Tag Archive | miss congeniality

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Often times when I encourage a young woman to try the Miss Nebraska Organization, I get the same questions. “Do I need a coach?” “Do I have to spend a bunch of money for a new dress and clothes?” “But what if I’ve never done a pageant before?”

Maybe I should just attach this photo to my ‘auto-reply’.

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October 2000. I received a flyer in the mail with information about the Miss Omaha Pageant. I had grown up IN AWE of the Miss America Pageant on TV; I even staged my own pageant with my friends for my 13th birthday party. I loved to sing on stage and welcomed the opportunity to do that one more time since my high school performance days were done.

That was the end of my pageant knowledge or background. I went to Mall of the Bluffs with my friend Shawna a few days before to buy my talent outfit off a clearance rack, and my friend Suzanne came to my dorm room at UNL to slap together some choreography for a song. I wore the swimsuit I actually swam in. My evening gown was the prom dress I had worn two years earlier in high school. I did my own hair and makeup… with the little makeup and hairspray I had. THANK GOODNESS my Little Sister and now dear friend Kelsey was ADORABLE and clearly stole the show!

God, it turns out, has a plan for everything.. and for whatever reason told those six judges at Westside High School that I would be a good representative of Douglas County; I won a local title and a ticket to compete at the 2001 Miss Nebraska Pageant. I had NO CLUE what I was doing.

Thankfully, this program past and present is made up of incredible former titleholders who are happy to help guide the ‘newbies’ and share their insight into this wonderful, and at times, overwhelming world. Within a few weeks, I was introduced to Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith.

Becky Smith

Becky was an Omaha-area girl like me, crowned Miss Nebraska at just 20 years old. By the time I became Miss Douglas County in 2001, Becky had returned to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to pursue Fine Arts degree in Dance. Word must have spread that the newest member of the Miss Omaha family was a HOT MESS..

Miss Congeniality

.. because within a few weeks, I had an invitation to meet with Becky at Chi Omega, right next door to my dorm on UNL’s campus. She welcomed me to her sorority house with a warm smile and engaging personality, giggling with and not at me as she showed me how to walk in heels and not clomp around on stage like a hippo meandering through the savannah. (Really, guys, it was BAD.) She was just SO COOL, and made ME feel cool because I got to be around her.

Becky was a natural teacher, just one year later opening The Dance Factory in Miss Nebraska’s home base of North Platte. Her studio became a staple in town, so popular over the years, that Becky later opened a second location in Ogallala. I would argue one of the biggest reasons to enroll a child here, would be so they can work with Becky herself.

Becky official

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Yes, Becky looks EXACTLY THE SAME as she did 18 years ago. Same sparkle in her smile, same passion for dance, same energy for life and everyone around her. People turn to Becky because they want to BE like Becky.

Her daughter, Gabriella, is no different.. and she’s ready to follow in her mom’s footsteps.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I have been watching pageants for years and always wanted to try,” Gabriella told me recently. “My goal is to feel successful after everything is over. I want to feel that I did a great job and made an impact.”

Gabriella, a 15-year old student at North Platte High School, was crowned Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen last fall.

Gabriella dance

She, too, is a gifted dancer, practicing her craft at home and at The Dance Factory from a very early age. As her mom continued to volunteer with the Miss Nebraska Organization over the years, Gabriella saw an opportunity to both perform and to serve.

“Community service [is my favorite part]. I love visiting kids and helping others,” said Gabriella. “It makes me so happy to meet all of them and teach them about my platform, ‘Someone Is Your Type’. It’s all about blood donation so no matter your race, your blood type or your gender, you can donate blood that will save someone’s life. To promote my platform, I visit kids and educate them about blood donation and the importance of giving.”

 

 

Gabriella, who wants to someday be an anesthesiologist, notes her gratitude to be able to share a message she is passionate about. She’s also grateful for and aware of the connections she’s making, whether it be through dance, school, or with other teens from across the state who will compete to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“My favorite moment has been meeting all of the girls in the competition,” said Gabriella. “It’s so great to meet people who are just as motivated as you and who make you feel encouraged to persevere.”

Ultimately, those are the qualities that drive Gabriella Wagner. Even at 15, she is a young woman who values success and pushes for it in every aspect of her life. When asked about her female role models, she references Taylor Swift and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Morgan Holen, noting how they’ve inspired her by taking advantages of opportunities as young women with innovation, creativity and passion.

“You can do so many things, but if you don’t feel successful after completing them, you didn’t do it right,” said Gabriella. “Success to me means that you met your personal goals and you feel good about doing so.”

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This photo shows Gabriella with her mom, Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith Wagner, and Morgan Holen with her mom, Miss Nebraska 1988 Jodi Miller Holen. Becky, Morgan and Jodi are all INCREDIBLY inspiring women to me. They are hard working. They are caring and kind. They are dynamic. They endlessly give of themselves. They are friends to everyone they meet.

Gabriella hopes to be just like them.. for reasons that extend far beyond a crown.

“I come from a pageant involved family and I really enjoy being a part of it,” said Gabriella. “However, I chose this path because I love it and I want to make a difference in the world.”

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

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To follow Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner on Facebook, click here.

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Baird

NEXT.. Miss Lincoln Jessica Shultis

The Sisterhood Is Real

As long as I can remember, I’ve had very vivid dreams. I swear I dreamt of my husband before we met, and I fully admit that I am less than pleasant with him if I have a nightmare about him falling for another woman. I dream about flying quite a bit.. and dreams about falling, especially careening off the Missouri River bridge, FREAK ME OUT.

This week, I had a dream about my pal, Alex Bisson. So random – I haven’t seen Alex since last summer! But that’s how my whackadoodle brain works sometimes.

I dreamt I was supposed to be emceeing a big awards ceremony. Everyone was dressed up.. and I was in sweatpants and a t-shirt. Then, to make matters worse, I was petting dogs at the animal exhibit (because why wouldn’t there be an animal exhibit at a high-profile awards ceremony?) and a goat threw up all over me. WHAT TO DO? I suddenly remembered that across the high school (because that’s suddenly where the event was held) there might have been a spare set of clothes in the KETV wardrobe closet (which also happened to be at said high school). I sprinted there as fast as I could, made it to the closet, and nearly burst into tears when I realized there was NOTHING that would work. I opened the door…. and there stood Alex, saying “I can help!” She magically found me one of her anchoring outfits, helped me change, and I rushed back to the event where I joined Rob and elegantly shared with the audience how I was late because a goat threw up on me. Everyone had a nice laugh and we moved on – the event was a success and no one remembered me being late or looking like a dirty hamper.

WHAT. IN. ALL. THE. HECK.

Plankton in Brain

I seriously wonder sometimes what is going on in my hairspray infused skull. The next morning though, the overwhelming feeling I woke up with was peace and gratitude for Alex, that she was there for me to help.

Alex and I became friends when she began working at KETV as a reporter, then the First News Anchor. I was asked a question frequently in my time at KETV: do you get along with the other women? I think there was an assumption that we were competitors; we were all vying for air time, the same prime time spots, and therefore, we must have all had secret contempt for each other. SO FAR FROM THE TRUTH.

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This photo was taken in October at Adrian Whitsett’s wedding in Florida. My caption with this on Facebook and Twitter: my heart is happy. The women shown here all worked for KETV at some point (two still do!) We were not competitors; we were teammates. We turned to each other for advice and support. We cheered each other on when we found success. We shared clothes, makeup, hairspray (A LOT of hairspray), and insight. In a way, we were very much sisters, connections that we confirmed were still strong during this wonderful trip. Because we were all facing similar challenges and comparable journeys, we understood one another in ways others could not.

I see the same love and support in another sisterhood: the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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Yes, each of these women wants, or has worked for, the same thing: the title of Miss Nebraska. But the environment surrounding them is not Miss Congeniality brawling, gossip-mongering, or vindictive game-playing. They form friendships that span years. They learn how to support like-minded women, an attribute that will serve them throughout their lives. And when they feel alone, juggling service, school, family and work… they reach out to the sisters who can empathize because they are doing it, too.

#TheSisterhoodIsReal

That phrase has become a universal message in recent weeks, one of the toughest times the Miss America Organization has faced in decades. Our program has been in national headlines, not for the goodwill we inspire, the opportunities we offer or the relationships we nurture, but for an email scandal and ensuing criticism of our organization as a whole.

Every time I see a tweet or post from someone questioning why we have beauty pageants in 2018, or why we parade around young women in swimsuits like a meat market… I fight the urge to reply. I want to write about the scholarships we offer thousands of young women every year. I want to write about the networking opportunities this program provides, the lessons in confidence, public speaking and presence, personal composure and more. I want to share my own experiences that only happened because I was once a Miss Nebraska local titleholder. I want to tell those critics about our success stories: the doctors, award-winning journalists, philanthropists, business owners, teachers, and more who all gained incomparable life skills and attributes because of this program.

What is wrong with BEAUTY? What is wrong with a woman feeling beautiful, and promoting beauty on the INSIDE as well as out?

I get the swimsuit argument; truly, I do. But I ask critics to look beyond their initial assessment: we live in a world of obesity, indulgence, heart disease, inactivity, high cholesterol… and let’s be frank, when you know you are going to be on stage in a swimsuit, you WORK HARD. You hit the gym, you eat clean, you BECOME HEALTHIER. We are hopefully building the foundation of health in these women that will last years beyond their time competing for a crown. More so, our program is evolving; we see women of varying shapes and sizes from the local to national level. Health is not defined as ‘skinny’; we see muscle, positive lifestyles, CONFIDENCE. In my years attending the Miss Nebraska Pageant, I have left not feeling ashamed for the women who walk that stage, but wanting to BE BETTER myself, and wanting to work to be the healthiest and most confident I can be.

I don’t post any of this when I see those negative remarks…. because HATERS GONNA HATE. There will ALWAYS be negative assumptions and unfounded opinions about our program. They don’t want to listen, and I would argue, many haven’t taken the time to learn more about what Miss Nebraska and the Miss America Organization stand for TODAY.

SERVICE. SUCCESS. SCHOLARSHIP. STYLE.

To those who WILL listen, we will show the world the value of this program through our titleholders’ stories. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to join me over the next few months as I introduce you to the women competing for the titles of Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. They are scholars, public servants, artists. They are ART, they are inspiring, they are ambassadors of goodwill. They are proof of what our organization truly stands for; not objectifying women, but empowering them.

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I’ve written before about all of the positives I gained from being a local titleholder in this program. Cash scholarships. Speaking skills and confidence. Lessons in networking and learning from criticism. Learning how to take care of myself. Getting to sing in front of thousands of people. Traveling across the country. And learning the importance of supporting other women; in pageants, career and life, we are only competing with ourselves, not each other.

Haters, go ahead and hate. #TheSisterhoodIsReal. Miss America is relevant and empowering. This organization, much like my time at KETV, helped instill in me that we as women are better when we support each other and surround ourselves with others who are pushing to be the best versions of themselves.

Alex, my fellow anchor at KETV, is also a Miss America alum. She’s an NCAA record-holder in swimming, a goosebumps-inspiring singer, one hell of a softball player, a majestic woman and a beautiful human being.

We believe in this sisterhood… and in helping a sister out when goats attack. Alex, thanks for the outfit.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter, CLICK HERE to follow on Facebook, CLICK HERE to follow on Instagram.

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COMING UP.. Tristen Wecker, Miss Fur Trade Days 2018

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014 through 2017 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

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Like what you’re reading? Consider supporting Anchor’s Away! Email brandipetersenomaha@gmail.com for information on advertising.

The Perfect 10

I have this little thing I do when I got to a pageant. I keep score. It’s kinda like keeping book at a baseball game, except I keep my own numbers for each phase of competition as if I were on the judging panel myself.

Last month, for the first time I gave a contestant a perfect 10 in every, single, category.

Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

Charismatic. Goosebumps. Articulate. OUTSTANDING.

Sticking with the baseball theme, I’m stepping up to the plate and calling the homerun now: Carsyn Long will be your next Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.

This girl was sensational from start to finish. Her poise and carriage on stage were what you hope to see in every young woman in America. She had the performance of her life, singing a rendition of ‘Tomorrow’ from the musical Annie. In a display of fitness, no ‘girlie’ pushups from Carsyn; she dipped all the way to the ground and back up, displaying the hard work and strength she’d built up pursuing a healthy lifestyle. And what I loved most: Graciousness. Humility. Gratitude. When it comes to pageants, so often a woman’s true character is revealed in how they are thought of by others. In Carsyn’s case, here’s a sample:

Carsyn Long congratulations on becoming Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017. You make an excellent Queen. I remember meeting you at crowns and gowns and thinking you were such a nice and beautiful girl. You have an amazing personality so there’s no wonder the judges adored you, and they will at nationals too! I wish you all the best on your year! If you ever need “a real queen to fix your crown” or gown, just know that I’m behind you knowing you’ll have no problem being the best you can be to represent our state! – Alexandria Warneke, Miss York County’s Outstanding Teen 2017

You did it!! Congrats honey bear!! With your fun loving attitude and the love and direction God has given you, you will do great things!!! You enjoy your year babe! Make the difference I know you can make!!! If you ever need something, Hit Me Up girl!!! Wishing you also safe travels from place to place!! Love ya girl!!! – Haylee Umble, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017

To Carsyn Long, our new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. Congratulations — you really deserved that crown! You truly owned that stage, and I can’t wait to see you at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant. Your platform is Real Queens Fix Each Other’s Crowns, and I think we can all say that you are truly a ‘real queen.’ Warmest regards from your fellow titleholder — I know that you’re going to be an amazing representative for Nebraska. #mneoteen – Jamie Chen, Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017

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What an absolutely phenomenal group of young women. The Class of 2017 was truly a showcase of intelligence, talent, sisterhood and service. Following in Anchor’s Away form, here are MY 2017 MNOT awards, based on that ever important secret score sheet.

The ‘Holy Crap! How old are you?!?’ Awards

Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen Jamie Chen was barely old enough to compete in this year’s state pageant, but her maturity and exceptional talent blew me away. Jamie was asked to perform piano years ago at the Miss Nebraska Pageant, so I knew she had a gift. I wasn’t expecting the musical masterpiece and artistry she displayed for us, especially at such a young age. Jamie was then asked on stage about her recent award working on a real-life challenge involving STEM studies, and she not only explained the project but how opportunities like it allow students to explore how subjects like math and science can be applied outside of a classroom. Jamie was simply magnificent..

TWU Jamie and dad

..and I’d argue no one was prouder than her mom and dad. I cannot wait to see more of this young lady in our programs!

As a public speaker and writer, I always look forward to the on stage questions, and usually that’s the make or break moment for me regarding a contestant. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Haylee Umble was tops for me after her moment on stage, fielding a question about transgender issues in public schools. Guys, these questions are HARD. The teens who competed in this year’s event were 13-17 years old, responding to issues from date rape to President Trump’s policies and more. Haylee articulately answered the question, offering both her personal views as a Christian and her feelings about what public policy should include. She accomplished the golden unicorn of controversial issues: providing her own, honest feelings and yet still offering a respectful, researched and thought out response. I challenge you to find an adult who can do that.

TWU Haylee Umble

Haylee won the People’s Choice Award and tied for Miss Congeniality, voted on by her fellow MNOT sisters.

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Best Dressed Awards

I stress… this isn’t about who paid the most money for their gown. When I won Miss Douglas County, I wore my high school prom dress I got for $89 at the mall. Still… OH, HOW I LOVE SEEING ALL THE GOWNS! Or as my BFF Camilla would say, ‘SO MANY BOO-TIFUL DWESSES!’

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As always, I LOVED seeing such variety in color and styles at this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant.

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I definitely had a gasping moment when Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen Emily Lenser walked out on stage (seen above on the far right in purple.) Her Ritzee Originals gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique was GLORIOUS!

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I also loved Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen Makenzie Davies canary yellow gown, a Sherri Hill from the Winning Crown Dress Boutique. Yellow is a TOUGH color to pull off, but Makenzie made a perfect choice, and radiated happiness and sunshine on stage.

Sheridan Hirschfelds

Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen Sheridan Blanco wore one of the most memorable gowns of the night, a Jovani from Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe. It was SO DIFFERENT than what anyone else had, or what we had ever seen before, and it was a perfect fit for this wonderful young lady!

Whitney Hirschfelds

My showstopper of the night… Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Whitney Miller and her custom Rachel Allen gown from Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe. Hirschfeld’s owner Abbie Pack took the gown and hand-beaded the lining with a dazzling pop of pink. THIS. WAS. AMAZING.

Finally, not competing but equally as dazzling, was Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2013 Samantha Washington, the current Miss Nebraska Teen USA.

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Samantha just has that IT factor, and was a supermodel in this amazing bling-meets-pants Vienna Prom combo from Black Swan Dress Boutique. LOVE!

The Hostess with the Mostest Awards

Wow. Pretty much broke every grammar rule in the book with this one.

Nicole

Miss America’s Outstanding teen Nicole Jia was a special guest and host for this year’s state pageant, and she was a JOY. It’s easy to see why and how this young woman was named Miss America’s Outstanding Teen; she is articulate, funny, and incredibly warm and caring to everyone around her.

I was especially touched by this moment: Nicole, not only congratulating our new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, but connecting with her in a way only a select few can, because they are the girls who’ve accomplished this incredible feat. Nicole attends school and travels to another state and crowning nearly EVERY WEEKEND, and we are so blessed and grateful she chose Nebraska!

Helping Nicole throughout the night and ensuring the production was nearly flawless was a woman very familiar to so much of our Miss Nebraska and MNOT family..

TWU Alyssa and Jessica

Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell volunteered her time to direct the pageant from backstage. This former MNOT contestant and Top 12 semi-finalist at Miss America dedicated her whole day to rehearsals and worked in the dark behind the scenes to put the best light possible on this year’s 18 contestants. She is one of the most giving, genuine people I have ever met, qualities she continues to prove through her willingness to give back to our programs.

We use the word OUTSTANDING for a reason. These young women are everything you hope your daughters are as they grow up. They remind those of us who are older of the energy, light, and beauty we all still have inside us. They represent the very best our state has to offer now and in the future.

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Here’s proof. Miss Nebraska 2011 Kayla Jacox, who was also Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2007. Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters, a Top 5 finalist at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. Rachel Daly, the second Executive Director of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization, who along with Peggy Fox and Kayla, formed the foundation of a new legacy and countless opportunities for future Miss Nebraska’s. And me, just a gal incredibly inspired by this year’s 18 contestants, the friends at my side, and the new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long.

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Sweet girl, we are so, so proud of you and cannot WAIT to watch you represent all of Nebraska’s teenagers on America’s stage. You are truly OUTSTANDING.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 2017 MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN AWARD WINNERS!

Carsyn Long, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen: Overall Awards for Interview, Talent and Evening Gown/On Stage Question

1st Runner Up: Jamie Chen (also Overall Scholastic Achievement Award)

2nd Runner Up: Cherokee Purviance (also Spirit Award, tie for Miss Congeniality)

3rd Runner Up: Alex Nervig

4th Runner Up: Emily Lenser

Top 8 Semi-finalists: Alexandria Warneke (also 2nd Place Community Service Award), Whitney MillerNaomi Turner

Additional honors: Brianna Little, Overall Community Service Award; Katy Greene, Non-Finalist Talent Award; Phoenix Stanford, Non-Finalist Interview Award & Non-Finalist Evening Gown/On Stage Question Award

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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 2017 Devin Owens

NEXT.. Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman

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!

 

Best Friends Forever

How many people, when they hear the word ‘pageant’, think of this?

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Tears through the confetti.  A cat fight over the tiara.

It’s kind of like when people ask me if news is really like this:

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Yes, Rob has many leatherbound books.  NO, we did not brawl with the other stations on the streets of Omaha.  And despite all of the pageants I have watched over the years, I have yet to see a cage match over a crown and sash.  Repeatedly, though, I DO see this:

Competitors who become best friends. Fellow contestants who end up being bridesmaids in each others’ weddings.  Women who lift each other up as they prepare to represent their state.. and continue to reach out long after their pageant days are done.

“The purpose of this competition is to become the best version of yourself. That means preparing in a healthy way. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. That includes lifting each other up and supporting one another.”

That was the message Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters shared with the Class of 2017 Saturday night, with Miss South Dakota 2016 Julia Olson sitting at her side.  It’s also one of the reasons a contender for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen title signed up to compete in the first place.

Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway

“Last year, my friend and fellow student was crowned at our local pageant,” Sydny told me.  “After seeing someone I actually know compete and win, I got the idea that I wanted to do a pageant.  I mentioned this to another one of my friends and we started competing last year.”

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Sydny’s venture into something new also became a test of persistence; she competed five times before winning the title of Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen in October.

“It was the best feeling ever,” said Sydny.  “I think that people need to know that doing pageants actually has the ability to bring teens and young adults out of their shells.  It improves a girl’s body image and many other things.  It’s a great learning opportunity.”

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This, from a young woman who has taken advantage of opportunities presented to her throughout her life.  A junior at Gering High School, she’s active on the Poms (dance) team and has danced for Tabor Dance Academy since the age of 3.  A German student traveling to Europe in June, who is also working to become a certified Emergency Medical Responder in her community. Sydny is also a member of the Class B State Champion Journalism staff and has written for the Gering Courier.  Simply put, Sydny describes herself as ‘committed’.

“I am in a lot of things, and now that I was crowned, my life is even more busy,” said Sydny.  “I have been able to find a balance so that I don’t have to stop doing something that I love.”

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In addition, Sydny competes for the speech team, sharing a persuasive oratory on seatbelt laws in Nebraska.  Driving safety is a message she’s extremely passionate about, and her personal platform as Miss Alliance’s OT.

“Last year, my cousin was in a horrible car accident, which caused him to have an acute brain injury and he almost did not survive,” said Sydny.  “If he were to have been wearing a seatbelt, it was likely he wouldn’t have had to suffer the severe brain injury.  I want to put the facts out there that anybody can get in a car accident, but there are also precautions you can take in order to save yourself.  Even if you aren’t driving, you should be practicing the right safety.”

Sydny is sharing that message across her community, as well as advocating for Children’s Miracle Network, the community partner to the Miss America Organization and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.

In the short few months since her crowning, Sydny has taken part in numerous events throughout her community.  She’s volunteered to paint faces, collect Christmas gifts, host Halloween celebrations, and collect donations that go directly to patients at local hospitals, like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  She is a constant advocate for service, and hopes to share more about that journey when she competes for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April.

“My favorite part of the actual competition itself is the interview portion,” said Sydny.  “Going into a room with five strangers and just telling them about my life is kind of exciting.  I used to be really shy before trying out pageants, and now I am able to talk to anybody.  I believe I owe that to all the interview and onstage questions in pageants.”

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And Sydny Ridgeway is ready to show the judges she is a cheerful, independent, outstanding young woman with or without a title.

“Even if I am in a bad mood or anything where I shouldn’t be laughing, I am.  I am always smiling or laughing; it makes me really happy,” said Sydny.  “My goal for the state pageant is to just perform the best I can and be myself.  Even if I don’t even place in the top, I want to make more friends and just have a great time.”

MORE friendships… in addition to this:

Teenagers from across Nebraska who will meet on stage, side by side with their classmates, contestants, SISTERS, who represent the best, the brightest, the kindest in our state.  Young women just like Sydny Ridgeway.

“I’ve made so many great friends that I probably wouldn’t have if I wouldn’t have done pageants,” said Sydny.  “That has really made my life better.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway!

CLICK HERE for more information about the Miss Alliance/Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, or email Director Melinda Cullan at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

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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.. Special Feature: Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

NEXT.. Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Katie Harris

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!

Brilliance

BRILLIANCE (n)

1. great brightness; luster
2. excellence or distinction; conspicuous talent, mental ability, etc.
3. splendor, elegance, or magnificence:

EXAMPLES OF BRILLIANCE:

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This week at work, my friend Kim asked me if I watched Miss Universe.  With that, she unknowingly invited me to share my original oratory for why I LOVE pageantry, and in particularly, the Miss Nebraska Organization.

 1. INSPIRATION. These women are clear evidence of how beautiful our bodies can be when we exercise, eat right and take care of ourselves.  Every single time I feel that fire within myself rekindling to JUST DO IT, looking like that IS POSSIBLE with focus and hard work.

2. RADIANCE.  I am a proud, strong, confidant woman.  I can be all of those things and still LOVE to dress up and feel like a queen.  The gowns, the glitz, and regarding Miss America, the beauty and art behind each talent performed on stage.. I LOVE IT.  Being a woman is a beautiful thing; focusing on that beauty and allowing each woman is radiate is spectacular.

3.  CONFIRMATION.  Evidence of the intelligence, articulation and confidence so many of these women possess in their interviews on stage and off.  Women at Miss Nebraska last year were asked questions on issues ranging from prison overcrowding, to education funding, to social media challenges.  These are real issues we as a society face, and in front of hundreds (and sometimes, millions of people on live TV), these women address each topic and prove time and time again you can look amazing, and FEEL fantastic, AND be BRILLIANT.

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And with that… the time has come for Year 4 of There She Is, my annual series profiling each of the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants.

This program is RELEVANT, providing countless opportunities for young women in our state to speak, perform and to raise money for their futures beyond pageantry.  Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson went on to perform the National Anthem for tens of thousands at the College World Series and is currently pursuing a recording career.  Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters has visited dozens of schools crisscrossing Nebraska to speak to children about cyberbullying and what they can do both before and after it happens.  Both she and Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell topped $20,000 in cash scholarships during their time competing for Miss Nebraska and then Miss America, money that helped both pay for their college educations.

One of the other things I have come to cherish about this program is the camaraderie it creates between the women who compete, and the women who work behind the scenes to make it happen.  I look forward to Miss Nebraska events all year long not only for the glitz and glamour, but to be surrounded by women who work everyday to ‘have it all’.  Our goals are so similar; to give to our families while serving others, to make sure we are hitting the gym and eating right despite nonstop schedules, to reach the top of our career fields the right way, through hard work, respect and kindness.

“Someone else’s strengths are not my weaknesses.”  

–Miss Pennsylvania 2014 Amanda Smith

We live in a competitive world, folks; I can’t tell you how many times people seemed surprised when I told them Melissa Fry was one of my dearest friends at KETV and that Julie Cornell was a leader and mentor to all of us.  Much like in the pageant world, I think people assume there’s an Anchorman/Miss Congeniality mentality where women are constantly fighting with each other to be the It Girl.  Programs like Miss Nebraska reinforce a culture of unity and support between women.  Is it competitive?  For sure.  But one of our constant goals is to teach women to compete with themselves and not others.  To focus on defeating procrastination, weakness, distractions, NOT other women.  To be the best THEY can be, and allowing others to inspire, not deflate.  Those lessons translate far beyond pageantry in teaching young women how to support each other, creating more positive work environments, support networks and friendships.  To better handle challenges and disappointments, to better foster team work and productivity.  I daresay these are intangible qualities that every employer in America prizes in their staff.

Happy February; the countdown has officially begun.  To this weekend’s Crowns and Gowns event in North Platte and to the final weeks and months leading up to the competitions that will determine the next two women to represent Nebraska in this storied organization.

If I can’t convince you to become a Pageant Junkie like me (shout out to the talented Carrie Lakey!), I ask you this.. to please support the women who take part.  They are talented.  They are beautiful inside and out.  They are intelligent and well spoken.

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Photo courtesy Kali Tripp

They are BRILLIANCE defined.

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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

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

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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!

Good Work

So I’ve mentioned I want to write a book..

So very many of the stories I’ve covered are inspiring, emotional and powerful… often because they reflect something incredibly positive, born out of something terrible and tragic.

January 5, 2011.  I was 8 months pregnant, sluggish and FOREVER late.  That day I was running behind as usual, hoping to stop at Subway on my way to work.  I was at the stoplight at 144th and Q and one, then two, then three Omaha Police cruisers flew past me with lights and sirens blaring.  I called the KETV assignment desk to let them know something was going on, and my managing editor, Jim Reding, responded, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a shooting at Millard South, we need you here right away.’

I immediately turned my car around and sped to KETV as quickly as I could.  Within minutes, I was on the anchor desk and on air, sharing what we knew with our viewers. A young man had walked into the front office and opened fire, shooting two principals.  One of them was dead, another was critically hurt.  The teenager drove a few miles away, then shot and killed himself.

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Millard South student Kyler Erickson heard and saw it all.  He hid in a bathroom, called 911, and waited.  No one should be witness to a nightmare like this; Kyler was as a teenager.  Still, he refused to let that horror take him down, despite the nightmares and grief that followed.  With therapy and sheer inner strength, Kyler healed emotionally and grew physically, attending the University of Nebraska Omaha to play Division 1 Basketball.  He began to share his story, meeting with everyone from veterans suffering from PTSD to other students.  This year, Kyler was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Good Works Team, recognized at the 2016 Final Four tournament, one of only five student athletes nationwide.  This dude is simply AWESOME.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Kyler’s incredible journey from KETV’s Matt Lothrop.

Kyler’s loved ones are among those most proud of this young man, including his longtime friends from Millard South…

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..friends who were there in full force at Kyler’s final game with UNO.  The girl in the beige and black sweater is LaRissa McKean.

“He’s so inspiring,” LaRissa told me recently.  She too was at Millard South that day, in AP Economics class.  And much like her friend Kyler, she’s devoted much of her time and focus on simply trying to make the world a better place.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The best compliment I received was from a sorority sister.  She anonymously left me a note saying ‘you make people feel good about themselves,'” said LaRissa.  “That statement is what motivates me daily to make an impact on someone’s life.”

I first met LaRissa last summer at the Miss Nebraska Pageant; she left her mark on most, if not all of the audience and her fellow contestants.  This girl is SHEER JOY.. she lights up a room with her smile and personality, and radiates energy and glee the second she steps on stage. LaRissa was also voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants.

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That beautiful smile shows LaRissa’s inner spirit… but so does THIS.

Hilarious.  Carefree.  So many women in pageants, business and LIFE are afraid to let their guard down, so afraid of what people will think about them.  LaRissa knows who she is and OWNS it.  You can just tell she LOVES life, and everyone around her smiles and lets THEIR guard down because of it.

LaRissa will compete at Miss Nebraska again this year as Miss Gering 2016.  Her personal platform of service is called ‘Feel The Difference: Empowerment Through Communication.’

“[It’s] based on Maya Angelou’s quote, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’  I will leave a legacy where I make people feel inspired and willing to take the act of listening through conversation to better the lives around them.”

LaRissa has all kinds of opportunities to communicate.. the girl is surrounded by people CONSTANTLY.  A University of Kansas graduate specialized in Accounting and Human Resources, LaRissa currently works three jobs; she’s a Head Instructor of summer high school/college dance camps with Universal Dance Association, she’s a full-time educator with Lululemon, and she’s a substitute paraprofessional in the district where she grew up, Millard Public Schools.  She volunteers every week with local 4th graders, helping them catch up on homework and answering questions.  LaRissa also takes part frequently at charity events, doing what she can to help as Miss Gering.

THEN.. there’s dance, a constant in LaRissa’s life for many years.

“I have judged the State Dance Competition for the last three years along with other local high school competitions and college regional competitions for the NAIA Nationals,” said LaRissa, who learned at and competed with Kitty Lee Dance, a place she still practices and volunteers.  “One of my biggest role models was Miss Kitty.  Not only did she instill my love for dance, she taught me to be stronger and never think you can’t improve.  She raised me in the studio and I can’t thank her enough for whacking my leg with a ruler to get my knees straight.  She was the first one to correct me in every dance class but also the first to congratulate me on a performance well done.  Even with her gone, I know she is watching every class and performance, smiling that her passion lives inside of me.”

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Talent is LaRissa’s favorite part of the Miss Nebraska Pageant; she plans to combine her love of comedy and dance to present a musical theater piece with ‘an element of surprise’ this year.

“Not only does [talent] set our system apart from others, it is truly beautiful to see all the contestants show their art to the world,” said LaRissa.  “I love watching the contestants light up the floor with their interests and show a piece of themselves to everyone.  The emotion that can be portrayed in 90 seconds gives me goosebumps and really shows the uniqueness of every competitor.”

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That’s one of the things LaRissa hopes to share with pageant naysayers.. to learn more about the women who take part before forming an opinion.

“I remember going to pageants as a young girl and telling my mom I couldn’t wait to be as pretty or as talented as the women that compete for Miss Nebraska,” said LaRissa.  “The majority of people who compete are varsity athletes in their schools, Honor Roll recipients, and leaders in their community.  They are some of the most respected people and receive more credit for being mentors to people all across the nation.”

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LaRissa adds that every woman she knows who’s taken part in this system has made a difference in someone’s life.. and that she became a leader because of it.  She describes the title of Miss Nebraska as a job she’s applying for that could give her a year of memories she can only imagine.  BUT.. in the swirl of glamour and costumes and performances, LaRissa hasn’t lost focus of her values and priorities; her family, including grandparents Pampy and Nana who she spends several hours with every week.  Education, through both mentoring students and planning ahead to obtain a Masters Degree.  Love, and her love of people.. simply spending time with those who matter most, friends like Kyler Erickson.

No one would have faulted Kyler for never talking about that day again, for withdrawing from everything to process what happened, for moving thousands of miles away from Omaha to escape everything and start fresh.  Instead, this guy confronted his demons, defeated them, then stayed and shared his journey to help others still battling.  LaRissa McKean’s story doesn’t stem from tragedy and horror but is inspiring nonetheless.. a young woman using her gifts and positive attitude to simply do good work in our world.

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Photo courtesy  Loren C Winkler Images

“At the end of the day, I look in the mirror, washing off my makeup and think it would be amazing to be Miss Nebraska 2016, but I would rather be known as LaRissa who became Miss Nebraska because of the person I am,” said LaRissa.  “I’m an honest person, who gives my opinion respectively.  I won’t change my values or morals because of a title, I will continue to grow and live a life I treasure.  At the end of the day, I will still be LaRissa McKean forever.”

I think they call this perspective.  Maybe it’s what she saw Kyler go through.  Maybe it’s been the lesser challenges she, like the rest of us, go through.  No matter where the drive comes from.. imagine what life could be like if we all strived to do good work to help each other, and in turn, found peace and joy within ourselves.

Kyler Erickson is available to speak at events; CLICK HERE for details and to learn more about his story.

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Click on each link below to follow Miss Gering 2016 LaRissa McKean

on FACEBOOK and on INSTAGRAM.  You an also email LaRissa for appearances and events at larissamckean@gmail.com.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LaRISSA?

2015 * Sleepless Beauty

For more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Heather Hayes by phone at 307-340-0601, or by email at Heather.Hayes@chartercom.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashlynn Haun!

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shaniah Freeseman!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Fighting For Hope

Once in awhile here at KETV, we share a story that really strikes a chord with our viewers.. and with us.  Earlier this month, Julie Cornell spoke with Ralston Superintendent Dr. Mark Adler about the death of his son, Reid.  The 15-year old was described as positive, friendly, a joy to be around both for his friends and his parents and sisters.

 January 7th, Reid took his own life. His parents learned later Reid had been bullied and threatened for months.

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This story rattled me.  I’m a mother; I cannot even bear the thought of anything happening to my children.  Dr. Adler told Julie he and his wife had an indication Reid was unhappy and immediately got him help.. he is the superintendent of a major school district, sees students and knows what to watch for.. and there was no way to see this coming.  I strongly encourage ALL parents, or anyone who works with children, to click here and watch Julie’s story on KETV.

I simply cannot imagine what the Adlers are going through, and yet they have found strength to share what happened to their son to try and help other students.  They’re fighting for Reid to prevent other kids from bullying and BEING bullied.

So is Miss Omaha 2016 Aleah Peters.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Aleah grew up in Millard just a few miles away from the Adlers.  Just like in Reid’s pictures, her photos show constant smiles while surrounded by friends.  Happiness.

Aleah told me a few years ago how much that smile hid when she was a teenager.

“When I was in high school I was bullied by a group of girls,” Aleah told me in 2014. “I feared going to school, attending sporting events or even answering my phone.” (Click here to read my entire interview with Aleah.)

Now, Aleah has made it a personal mission to prevent bullying, specifically cyberbullying.  She calls her platform ‘Cyberbullying Prevention: Make Kindness Viral.’

CAMPAIGN

“I have had the opportunity to work with multiple schools in the Omaha metro area and even conduct a critical analysis on the evolution of cyberbullying,” Aleah told me recently.  “I understand how it feels to be alone.  I can relate to people who have experienced or are experiencing this pain.  Victims of cyberbullying usually have some type of psychological vulnerability making it difficult to defend themselves.  I want to stand for the silent and change the culture of schools.”

While Aleah knows how harmful words and actions can be, she also knows what a positive impact kindness and leadership can have.  Growing up, her role models were her baton teachers and coaches at the world-renowned Stepperette’s Baton and Dance, young women who were also titleholders in the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“I remember looking up to them and admiring them,” said Aleah.  “When I was a junior in high school I competed in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program and ever since then I have been hooked.  I’ve realized the opportunities that have been available through the Miss America Organization and that competing for Miss Nebraska is really my opportunity to have a voice about issues I am passionate about and serve my community.”

It’s also another venue for Aleah to share her talent with a crowd, although performing for big groups is nothing new for this 3-time world champion baton twirler and the former featured twirler for the University of Nebraska.

TWIRL

“I love twirling baton and getting the crowd excited,” Aleah told me.  “Almost everyone asks if I will light them on fire in reference to the movie ‘Miss Congeniality’, then follow with a sigh of disappointment when I tell them that unfortunately, it’s a fire hazard, but if I had the option to I would love to!”

Aleah is completing her senior year at UNL, majoring in Communication Studies with minors in Psychology and Leadership Communication.  She’s a member of Mortar Board (a national senior honors society), Sigma Alpha Lambda Honors fraternity, and Alpha Phi, most recently serving as President.  She has represented the Huskers on several fronts, including as family representative for Dance Marathon, as a Greek Ambassador for the University and now as an employee at the Office of Admissions.

If she becomes Miss Nebraska 2016, Aleah wants to represent the Miss America Organization, fighting the stereotypes many have about it.

“Not only have I had the opportunity to push myself to achieve my full potential in every phase of competition but I have also had the chance to serve my community, and grow as an individual,” Aleah said.  “I would explain that the women in the Miss America Organization are women that care enough to make a difference.  These women believe in something and are the ones willing to work hard enough to create change.  I explain why I compete and the opportunities that I have had because of the crown on my head.  Most importantly, when I interact with people I am REAL.  I want people to get to know me and relate to me.”

And who is Aleah Peters? She is a young woman who wants to share not just her accomplishments, but the challenges and trying times she encountered along the way.  She’s competing for Miss Nebraska for the family and friends who she describes as the most important part of her life.

She’s competing for herself, to show those ‘mean girls’ they FAILED to dampen her spirit.

GIRL

“Beauty is the opposite of perfection. It’s about confidence, charisma, and character.”

And Aleah Peters is competing for kids like Reid Adler.  She wants to show anyone who is bullied, kids who are sad, people who feel alone, that they are NOT.  That there is MORE.  That people CARE.  And that whatever they want to do, whether it’s to become Miss Nebraska or just to be HAPPY, there is HOPE.

“I am confident that I can change the culture of schools and relate to the people I am working with,” said Aleah.  “I want to meet people and change their idea of what a ‘pageant girl’ is.  I know I would be a positive representative for the state of Nebraska.  I am passionate about this organization, the Children’s Miracle Network (Miss America’s national platform), and Cyberbullying Prevention.  I am determined to make a change.”

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 Photo courtesy Marla Austin Photography

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Omaha 2016 Aleah Peters

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEAH?

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

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Executive Director Marianne Grubaugh at ggrubaugh@cox.net or by phone at 402-330-8033.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. A Moment Like This (Introduction to 2016 series)

NEXT.. Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!