I have a book called ‘What’s In a Name?’ I picked it up at the Afternoon about 10 years ago, and literally got chills as I read my description.. ‘creativity’, ‘future in speaking or singing in front of people’, ‘like to feel appreciated.’ Yeah, I bought that book.
How much of who we become is based on our decisions and the influence around us, and how much is driven by the first gift our parents’ gave us.. our names?
Madonna once said: “I sometimes think I was born to live up to my name. How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna? I would either have ended up a nun or this.”
Kaelia Nelson was born with a mother and grandmother deeply invested in the Miss Nebraska Organization, so it seems fate that 20 years later, the girl with the name that means fortune, health and spirituality will compete for that title.
Miss Alliance 2017 Kaelia Nelson
“I have attended every Miss Nebraska Pageant since I was born,” Kaelia told me recently. “My mom was the director of the Miss Alliance Pageant for many years and would have the state titleholder come to our town and speak at schools. I was lucky enough to get to spend a lot of time with them.”
Kaelia admired each young woman through the years, in particular, Miss Nebraska 2001 Tina Foehlinger.
“I connected with her,” said Kaelia. “I looked up to her so much and realized I wanted to have the opportunity to have that impact on young girls and be a positive role model in their lives.”
So Kaelia set out to follow the same path; she served as Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2012, and represented Nebraska at the America’s Homecoming Queen competition in 2015. Just as Tina traveled the state with a message, Kaelia also used her titles to make a difference about a topic that is extremely personal.
“‘Stomping the Stigma: Creating Conversations about Mental Illness.’ I live with anxiety, depression, bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD),” said Kaelia. “People are afraid to step forward and admit to having a mental illness because society has made it such a taboo thing to the point where people are afraid to even talk about it.”
Kaelia has produced and distributed shirts, she’s spoken to classrooms all over her area about mental illness, and she’s caught the attention of local news agencies who have helped her spread her message.
With each visit, there are smiles and laughs, but there is also a serious story.
“On June 5, 2016, I tried to take my own life,” said Kaelia. “I felt extremely alone and hopeless in the battle against my own illnesses. Individuals are scared of what people may think of them and therefore, do not seek treatment. The consequences can be life threatening. I never want anyone else to feel alone or ashamed like I did, especially not for something they cannot control. This is why I have made it my mission to speak out and share my story in hopes that people will see and understand that it can happen to anyone and it definitely not something to be ashamed of.”
Kaelia shares the stats: that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with 90% of individuals facing mental illness. She shares what works: treatment, medication, and focusing on passions. For Kaelia, that’s dance.
“I have been dancing since I was three years old,” said Kaelia. “The feeling I get when I’m on stage dancing and hear the crowd cheering is something so amazing and thrilling for me.”
Kaelia dances at Nebraska Wesleyan University, where she’s a member of Delta Zeta- Beta Tau. She also works at CEDARS in Lincoln, a facility dedicated to helping children in crisis. She’s surrounded herself by support, and reciprocates by offering that same guidance and compassion whether she’s volunteering as Miss Alliance, or working and studying as simply, Kaelia.
“I used to be very shy and absolutely hated talking in front of people,” said Kaelia. “Due to bullying I faced throughout growing up I was very self-conscious and thought that I wasn’t as good as others because of things that made me ‘different’, but thanks to be involved in pageants I became very confident in myself and what I am capable of. I know exactly who I am and that my differences, along with everyone’s differences, are what truly make us all unique and special in our own ways. In fact, the world would be quite boring if we were all the same.”
So who is Kaelia? A self-motivated dynamo packed into a 5-foot frame. A determined student and volunteer from Hemingford, Nebraska inspired by the same young women she’ll be competing against in just a few short months at Miss Nebraska. A smart, confident woman admired by the same little girls she was once like not so long ago.
Back to Madonna. She’s now in her fourth decade as one of music’s biggest stars. She’s sold millions of records and performed around the world. She once said, “I have the same goal I’ve had ever since I was a girl. I want to rule the world.”
Each of us given a name. Perhaps we take from those book definitions the things we see within ourselves, or want to see. Another meaning behind the name Kaelia: victory. THIS Kaelia’s definition of that word comes from what she sees in every person she meets along life’s journey.
“I would absolutely love to win Miss Nebraska and get to represent this amazing state, but my main goal isn’t about the crown on my head,” said Kaelia. “Instead, the message I have to share and the people I get to meet because of it. It’s what you set your mind and heart to that will count in the long run.”
For more information about the Miss Alliance Pageant/Miss Harvest Moon Festival Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook. You can also email Director Riki Cornish Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or call 308-430-4355.
The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.
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!