I remember it quite clearly: Sitting in my dorm room, watching Mallory Hagan, Miss New York 2012, win Miss America…and sobbing. Why was I so emotional? Yes, I had a personal connection to Mallory, having competed with her that year. And yes, I was overwhelmed with happiness for someone I believed (and still believe) truly deserved the title. But, there was much more to it.
I was convinced that I would NEVER have the opportunity to do what she did.
It all hit me at once. Just a few months prior, I had been ecstatic with my placement in the Top 10 at my first state level pageant. But on this night, something changed. I sat there in my dorm and suddenly felt overwhelmed. I watched as Mallory took the stage with confidence and grace in each phase of the competition. She was poised; she was sassy; she was unapologetically herself. In that moment, I believed that competing on the Miss America stage would never be an option for me.
But, last year, I did get that chance.
Being a year out of Miss America can really get a girl thinking. I don’t think it’s any secret that my Miss America experience didn’t exactly have the ultimate outcome a competitor would hope for. Deep down I was grateful for time spent in Atlantic City: I made incredible friends, rode down the AC Boardwalk in a convertible, made an appearance on Good Morning America, and danced & shared my platform on an enormous stage in Boardwalk Hall. But, it was – and still sometimes is – difficult to face the big question when someone finds out you were Miss New York: So, how did you do at Miss America?
To be candid, the question was initially especially painful to answer having followed three consecutive Miss America winners. I always change my answer around a bit, but it is usually the same idea: “I didn’t place, but I had a wonderful experience.” Truth is, for a while I felt like I failed not only myself, but my family, friends, and home state, as well.
Of course, no one made me feel that way. My family & friends were “still proud” of me and my community supporters told me how much they loved seeing my intro on TV. However, I still couldn’t convince myself that this was not a failure.
Now, a few months out of the spotlight of Miss New York and a year out of the crazy journey that is Miss America, I have a clearer mind (still juggling a million tasks, but definitely clearer). I’m looking back on that young college senior crying in her dorm room. Would she ever consider herself to be a failure simply for not placing at a national pageant? Considering that fact that she believed pigs would sooner fly than she would be on that stage, I can’t say that she would…
At the Miss America 2016 Opening Ceremony, I stood center-stage to introduce myself to the crowd. I began with this statement: “They say you're more likely to have a son play in the Super Bowl, than to have a daughter compete at Miss America.” Think about that for a moment. This means that for a man it is easier to get to the Super Bowl that it is for a woman to get to Miss America. That fact in itself is enough to be proud of. I stood on a stage that hundreds of young women compete to be on each year. I walked the path that only 52 ladies get the opportunity to walk each year. I achieved the dream that my 21-year-old self never thought possible and it was an honor to be one of those daughters.
Sometimes, we get so caught up in focusing on the goal we didn’t achieve, that we forget to look at the goals we did.
During a commercial break in the live Miss America taping – after not being called into the Top 15 – I took my moment to speak out to my supporters, some of whom came out for just that night. “You get to keep me, New York,” I said into the microphone that was handed to me. Moving beyond Miss America, I set out to be the best Miss New York I could possibly be, determined not let my title go to waste. That was a feat I can confidently say I conquered.
Recently, I was asked, "If you could do it again, would you change anything at Miss America?" Obviously excluding changing the outcome, there is really nothing I did that I wish I had done differently. I loved my gown, felt comfortable and confident in my interview, rocked the best swimsuit body I've ever had, and couldn't have been happier with my dance performance. I don't regret a thing.
So, maybe we can’t always achieve what we want to, no matter how hard we work for it, but is that always a terrible thing? If we learn through the process and become better people because of it, isn’t that truly coming out a “winner”? On September 13th 2015, I became a spectator, cheering on my fellow contestants during the final night of Miss America…but I was there. I made it to a level that so many others work for.
Who am I to consider that a failure?