“The hardest test in life is the patience to wait for the right moment.”
Last May, I competed for the title of Miss New York. It was not my first time, but my two previous experiences where very different from each other, having placed Top 10 on my first try and not placing at all the second time around. It was a significant blow to my confidence and I quickly learned that nothing is guaranteed…ever. If you want something, you must work for it. That’s what I did. I went into Miss New York 2014 having no expectations, but hoping to at least place in the Top 10. That was my goal. One by one the names were called and, to my immense surprise, I was still standing there in the Top 5. In the end, I placed 2nd runner-up to Miss New York, a feat I quite honestly did not even believe was possible.
I was thrilled for Kira and booked my room to show my support in Atlantic City. Now, imagine my shock (I use the term “shock” lightly because we knew it was a definite possibility that Miss NY could pull a three-peat) when, as I sat in the audience, Kira Kazantsev became our third straight Miss America from New York.
As we left the auditorium, my phone became alive with messages. Having represented the Empire State at the National Sweetheart Pageant (a pageant traditionally for 1st runner-ups) just one month prior, my Sweetheart sisters were elated for me and, having watched the pageant, they had almost immediately begun congratulating me on “becoming Miss New York.” They were quickly joined by my family and friends texting me and posting their congratulations on my Facebook page. This was where the panic set in. Me? Miss New York? I hadn’t even been asked yet! I wasn’t even the 1st runner-up! My response was “…thanks everyone for your enthusiasm, but Miss NY hasn't been offered to anyone yet. Right now, I'm content as your Miss Staten Island and tonight is about celebrating Kira.”
Back in my room, I managed to calm down, focus, and, since I knew that the crown could now potentially be offered to me, work through my feelings on the entire situation. Let me tell you: You will never understand the stress of this kind of decision until you are put in that position yourself. You would think it would be so simple. I assure you, it is not.
I’ve always maintained that my focus in this organization is my platform and service to my community. Giving back inspires me. It’s who I am and have always been. My mind raced. Why, then, would I want to pass on the opportunity to take my efforts to the next level? If I were to decline, I realized that I could potentially leave the Miss America Organization this year having never achieved the Miss New York crown. On the flip side, I would have more opportunity to speak about pediatric cancer across the state and advocate for increased funding for research; something I am extremely passionate about. Seems like a clear-cut decision, right? Wrong. Like I said…it’s not that simple.
Right after the Miss NY Pageant in May, I had come to terms with the reality that I was not Miss New York. I focused my energy on preparing for the National Sweetheart Pageant in Illinois and planned being a fabulous representative as New York’s Sweetheart. Then, nearly 4 months later as I was sitting in my room, I got “the call” from Deb Cantoni, Executive Director of the Miss NY Board. She informed me that our 1st runner-up had declined the crown and it was my turn to make a choice. Cue the nervous butterflies. I was given a few days to decide. I hung up the phone and, curiously, felt a sense of peace. I had been thinking (well actually obsessing) about this for several days already and I knew what I had to do.
I respectfully declined. When I hung up the phone, I knew that I had done what was in my heart.
There were many factors that went into my decision, but what finally convinced me is the very thing that might have also swayed me to take the title…my platform. As a titleholder and as a person, I am “Inspiring Action Against Pediatric Cancer.” It is not a hot topic, it is not on the news every day, and it is not being spoken about by celebrities at award shows. However, the statistics have remained unchanged for years, with only 4% of federal funding for cancer research being allocated for all childhood cancers combined. It is absurd when you really think about it and I am doing everything I can to change that fact. The truth is, it is much easier to gain the attention necessary when you have a crown and a title attached to your name. I’ve always recognized that and, as such, I treat every title as holding the same amount of power – whether it’s a local title, Miss New York or Miss America. We can all make a difference.
That’s when it clicked for me. My end goal was never to just “be Miss New York” or “be Miss America.” Of course, every girl who competes wants to achieve the title, but my end goal has always been to make the biggest impact possible.
This is my last year in the Miss America Organization and if I had accepted the title, I would have only been Miss New York until June 2015. By declining, I now have the possibility of gaining a local title and giving everything I have at Miss New York, this year. If I never win the state title, I will still have the incredible power of a crown until 2016, which is another full year of making a difference in my community. I am content with that.
I know it is not easy for everyone to understand the decision I made, but I am at peace with it because I know that it was made with the best intentions and it was right for me. In my 3 years as a local titleholder, I have attended nearly 300 community events and raised over $40,000 for various charitable organizations. Imagine the impact I will have in my final year. As I said in September, “I am honored to have been given the opportunity, but I feel in my heart that my journey is not yet complete.”
Thank you all for taking the time to read my thoughts and for sticking with me on this wild journey.