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Just Like Fire

Aleah Peters woke up this morning as Miss Nebraska for the last time.

This is the 36th blog post I’ve written this spring about the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants. Out loud, that’s been my excuse for why it’s taken me so long to write an article about Aleah, her final send-off in blog form. Subconsciously, I think I’ve been avoiding writing this.. because I want her to stay Miss Nebraska forever.

Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

As volunteers, we work so hard to make Miss Nebraska relevant, memorable, a woman with substance in our state. From Day 1, Aleah GOT IT. She used every single moment of her year to make a difference, to market herself, to positively represent the Miss Nebraska brand and to take our organization to the next level. She is kind, she is passionate, she is hardworking, she is dedicated, she is down-to-earth, she is smart, she is talented, she is powerful. And with tears in my eyes as I write this, I’m not ready to see her go.

She hugged every child who approached her, and signed every autograph. She accepted every media interview I threw at her, and nailed it with charisma, articulation and humor. She thanked, acknowledged and was truly grateful for every supporter and loved one who stood by her throughout her journey to Miss Nebraska three times and to Miss America. She crisscrossed the state, visiting 2-3 schools every week in addition to fundraisers, galas, and volunteer events. She awed students with her innate talent to twirl, but many remember her long after for the powerful, personal message about bullying she brought to thousands. We want a Miss Nebraska who makes a difference. Aleah Peters changed our part of the world, one visit at a time.

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“I can’t believe that my year is already over and pretty soon it will be someone else’s turn,” Aleah told me recently. “This year has been a huge blessing and an amazing opportunity. Truly a transformational year. Although I feel like I blinked and it was over, there were some weekends and days that felt like a long year of work. A few drives that seemed to take forever or weeks jam-packed with events and appearances I thought would never end. But I wouldn’t trade the long weeks or long drives for anything. Being Miss Nebraska is work. It is a full-time job, but luckily, it’s a fun job.”

When Aleah was crowned Miss Nebraska 2016, she had just graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She was a mature young woman who truly understood that this moment of sheer excitement was just the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that she embraced and ran with from day one.

“I had a very clear idea of the job that I was applying for and what I was getting myself into,” said Aleah. “I knew what I wanted to accomplish as Miss Nebraska and I knew I wanted to share my message in schools. However, I didn’t realize what a voice I had or what an impact I could make until I did. I never knew how many kids needed to hear my message. I never knew how many eyes would light up when I walked into a room. I never knew I had the power to make every child in the room silent by telling my story. That is how this job became so much more than a job.”

Throughout her years just competing for the title of Miss Nebraska, Aleah spoke to thousands of students about Cyberbullying Awareness. As she told me throughout that journey (click here to read more!) her passion was based on her own experiences being bullied as a teenager by a group of girls from school. Her mission to #MakeKindnessViral is increasingly important in today’s climate of technology and anonymous assault; even Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has made Cyber Safety a key platform based on ongoing problems affecting children, adults and businesses across our state and beyond. Schools across Nebraska asked Aleah to come in and talk to their students, and in October, DeMoine Adams and Teammates brought Aleah on board to visit even more.

Several principals within Westside Community Schools invited Aleah in after she was crowned Miss Nebraska, asking her to share her platform. Over and over, she told hundreds of students about those dark days when she was afraid to answer the phone, when she was afraid to leave her house, when ‘mean girls’ simply made her life hell. In every presentation, she found ways to connect with the students she spoke with, helping them understand her story and hopefully, sending them back out into the world more equipped to deal with bullies, and less likely to become one themselves. One of Westside’s Teacher Leaders told me months later, “our students still talk about her and what she said.” This same scenario played out at schools over and over again throughout this past year.

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“One little girl in a wheelchair asked her teacher if I would meet with her after the school assembly to help her with her project,” said Aleah. “She explained to me that she experienced bullying because she is different from the other students. Another powerful moment was when I spoke in a town that recently experienced a suicide. Many of the students raised their hands to ask what I thought of suicide. It was very clear that there were still some open wounds and a lot of healing for the town but the students were trying to learn more and understand why this happened. Any time a student approaches me and lets me know that they appreciated hearing my story, it makes it all worth it.”

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“One of the highlights of my year was meeting Dr. Mark Adler,” said Aleah. “[Dr. Adler is] the Superintendent of Ralston Public Schools who lost his son to suicide because of cyberbullying. Dr. Adler thanked me for the work I was doing, and that meant a lot to me.”

Aleah’s stories from each visit are varied and often, hilarious. To countless children, especially our youngest Nebraskans, Aleah was a princess personified.

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“I will never get over walking into an elementary school assembly and seeing their eyes light up,” said Aleah. “At one school, the principal was trying to get the students to quiet down and she said ‘obviously we have a very special guest with us here today’ and they all started applauding. Elementary school kids are so much fun and they asked the silliest questions. ‘Did you take a limo to get here?’ ‘Do you live in a castle?’ It was always fun to explain what Miss Nebraska is to them. In one 3rd grade class we lined up to take a picture and the teacher told a student to stop being goofy. With a grin from ear to ear he said ‘I’m so happy right now.’

Among Aleah’s favorite moments as Miss Nebraska was representing our state at the 2017 Miss America Pageant.

“Miss America was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Aleah. “I am so happy for Savvy Shields, our Miss America 2016. She is an incredible Miss America and is doing a GREAT job. Regardless of how the competition went, I still won. I won 51 new friends. I won with the relationships I made. I walked away from the competition so fulfilled. I put my very best on the floor and that is exactly what I wanted to do regardless of what place I earned. Some of my favorite Miss America moments include: catching my somersault trick on stage and going crazy! I ran off stage with pure joy and excitement and jumped into Chris the security guard’s arms. I love twirling for an audience and that was one of the most adrenaline rushing performances I have ever done. Another Miss America moment that I look back on and appreciate now is filming our introductions in a hurricane warning. The wind was insane! We went from an amusement park to go out on a boat. I remember curling up in a ball because I was freezing, more than ready to get off, when the camera crew said ‘let’s do that again!'”

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“After we all got done with our swimsuit prelim competitions we crushed about 10 pizzas between 8 girls at our meeting that night,” said Aleah. “I also loved seeing my cheering section in the audience. I was able to spot them right away the second I walked out because there were huge N’s and pictures of my face.”

“Through all the dinners, rehearsals, and late night meetings, I just remember laughing for two weeks straight,” said Aleah. “I won so much more out of the Miss America competition than a crown and scholarship money. I made memories and friendships to last me a lifetime.”

In one of Aleah’s last school visits, she talked to a group of Kindergartners about success. She shared how she competed for Miss Nebraska three times.. winning 3rd place, and then 2nd place before winning our state title. She explained to these children that to her, success was more than just winning Miss Nebraska… it was about working hard, having a great attitude, and being the best version of herself she could be.

To Aleah Peters, this year has been so much more than a pretty crown. She has maintained an INCREDIBLE physique because she learned how to be healthier as part of this journey, and stuck with it. She continued to visit schools and schedule appearances even after her time at Miss America was done, because she wanted to make a difference with the time she had. She opened her heart to this year’s 16 Miss Nebraska contestants, constantly offering guidance and support. She talked about the $26,585 in cash scholarships she has won, and encouraged other young women to sign up for the same journey she’s had.

“I wanted people to know Miss Nebraska,” said Aleah. “I wanted people to relate to her, to be able to talk to her, to try on her crown, learn how to twirl baton, and to be inspired by her.”

As this journey ends, Aleah, true to form, is ready to begin another. She is getting married in September and moving to Florida, where she plans to work in communications.

“The Miss America Organization has given me so much,” said Aleah. “Not only scholarship money and best friends but it has helped me become the best version of myself. It has helped me find a passion in service. This organization has transformed me into the type of woman I want to be. It has given me confidence, shown me what commitment and dedication look like, and pushed me to accomplish more than I thought was possible. I am excited for the big changes ahead! Only God knows what is in store for me and I am so excited for him to show me.”

GIRLS WITH ME

I’m having a hard time perfectly explaining why this woman is such an incredible role model not just to countless children, but to ALL (myself included!) I am in complete awe of how she takes care of herself, eating healthy and getting to the gym everyday despite her crazy schedule. I am so impressed with her strategic business skills marketing herself to make the most out of every moment of this year. I am humbled and inspired by her sheer kindness and goodness, even towards the ‘mean girls’ who inspired the life changing messages she’s taken to so many.

“I think everyone should be proud of all they have accomplished, including those mean girls,” said Aleah. “So instead I say thank you for giving me a story to share. Thank you for allowing me to relate to so many children who have been bullied. To freshman year Aleah, [I would say] you will get through it and you still be stronger because of it. Appreciate the obstacles you’ve had to overcome because they shape who you are.”

We all wake up every morning with a choice.. to get through the day, or to use every day to our full advantage. The Miss Nebraska Class of 2017 has already accomplished so much in their communities, on their campuses and for so many others around them. They each have a spark; so did Aleah at this time last year. And look what she did with it… a young woman who became Miss Nebraska and simply put, was just like fire.

Just like fire, burning out the way
If I can light the world up for just one day
Watch this madness, colorful charade
No one can be just like me any way
Just like magic, I’ll be flying free
I’mma disappear when they come for me
I kick that ceiling, what you gonna say?
No one can be just like me any way..

No one will EVER be like Aleah Peters. Thank you for your smile. Thank you for your spirit. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for being YOU, our forever Miss Nebraska.

“Appreciate the little things, word hard and dream BIG! Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Realize that you can always find a commonality with someone and you can always learn from someone. Be a friend and make kindness viral. Appreciate the journey every step of the way.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * The Year of the Phoenix

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Fighting For Hope

CLICK HERE * 2014 * How Do You Like Me Now?

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Center Stage

Last week, I had one of those life experiences that reminds you of everything all at once. You’re smiling, you’re crying, you’re so happy, you’re so utterly grateful.

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Meet Ellie, the cute little brunette with the pixie cut on the left, and Kaleb, the strong, blonde gentleman in the middle. They are both elementary school students at Westside’s Sunset Hills, and when their principal, Michelle Patterson, found out they were competing in the Special Olympics for gymnastics, she scheduled a field trip so their entire 3rd and 5th grade classes could attend to cheer them on.

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They made signs. They wore Team Sunset Hills t-shirts. They exploded with cheers and rally chants every time Ellie or Kaleb stood up to compete, and they applauded just as loudly when one of the other athletes did well. Ellie stopped mid-floor routine, turned and grinned at her cheering section. I bawled behind my I-phone. CLICK HERE to watch Ellie & Kaleb’s story on KETV by Sarah Fili and Adam Ennis!

I remember another moment several months ago when tears welled up in my eyes.. watching Kindergartners in my son’s class run up to him to say hi and give him a hug. He has friends; he’s happy; he feels loved and wanted at school. It made my heart burst with pride and happiness for my sweet boy.

It’s all so much the same; we as parents have a universal wish for our children, perhaps more than anything else. We want them to be happy.

Kogan Murphy isn’t a parent, but she wants the same thing for every child she comes in contact with… so those children don’t go through what she did as a teenager.

Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

“I was bullied for years in middle and high school,” Kogan told me recently. “I struggled alone for nearly five years before anyone stepped in to help – they just didn’t know or couldn’t see what was happening to me. There were days I feared for my life and days I couldn’t leave the house, let alone feel safe enough to go to school.  Although I triumphed by working with people who supported and cared about me, not everyone is so lucky.”

It seems like these stories are everywhere these days, happening to people you would never predict as the target. Kogan is a gifted ballet dancer, a gorgeous blonde, a confident and mature young woman. Why would anyone bully her? It’s a question Kogan has asked for years, and one she intends to find answers to and solutions for.

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“I have spent over seven years now researching, living, visiting, speaking and gathering information on bullying,” said Kogan. “I was a victim of both harassment and physical violence. Unfortunately, as is often the case with technology, the harassment didn’t end when I got home at night. A large portion of my bully’s attacks came through online channels and social media. I have spoken to many different age groups and types of people about bullying and it continues to become a more and more important issue that is still so relevant today.”

Kogan found a powerful weapon against her bully when she was 17.. in the form of a crown. That was the first time she competed for the title of Miss Illinois.

“I still felt very lost after being bullied, “said Kogan. “What most people don’t realize is that even after the bullying stops and the problem is ‘resolved’, there is still a lot of work to be done. It took me years of trying to get my school grades up and figure out who I was again. Each time I competed, I felt like I was a little bit closer to finding myself again.”

Kogan held multiple titles within the Miss Illinois Organization, but took a year off when she moved to Omaha and joined Ballet Nebraska.

“I have been dancing for 21 years,” said Kogan, who has since performed professionally in productions including Swan Lake. “Dancing has always been a great way for me to express myself and I love getting the opportunity to perform. I also choreographed my solo for Miss Nebraska and it is very special to me.”

Kogan discovered the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant in her new home, and decided to refocus on the organization that had done so much to build back up her self-confidence.

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She was crowned Miss Douglas County last fall, and was immediately surrounded with a network of people offering constant friendship and encouragement no matter life’s circumstances.

“The people you meet during your year, the people who volunteer their time and money to make this organization all that it is, and then of course, the mentoring,” said Kogan. “Over the past 6-7 years being involved in this organization I have met countless young women that I have looked up to and admired and then been able to take on that ‘big sister’ role myself with many little girls and my ‘pageant families’!”

For Kogan, this has also been an opportunity to try prevent other kids from traveling the same rough road she had to. She visits classrooms, youth groups and dance classes all over Eastern Nebraska sharing her personal platform: ‘Respect: Changing the conversation about bullying.’

“I feel so lucky that I have been given the opportunity to have a voice and share my story,” said Kogan. “Having a dramatic personal experience gives me the credibility and relevance to connect with kids and adults alike; I’ve been there. I have been hurt, afraid for my life and embarrassed. No one should feel afraid to go to school, leave their house or feel as if their life does not matter. I am proof that there is a way out and a way back to having confidence in yourself. Let’s bring RESPECT back to the conversation. Everyone deserves the right to feel loved, appreciated and wanted in this world.”

AGREED. I think that’s why I was so touched by what happened in that gym last week. My hope is that not only did Ellie and Kaleb feel loved and supported, but that all of their friends saw the value in loving and supporting others. I was only a bystander that day, but I left that gym feeling like I could conquer the world.. and that our world was an accepting, beautiful place. Love multiplied again and again that day, and I hope the lasting memory every single one of those children will have is that smile on Ellie’s face. I hope they all realize they can do that throughout their whole lives; they can impact someone’s life by simply being KIND.

It’s a message Kogan Murphy will continue to spread through her words, through dance, and she hopes, as Miss Nebraska 2017.

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“This organization has not only shaped me into the woman I want to be but it continues to encourage me to be the best version of myself,” said Kogan. “I am very much at a place where I would love to dedicate a full year and serve the wonderful state of Nebraska through this organization. My goal and mindset is to always be the very best version of myself, enjoy every moment and know that timing is everything.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy on Facebook.

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant or to become a contestant CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, and CLICK HERE to follow on Twitter. You can also email missomahapageant@yahoo.com, or contact Director Marianne Grubaugh at ggrubaugh@cox.net.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS..Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere

COMING SOON.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Follow The Rainbow

One of my favorite events I got to take part in during my time at KETV was Omaha Fashion Week. I know NOTHING about fashion (I’ve got a solid 5-outfit rotation and that’s it..) but I LOVE seeing it. OFW offers anything and everything you could envision, from swimwear, to children’s wear, to the most beautiful gowns to the craziest avant garde designs. CLICK HERE to read more about my adventures hosting Fashion Week while pregnant.. or about the time I became Fashion Roadkill in front of hundreds of people.

This is an event where the people are art as much as the garments. Every designer chooses different models based on that collection or their aesthetic. You will see rail-thin and plus-size women, translucent skin tones to the darkest ebony.  This showcase is a spectacular rainbow of color and life, a display of the array of beauty God created in so many different types of people.

This year, you’ll see the same thing at the 2017 Miss Nebraska Pageant.

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The Class of 2017 spans from barely 5-feet to almost 6-feet tall (without heels!). We have dancers and singers, a SLAM poet and a violinist, pianists and a sign language artist.  They are young women with various backgrounds and ambitions, as different on the inside as they appear outside. It’s something one of these contestants is not just proud of, she’s made the message of diversity her mission during her time as a Miss Nebraska titleholder.

Miss Western Nebraska 2017 Devin Owens

“My platform ‘Representation Matters: The Importance in Being Present’, focuses on the importance of diverse role models/leaders/representatives in media, film, systems of government, our communities and beyond,” Devin told me recently. “With race, gender/sexuality, and religious issues being at the forefront of many of the national conversations/debates that we are having, it’s important to ensure that all are accurately, fairly and equally represented in various spaces.”

This is Devin’s first year as a Miss Nebraska titleholder, though she previously represented Nebraska in the Miss Black USA Ambassador pageant. Devin attracted media attention multiple times in that roll through her work to empower girls across the Omaha area.

“In the summer of 2015 I hosted the first ‘Queens For A Day’, which gave 20 young women from across the state the opportunity to feel like the queens they truly are,” said Devin. “Our day began at Memorial Park where we had a photo shoot with a professional photographer, and rode off to the spa in a VIP limousine. Once we arrived at the spa, each girl was able to get either a pedicure or manicure, we loaded back on the limo, and we went to decorate crowns.”

Queens for a Day 2015

CLICK HERE to read the Omaha World Herald’s story on Devin, or CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s story on her event!

This was the continuation of work Devin began in 2014 when she founded Project Poise, a leadership initiative for young women in need, focusing primarily on low income/needs based areas.

“Operating out of existing nonprofits, elementary and middle schools and after-school programs, I bring tailored programming to each site and work with young ladies on developing their core strengths,” said Devin. “Everyone has leadership potential, and my goal is to help these young ladies discover, embrace and grow within in their leadership potential.  I’ve had the privilege of working with over 250 young women in the last three years, and I am looking to impact even more as we delve into 2017.”

Solomon Girls Center

Devin has studied at both the University of Nebraska Lincoln and Omaha campuses, she’s worked at 10/11 News and now at the Peter Kiewit Foundation. So why add to an already busy schedule by competing for Miss Nebraska?

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“Overall I was once again ready to utilize the platform to serve and lead that the Miss Nebraska Organization offered and pageantry at large offered,” said Devin. “Upon winning the title of Miss Western Nebraska, I am really eager to learn more about the western portion of Nebraska that I haven’t been able to see as much residing in Omaha and Lincoln most of my life.”

Devin hit the ground running, lining up school visits to speak to students from all areas and backgrounds. She’s also extremely active on social media, stressing not only the work she is doing, but spreading the word about Miss Nebraska Organization sponsors and opportunities.

“I want those who are skeptical to know that we work hard, really hard, and are all passionate about the communities we serve and the platforms we advocate for,” said Devin. “For many of us, we wear multiple hats; whether that’s as students, employees, entreprenuers and more. I personally balance a full time job, being a student while paying my way through school, my own nonprofit organization and pageantry, not even considering personal or social obligations. While the many roles often leave little time for a personal life, I wouldn’t have it any other way. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Example is leadership’, and therefore I recognize the grave importance of my presence and activism in my community and state.”

Elementary School Visit

And while Devin’s main objective has been to empower others, she says she herself has been empowered by the experience, and the women she’ll compete with in just over a month.

“I am overwhelmed by the immense amount of opportunities to learn and serve my state,” said Devin. “One of the most important things to me when being a participant in a pageant is being able to walk away a better person than when you started the journey.  Having the opportunity to compete in three very different pageant systems, I must admit my favorite thing about the Miss Nebraska Organization is the sense of family I get from my sister queens, volunteers and state directors. I was nervous to enter another pageant system so ‘late in the game’ as I am 22 years old, but never once did I feel alone or isolated in my journey. It’s been a blessing to be surrounded by such amazing women from across the state.”

Our goal as volunteers who recruit women to compete for Miss Nebraska is to find the best representatives of our state and reward them for their hard work, talents and service. We don’t consider race, how much money a girl has, where she’s coming from or where she’s going. We are blind to who a young woman is when she reaches out to us saying ‘I’d like to learn more’, and we are willing to help anyone and everyone to become the best versions of themselves.

Devin and girl

Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t warm my heart this year to see a rainbow of little girls look up to our titleholders, maybe thinking ‘she’s just like me… and I can be just like her when I grow up.’

Devin in class

“When I close my eyes and dream of being Miss Nebraska, it’s an opportunity that I’d be so blessed and humbled to have,” said Devin. “I think about the potential lives I could impact, and bringing awareness to my platform on a large scale, it’s kind of scary, but an opportunity of a lifetime. Each member of this Miss Nebraska class brings something so unique to the forefront when considering who will represent our state next, so in any circumstance, the outcome will be great!”

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Click here to follow Miss Western Nebraska 2017 Devin Owens on Facebook, click here to follow her blog, ‘DJ Writing Out Loud’, click here to follow her on Twitter, and click here to follow Devin on Instagram.

Devin was crowned at Crowns & Gowns 2017, Nebraska’s largest annual prom/pageant showcase.  CLICK HERE for more details about the 2018 pageant and event! You can also email Director of the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, Heather Hayes, by emailing Heather.Hayes@charter.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Hannah Miller

NEXT.. The Perfect 10: Recap of the 2017 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Seasons of Love

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year? In daylights. In sunsets. In midnights. In cups of coffee.  In inches. In miles. In laughter and strife.

How do you measure a year in the life… when you’re Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen?

Less than 11 months ago, Hannah Miller was named Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016.  Tomorrow, after trips to Orlando and Atlantic City, performances all over Nebraska, appearances at dozens of events, and connections with countless children, Hannah will pass on her crown.

“I’m not sad that I’m passing on the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. I had my year, and I made the most of it,” Hannah told me recently. “Now it’s time for another lucky young lady to have the same opportunities I had.”

hannah crowning

Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph

Hannah rose to the top of an epic Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen class jam-packed with talent, intelligence, civic leadership and grace.  She was articulate, magnetic and energetic from start to finish.  Immediately after she won the crown, Hannah devoted herself in preparation to compete for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.

Hannah MAO Teen intro

“I had the shortest amount of time to get ready for nationals than any other Outstanding Teen in Nebraska’s history. So that consumed the majority of the first part of my reign,” said Hannah. “I went into nationals wanting to give it my all and not have any regrets on my performance or my experience and I can honestly say that I did exactly that. I gave everything I had in every part of the national competition and I walked away knowing that I represented Nebraska to the best of my ability. I had the experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

For the third year in a row, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen was among the top award winners at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.  Hannah won a preliminary Evening Gown/On Stage Question award, and won a Top 5 Interview Award, her proudest moment in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Hannah came home and accepted the job that was only just beginning at the conclusion of competing at nationals.  Her new mission: find time for commitments as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding teen and for the activities and wishes of an American teenager.  Hannah is also a student at Elkhorn High School and a competitive swimmer.

“Since I’m extremely active with swim and my other school activities, it was hard to find the perfect balance between being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and being a student athlete,” said Hannah. “The first few months were rough. But with the help of my manager (aka my mom) I was able to find the perfect balance between my two vastly different worlds.”

Whereas Miss Nebraska attends most events and appearances across the state on her own throughout her year of service, Hannah was often accompanied by her incredibly supportive parents, Jim and Barb Miller.  During one of our program’s biggest weekends, Crowns and Gowns, Jim Miller drove Hannah to North Platte for a photo shoot, back to Omaha for a major swim meet, back to North Platte for a fashion show and autograph signing, and back to Omaha for school (and work!) on Monday.

I’m exhausted just typing that.

Hannah has often focused her speeches and messages on her personal platform, Safe Splashes, promoting water safety. (Click here to learn more!)

“Looking back, I will never forget going to the Olympic Trials, and having the opportunity to talk to children about the importance of water safety,” said Hannah. “I plan on continuing my work with ‘Josh the Otter’ and spreading water safety awareness. As Dory puts it, I’ll ‘Just keep swimming!'”

Hannah’s focus now is con continuing her education, using the thousands in scholarship money she collected through the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.

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“Right now I’m in the process of college planning,” said Hannah. “I plan on swimming in college and studying Elementary Education. To answer the burning question of if I’ll compete for Miss Nebraska someday, right now I’m not sure. I’m focused on college so I won’t be competing anytime soon!”

And this weekend, Hannah is focused not on herself and what she’s accomplished, but the 18 young women who hope to follow in her footsteps.

Hannah at local

“I want this year contestants to know that they have already made a huge impact on their communities and they are doing a terrific job promoting the Outstanding Teen program,” said Hannah. “Only one lucky girl will walk away as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen but you all have the opportunity to continue the great work you are already doing! You don’t need to wear a crown to make an impact!”

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year?

In smiles. In dancing. In thank you’s. In high school swim meets.

Hannah Final 3

In appearances. DEFINITELY in miles. In friendships and impacting lives.

525,600 minutes.  Thank you, Hannah Miller Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016, for giving us this year of your life.

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2016 HANNAH MILLER?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Just Keep Swimming

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.  For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Whitney Miller

NEXT.. Miss Western Nebraska 2017 Devin Owens

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Getting To Know You

This afternoon, I was honored to be interviewed by one of Westside’s incredible high school students, Emily Kutler, who is writing an essay on the sexualization of women in the media.  We discussed my experiences working in broadcast news, my observations of national media.. and almost naturally, my time with the Miss Nebraska Organization surfaced.  I explained to Emily how my hope lies within our titleholders and the women they inspire… that the key to ‘girl power’ is to do what we love.  To be confident.  To do good and share good in our world.  And if you feel good wearing lipstick and high heels while you dominate life, then so be it 🙂

There’s always more to the story, the ‘behind the scenes’ element that isn’t always shared.   The 34 women competing for two state titles this year aren’t just girls slapping on makeup and waving in parades, they are role models and leaders driven by 34 compelling stories.  For a teenager out west, her journey and mission include a medical diagnosis she refers to as the forgotten disability.

Cherokee official

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance

“I have Dyslexia and I know what it means to have it,” Cherokee told me recently.  “I know what accommodations need to be made and I know the benefits of it as well.”

Cherokee shared her personal story with me in 2015 and last year; as both Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen, she worked to spread awareness about Dyslexia and to support children and teens facing the same diagnosis.  That mission continued this year when she won the title of Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen.

Cherokee courtesy pageant

“I love my time as a local titleholder building up to state!”  said Cherokee.  “All of the girls are so kind and fun to be around.  These are the girls everyone loves.  So why wouldn’t I love them just as much?”

The character of the young women who compete is what initially drew Cherokee to Miss Nebraska in the first place.  She grew up idolizing the contestants who competed every summer and served all year long, and knew when she was eligible, she wanted to be just like them.  The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization provided Cherokee that opportunity.

Cherokee has visited schools, childrens’ groups and charity events, in addition to her studies at Alliance High School.  The 17-year old is an accomplished pianist and performer, winning the recent Alliance Stars of Tomorrow competition’s Overall Star of Stars Award and a $1000 cash scholarship.

The ‘Miss Fur Trade Days’ OT’ title has not only offered Cherokee more opportunities to perform, but experiences to hone in on communications and networking skills.

“I’ve become more well-spoken, made some great friends and developed a greater love for serving my community,” said Cherokee.

Get to know a ‘pageant girl’ like Cherokee.. and you’ll meet a young woman with goals, willing to work hard to make those dreams happen.  Throughout this journey, Dyslexia hasn’t been a curse Cherokee has tried to hide from.  Rather, she shares her story and advice for others, like how the Orton-Gillingham reading program benefited her.  This self described initiator, a devoted and methodical young woman, has a plan and vision that extends beyond a diagnosis.  She may be a ‘beauty queen’, but she, like all of her pageant sisters in the Class of 2017, are proving what that title really means.

These are people you want to know.. they are the women who are changing the world.

Cherokee final

“Whether or not I win the state pageant, I want to be remembered for changing the way people view Dyslexia,” said Cherokee.  “It isn’t just an excuse.  You can’t cure it.  You have to deal with it.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CHEROKEE?

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance!

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Girls And Dolls

CLICK HERE * 2016 * When I Grow Up

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen Program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Amanda Vogel by emailing maoteenchadron@gmail.com or calling 308-665-5595.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.  For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

NEXT.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Homegrown

When I competed for Miss Nebraska my first time, I remember making the long trek to North Platte and thinking ‘why North Platte? Why isn’t this pageant thing just in Omaha?’  I got my answer during those first trips west for Orientation and state competition in 2001.

This town LOVES Miss Nebraska and treats every, single titleholder like a queen.  North Platte has hosted the annual Miss Nebraska pageant for 33 years.  Local families ‘adopt’ titleholders during the week of state competition.  Businesses offer cash donations for scholarships and services for the winners.  The Little Sisters program, partnering little girls with the young women they idolize, has a waiting list every year.  And for many of those girls growing up in North Platte, the Miss Nebraska Pageant is an annual can’t-miss event.

One of those ‘little girls’ is now a teenager and competing on her own.

Miss Twin Rivers Outstanding Teen 2017 Katy Greene

“I want to be the same role model for kids that I looked up to when I was little,” Katy told me recently.  “Those big girls meant everything to me and I always knew I wanted to be just like them!”

In February, Katy earned that chance.

Katy crowning

She was crowned Miss Twin Rivers Outstanding Teen in her hometown of North Platte.

“Any opportunity I receive I take it and give it my all!” said Katy.  “I always want to put my best into everything that I do.”

One glance at her social media, and it’s clear this teenager does exactly that.

She’s already busy, an Academic letter winner and cheerleader at North Platte High School.  But Katy immediately committed to her community, knowing the extra significance of being a titleholder in Miss Nebraska’s home base.  She’s taken part in charity events, visited schools, and helped with fundraisers to help people and families throughout the area.

“I absolutely love being out in the community and spending time with others,” said Katy.  “The kids in particular are my favorite! They always have adorable things to say and nothing is better than seeing the joy on their faces, as well as the impact that a strong role model has on them.  I always take the time to talk to each child, adult or anyone else who I meet at appearances.  I feel that personally talking to people is what creates such good relationships.”

Katy also uses those moments to spread the word about her personal platform: ‘Unplug and Enjoy the Arts’.

“This generation of children spend a lot of time on technology and I feel that too much of this is going to, over time, take away from both their creative thinking and social skills,” said Katy.  “By minimizing their time on technology and substituting it for other activities, such as the arts, we can find that happy medium between the two.”

Katy with kids 2

“There isn’t a day that I don’t have some kind of activity,” said Katy.  “The pageant word is full of amazing opportunities and experiences.  It allows young women to become involved in their communities, build strong relationships with their sister queens, and to show others how young people CAN make a lasting impact.”

Katy with girls

Next weekend, Katy will be taking the same trip I did.. in reverse.  With the people of North Platte behind her, she’ll head east to Omaha to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Directors Heather Edwards and Kali Tripp have done a FANTASTIC job drumming up the same support from the community, businesses and little girls in our neck of the woods.. all to cheer on this new generation of young women. Katy Greene is ready and willing to be the girl that ties it all together.

Katy header

“During the state pageant I hope to make a lot of new friends,” said Katy.  “I want to go into my interview and out onto that stage and perform as best as I can and just show everyone what I have to offer.  Also, I really want to get my platform out there and share my ideas with others!  Beyond, I wish to be the role model that young children look up to and always give them the opportunity to see that dreams do come true!”

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Click here to follow Miss Twin Rivers Outstanding Teen 2017 Katy Greene on Facebook!

For more information about the Miss Twin Hills/Miss Sand Hills Outstanding Teen Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook!

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Alliance 2017 Kaelia Nelson

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sheridan Blanco

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

The Chameleon Queen

I present to you the most amazing picture in the history of photography.

Camilla

Let’s just say Camilla was a tad excited to see Miss Nebraska Aleah Peters and to try on her crown.  This was one of my favorite moments from the weekend, when nine of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants joined Aleah for an Omaha Princess Party as part of our #MissAmericaServes campaign.

sass

So. Much. Sass.  I LOVE IT.

This event raised an estimated $250, money that will be used to create care packages for open heart surgery patients through Abriendo Corazones, a mission founded by a medical team at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  (CLICK HERE to learn more!)  An incredible cause very close to my heart, made even better by seeing the looks in these little girls’ eyes as they got to meet ‘real life princesses’!

Who was your role model growing up?  My husband adored sports icons like Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan.  I was obsessed with celebrities, from the stars of Beverly Hills 90210 to New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men.  Children are sponges and find inspiration everywhere, often zoning in on the people and things they are interested in.

A young woman from small-town Nebraska is a chameleon of sorts when it comes to what ‘type’ of woman she is… athlete, graduate student, survivor AND ‘princess’.

Miss Kearney 2017 Jessica Shultis

“I wholeheartedly believe that if you are going to do something it is essential to give 110%,” Jessica told me recently.  “I have been involved in athletics my entire life.  I believe that greatness is truly constructed when no one is looking.  It is the work that you put in behind the scenes that pays off in the long run.”

This is Jessica’s first and only year competing in the Miss Nebraska Pageant.  At 24, she’s already filled her resume with accolades from Centura High School, college at both Doane and the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and now graduate school in Doane’s Masters program.  Jessica is a multi-sport athlete, qualifying for state competition as a high school student and competing as a collegiate basketball player while completing her undergrad degree.

“Basketball has always been a large part of my life,” said Jessica.  “I recall getting a Little Tikes basketball hoop for my fourth birthday and stomping around the house in my dad’s basketball shoes.  As a little girl I dreamt of being a professional basketball player.  I had the opportunity to play basketball at the youth, junior high, high school, elite and collegiate level.  I have been had the opportunity to coach high school basketball.  Through basketball, I learned the value of perseverance, positivity and teamwork.  As a little girl shooting hoops in my parents’ driveway, I never thought that one day the lessons I learned from basketball would help me overcome one of my greatest obstacles: cancer.”

Jessica describes a frustrating sophomore year of college, a time filled with countless doctors visits and tests.  Her diagnosis: her body is predisposed to form tumors, a condition Jessica says she will face for the rest of her life.

“Without basketball, I’m not sure I would have possessed the mental strength to persevere through the following year,” said Jessica.

crowning

So when crowned Miss Kearney last fall, Jessica decided to combine the two systems that helped her face her diagnosis: basketball and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  She calls her platform ‘Hoops For Hope: Supporting Children’s Miracle Network.’

Jessica flyer

“I am able to coach fundamental camps for today’s youth while raising funds to support an amazing cause,” said Jessica.  “All of the proceeds from the camps directly benefit the children and families at CMNH.”

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When she’s not hosting clinics in cities across Nebraska, Jessica is working on her Master’s degree, preparing to explore PhD programs in psychology. She also has two jobs;  as a mental health technician at Mental Health Crisis Center in Lincoln and as Cinderella, visiting classrooms and children throughout her community.

“I love to smile and laugh,” said Jessica.  “I truly believe that laughter is the best medicine. Moreover, I love to make other people smile because life is too short to be anything but happy and if I can be the reason someone smiles then I have done my job as a fellow human being.  My goal is to become Miss Nebraska and hopefully Miss America, to transform my statewide fundraiser into a nationwide fundraiser.  Both of these titles allow the women to reach countless people and make a significant difference in their lives, which is what I aspire to do.  The appearance opportunities also allow young women to gain confidence while promoting a cause that is important to them.  This helps young women grow and give back!”

Jessica smiling

“The Miss America Organization is so much more than a beauty pageant,” said Jessica.  “It is a scholarship program that encourages young women to achieve greatness both personally and academically.  I want to encourage young girls to step outside their comfort zone and compete.  I will be forever thankful for this experience.”

Maybe your little girl wants to be a princess, too.  Maybe she wants to be an Olympian.  Maybe she wants to cure cancer.

The thing is.. she doesn’t have to choose.  Little girls can grow up to be women who do it all.

Miss Kearney Jessica Shultis is proof of that.

Jessica final

“As I have grown up I have discovered who I am and what I want out of life,” said Jessica.  “My experiences have shaped the woman that I am today and I am extremely comfortable with myself.  In a society where media outlets constantly tell women ‘they aren’t good enough’, I believe it is essential to love yourself for who you are.”

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Click here to follow Miss Kearney 2017 Jessica Shultis on Facebook.

For more information about the Miss Kearney Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook. You can also email Directors Megan Goeke and Jenna Lukasiewitz at jenna@hellobeautifulbridal.com or call 308-7-8-0678.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Hope McCoy

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!