks to walking patterns and handy dandy “x” tape marks.  Walking patterns ensure that each contestant can strut their stuff on stage in exactly the right spots and can be seen by the audience and judges.

Prelims:  Many people don’t know that every large pageant has preliminary competitions.  Scores from prelims carry over to the final night and determine who the semifinalists will be.  Prelims usually include an award for swimsuit and an award for talent, but awards can vary depending on the pageant system.  Just because a contestant wins a prelim award doesn’t necessarily mean she will be a semifinalist, but there is a good chance she impressed the judges enough to place well.

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Miss Tennessee, Miss Alabama, and Miss Maryland at the 2013 Miss America Pageant

Johnathan Kaynes:  The Cadillac of pageant shoes, Johnathan Kaynes are particularly popular in the Miss America Organization pageant system.  These heels are versatile and can be worn with swimsuit, evening gown, and for any other formal occasion.  If you don’t have a pair of heels by Johnathan Kayne, you need some.

Bad judge:  DUN DUN DUNNNN.  Contrary to the term, the “bad judge” is probably the best judge.  Contestants immediately know who this judge is based on the first impression, usually in the private interview.  The “bad judge” asks the toughest questions, has the scariest facial expressions and is reeeeeally good at being intimidating.  Okay, okay..the “bad judge” isn’t all bad, they push us to our limits and see how good we really are.

A/B stones:  These aren’t just any old rocks you find laying around.  A/B stones are those fancy rhinestones that give off a rainbow shine.  They are most commonly found on evening gowns and pageant jewelry and match EVERYTHING.

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Titleholder:  A titleholder is a girl that currently wears the crown.  She won the pageant she is representing on her sash and is usually preparing to compete for a state or national pageant very soon.  She “holds the title” for one year and this is when she is able to promote her platform even further and positively represent a local community or state.

Butt glue:  The mother of all pageant necessities.  Butt glue is a spray or roll-on adhesive that is applied directly to the skin underneath swimsuit bottoms.  Otherwise known as Elmer’s Spray Adhesive or WD-40, butt glue is phenomenal because it allows the contestant to walk freely onstage without worrying about her swimsuit riding up.  However, butt glue is only great until you have to take OFF the swimsuit for the next wardrobe change…I swear butt glue can take skin off with it.  The old term is still true: “beauty is pain.”

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Miss America contestants apply “butt glue” before the Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimwear competition.

20 Thoughts Every College Student Has

1.  Why am I even here?1.

2.  No, I’m not crying.  It’s just allergies.  I’m allergic to Chemistry.2.

3.  If the kid in the front row reminds the professor about that assignment I forgot to do.. I swear..3.

4.  When is winter break?4.

5.  My homework isn’t done, but I definitely am.5.

6.  I’m so jealous of my dog right now.6.

7.  If I wake up early tomorrow, I can probably finish this.b1c017b071625a0e206114b5362d40fb6a851ed450bad90bde99aba3cadd2fcf8.  How do I know if I’ll actually use this textbook that cost me all of my summer paychecks?8.

9.  I remember when I couldn’t wait to grow up. Aww, so young and naïve.9.

10.  Seriously though, my dog stays at home and sleeps all day and nobody judges him for it.10.

11.  I’m broke, single, and on the verge of a mental breakdown but at least I still have my personality.11.

12.  Group projects make me hate everyone.12.

13.  *Walking to class* I should just turn back now.13.

14.  All the hot people probably hang out at the rec center.  I don’t go to the rec center.14.

15.  Waking up for an 8:00am class is the worst thing that can happen to a person.15.

16.  Honestly, my dog is probably sleeping right now. Asshole.16

17.  How many more freebie absences do I have?17.

18.  I can barely survive a 50 minute class; how the hell did I make it through 7 hours of high school?!18

19.  I wanna go home.19

20.  Where is my mom when I need her?202

It All Started With An Opportunity

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As a young girl, I had always idolized the women on the TV parading on stage in sashes and swimsuits once a year.  I had no idea that a few short years later, I would come to know the incredible organization behind the Miss America pageant.

During my senior year of high school, I was approached by a woman in my community regarding a scholarship opportunity.  As a broke 17 year-old about to embark on her first year of college, I was looking for any way to pay my way through the financial debt.  Little did I know, I was about to get myself into much more than just a scholarship opportunity.

This scholarship opportunity turned out to be a local Miss America affiliated pageant.  I began diving into research to find out what I could do to make the most of this experience.  I borrowed an evening gown from a friend, dug out my old prom shoes and jewelry, bought a “Michelle Obama” interview dress and some nude heels, found my favorite swimsuit, and began choreographing a dance for the talent portion of competition.  I had everything I needed to look good, but there is definitely much more to it than appearance.

I was informed that I had to raise $100 for Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America national platform, and I was able to have my own personal platform in addition.  Many people are unaware that the Miss America Organization is more than just a bunch of beautiful women walking around in high heels and sparkly dresses.  These are women of substance, women who aim to make a difference in their communities through service and advocacy.  I decided that my platform would be dedicated to my grandpa, who had passed away of liver cancer just a year previous.  This meant that I would be an advocate for liver disease and cancer awareness, an issue close to my heart.  I would make my platform known to the public and do my absolute best to represent the cause.

I spent the next month researching my platform and practicing my interviewing skills for my 10 minute private interview with the judges.  Learning everything there is to know about government policies, current events, controversial social issues, and pop culture is NOT an easy task.  The public only sees the onstage question part of competition, which is a way for the judges to see how well the contestant can think and deliver under pressure; believe it or not, it’s only worth 5% of the contestant’s total score.  Most people don’t know about the private interview with the judges, which accounts for 25% of the total score.  This is where the judges get to know the contestant on a more personal basis, and is easily considered the most important part of a pageant.  I dedicated nearly all of my preparation time to this part of the competition and I was beginning to realize how greatly the Miss America Organization was impacting me.

Soon enough, pageant day arrived and I was full of excitement and a little bit of anxiety, as I had no idea what to expect.  I was immediately greeted at the door by a couple of other contestants and my idea of what pageant girls were supposed to be like was completely contradicted.  While I was backstage getting ready for rehearsals and preparing for my interview, I met some incredible young women who remain dear friends to this day.  They asked me some practice questions and gave me a pep talk before I walked into my interview, which didn’t go as planned.  The intimidation factor and nerves got the best of me and I had a difficult time answering questions to the best of my ability, but the same girls were excitedly waiting for me as soon as I stepped out of my interview.  It was at this point that I was beginning to understand the sisterhood that is the backbone of the Miss America Organization.  No matter how you do in the actual competition, you are able to walk away with some unbelievable friends (who also understand the struggles of butt glue stuck to an evening gown, but I’ll save that for another day).

A few months later, a couple of the girls I competed with at my first pageant asked if I would like to attend the state pageant with them, where all of the local pageant winners would compete.  I was interested to see what this pageant would be like, so I went with them and I fell in love.  All of the women on stage displayed such poise, elegance, and charm.  I knew that I had to continue in this organization to have that same opportunity.  I wanted to be able to wear that sash and crown and represent my community by being a role model.  I wanted to serve as an ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network and advocate for my personal platform.  I wanted to better myself, earn scholarships, and learn new things about this organization.

One year passed, I took valuable lessons from my very first local pageant and the state pageant experience with me and decided to dive head in to another year of pageantry.  This time, I decided to raise more money for Children’s Miracle Network in order to be eligible for more pageants, as well as choose a completely new personal platform (one that didn’t make me tear up about my grandpa in my interview).  I bought a new evening gown, choreographed a new talent piece, and immersed myself in the organization.  At my first pageant that year, I did not win, but I did walk away with some amazing new friends, a great experience, and even some scholarships for placing as a non-finalist talent and non-finalist interview winner.  This only fueled my fire to continue to do better throughout the year!  The following pageants were all open, which means any woman who lives, works or goes to school in my state is eligible for competition.  This tends to be difficult, as former experienced titleholders have the opportunity to come back and compete again, and there are usually more contestants. However, I saw it as a chance to improve myself on a more challenging playing field.  I did not win any of the four pageants that I was in that year, but I had grown immensely compared to my very first pageant the previous year and I am now a changed person thanks to my experiences during the short time that I have been involved in the Miss America Organization.

This is only a very small representation of how the MAO has impacted me thus far, but I wish every person would understand the amazing qualities behind the sparkly crown, sash, and televised pageant.  The Miss America Organization is one that is truly remarkable because of the sisterhood, scholarship opportunities, and the chance to grow in so many ways, regardless of if you win a title or not.. and I firmly believe that is one of the most amazing aspects of the program.  Just by signing up and participating, you learn some incredible lessons about life, the importance of community service, and creating lifelong friendships.  I encourage every young woman, age 13-24, to get involved and I can assure you that you will come out changed in ways that you probably never imagined possible.  I look forward to continuing my involvement and bettering myself in hopes of holding a title this year, but even if I don’t capture the crown, I am guaranteed a life changing experience.