Tag Archive | morgan holen

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.

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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.

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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.

Twirling To The Top

Last night, I had one of those moments where I just stopped, breathed deeply, and thought ‘this is the life!’  My boys, my man and I were all at the pool.. I was listening to them splash and laugh together, while I laid in the glorious sun for a few blissful minutes.

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Then I immediately felt GUILT… why was I just lying there?!? I should have been in the pool WITH them, right?!?  I *hope my guilt was unfounded.. that after a long two months of blog-writing, documentary-producing, news-anchoring, event-emceeing, etc… it was OK for me to sit and relax.

However, there are those among us who never stop.  They use every moment of every day to their full advantage.They rarely take a break for downtime… and in return, every day they are one step closer to the top of whatever peak they are climbing.  They define ‘outstanding’ in their attitudes, goals, and the way they touch people along that journey.

Steffany Lien has spent the last year twirling to the top.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“It has been a busy year, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!’ said Steffany, who  next week, will pass on her title as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Anyone who was there to watch Steffany last year (click here to read more!) will tell you how outstanding this young woman truly is.

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Steffany started her year as Miss Nebraska’s Oustanding Teen with media coverage across Nebraska.  CLICK HERE to read her story in the Lincoln Journal Star!

Let’s start with her talent… which is WORLD CLASS.

“I compete with baton twirling,” said Steffany.

OK, STOP.  Steffany doesn’t just COMPETE with baton twirling

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Photo courtesy Blinq Studio

Steffany is a 6-TIME World Champion baton twirler.  Her talent WOWED the crowd at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen (more on that later..) and leaves audiences EVERYWHERE in awe.  Steffany and her incredible gift have been featured by Omaha’s Metro Magazine, by television news outlets, by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, by the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, even as part of the Pegasus Parade at the Kentucky Derby.  This spring, she was also selected by the University of Louisville to be the school’s featured twirler, a highly coveted position including a full-ride scholarship.Folks, that’s $25,000+ A YEAR.

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Steffany has fine-tuned and perfected this incredible gift with years of training and performing, and showcasing her art has been a highlight of her year as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“I was invited to perform for the Big Red Tailgate to benefit the Completely Kids Program in Omaha,” said Steffany.  “Not only was I proud to be the headliner at the event that raised $175,000 to combat childhood hunger and provide after school programs, but Tommie Frazier sang ‘Dear Old Nebraska U’ a capella while I twirled!”

“Performing at the Kentucky Derby and the Pegasus Parade was clearly a highlight of my year,” said Steffany.  “When I signed autographs and took pictures with people at a festival the same weekend in Kentucky, the people there couldn’t have been nicer to Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen!”

CLICK HERE to read more about Steffany’s performance at Churchill Downs, thanks to the Lincoln Journal Star!

As I’ve written about previously, the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program is the ‘little sister’ organziation to Miss Nebraska, all part of the Miss America Organization.  One of the biggest differences between the Teen and Miss program.. these teens are also STUDENTS.  While their Miss counterparts often defer their college entrance or postpone classes during their year of service, Teen titleholders take part in events and service all year IN ADDITION to their time in the classroom.  Steffany is no exception; in fact, she’s set a new standard for what is possible, even expected, out of these exceptional young women.

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“I dance and compete with Madonna ProActive Dance Team, I teach baton twirling at Madonna ProActive, I’m in National Honor Society, and I’ve maintained a weighted 4.28 GPA,” said Steffany, who just graduated this May from Lincoln Southwest High School.  “Most importantly, I had decided early on to leave a legacy of active participation at charitable events, so this year I performed at, appeared for, and worked at an average of two events a week for the year.  This means that I have participated in over 110 events as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  My white sash is now grey, my crown is spotted from raindrops and races, my tennis shoes have logged miles for health runs, and I need new heels!  It has been a very busy schedule, but I have loved every moment because I will remember these experiences for the rest of my life.”

The montage above barely scratches the SURFACE of the photos posted on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page, showcasing Steffany’s service this year.  She also returned to Peru on a mission trip with orphans, work she has dedicated countless hours to over the years. (Click here to read more!)

ORPHANAGE

“When I became Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, I expected to be out and about in the community, attending charity events and promoting a variety of organizations,” said Steffany, who has volunteered for the Child Advocacy Center of Lincoln, Kids Against Hunger, March of Dimes of Omaha, Food Bank of Lincoln, People’s City Mission, the Autism Family Network, the Alzheimer’s Association, Pinwheels for Prevention, the LSW Parent’s Advisory Council… the list goes ON AND ON AND ON.  “While this was my main focus throughout the year, the part I had not anticipated was how much these experiences would change me and how I view life.”

THIS is the caliber of young woman we want to represent our state, do we not?  And Steffany did, oh so well, at the 2016 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Orlando, Florida.

For the second year in a row, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen finished in the Top 10 in this national competition, in front of the 2016 Miss America Class and tens of thousands, if not more, online.  Steffany had a clear impact on the audience and the organization, later featured by MAOT on their Facebook page, and drawing wide support from fans across social media.

CLICK HERE to read more about Steffany’s success at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, in an article featured by KETV!

“Miss America’s Outstanding Teen was amazing, and so different from any other experience I’ve ever had,” said Steffany.  “I loved meeting other young women from across the US, and gaining friendships that will last a lifetime.  I was surprised to hear my name in the Top 10, because every girl competing at MAOTeen was well-spoke, talented, and we had all been working hard leading up to the national pageant.  For me, it was just an honor to be standing among them, but it was also satisfying to maek the Top 10 and be able to represent Nebraska at the competition.”

TONY BOWLS

Steffany came home from Orlando with $3100 in scholarship money, adding to the $1500 she won at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  She also caught the attention of designers Tony Bowls and Ashley Lauren, nationally renowed photographer Jenn Cady, as well as Lincoln boutique The Black Swan, leading to several modelling opportunities throughout her year.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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“The big events, the fashion shots with Ashley Lauren and Tony Bowls, and all of those wonderful purple bags from the Black Swan Dress Boutique bring me more pleasure than I’d like to admit,” said Steffany.  “However, I had one recent experience that made me understand the real meaning of being an outstanding teen.  Last week, a mom unpacked her daughter’s backpack at the end of the school year.  In it, she found a paper her daughter had written in school after given an assignment to write about someone that is important to her.  I was surprised this quiet, thoughtful child wrote about me.  I had no idea the impact on her values and her perspective about my attitude and ‘kindness’.  And although I giggled that she wrote I am the ‘world’s most amazing teen’, I am humbled and know that the title of Miss Nebraskas’ Outstanding Teen is one that I hold for life and that I better live up to this little girl’s expectations!”

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One year ago, Steffany Lien looked up and focused on her goals and dreams.  While many of us would get tired, and take a break, she kept climbing.. or in her case, twirling.

When Steffany represented Nebraska on the national stage this year, her program’s new directors, Kali Tripp and Heather Edwards, created her catch phrase: #TwirlingToTheTop.

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Steffany Lien has EARNED blissful moments poolside or otherwise.  She IS the top.. the essence of what it means to be outstanding, and a young woman our state will continue to be so very proud of.

JENN CADY

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Even now, as the clock winds down on her time as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, Steffany continues to put others ahead of herself.

“More than anything, I am thrilled for the next girl who will earn the crown, and can’t wait to see all the great qualities she will bring to this organization and how she will represent Nebraska.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien on Instagram

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT STEFFANY?

2015 * Vision For The Future

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.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.. SPECIAL FEATURE: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell!

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!

Standing Tall

There are things about each of us we KNOW we are good at.  I’ve got really nice teeth (never had braces!), God gave me the gift of public speaking and thinking on my feet, and I’m not gonna lie.. my children are BEAUTIFUL and PERFECT 🙂

There are also things we each know are not our strengths.  Plants literally die in my presence.  I am a junk food junkie (currently fighting the urge to eat Gardettos instead of apples).  I CANNOT dance.  At all.  Not even a little bit.

There’s also this..

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.. my posture.  I HOPE that’s not the first thing you notice when you look at this wedding photo on my bestie Melissa’s special day–because SHE IS GLOWING! (And my other besties Jenni and Pammie are pretty dynamite, too!)  But to me.. I just focus on my crooked-as-all-get-out-shoulder… just a glimpse into the poor posture and resulting slouch I’d developed after 20+ years.

Last summer, fearful I was going to be a hunchback before I turned 40, I finally sought out advice and found Dr. Vanessa Green at Elite Chiropractic.

Photos courtesy Elite Family Chiropractic

This woman has changed my life.  At my first appointment,  x-rays showed that I had a pretty severe curvature of the spine.  What’s more, I discovered my chronic headaches, which I just chalked up to allergies, stress and LIFE, were NOT normal.  I’ve been seeing Dr. G once a week ever since, and I truly FEEL a difference in how I view health, how I function, and how I carry myself on a daily basis.

NOTE: This is not a paid promotion, endorsement or advertisement for Elite Chiropractic.  I’m simply a very happy client.. and this is all transitioning to a bigger story, I promise!

When I first read Allison Baird’s story, Dr. G was one of the first people I had to tell.  I had NO IDEA what this beautiful young girl was hiding underneath gorgeous gowns and a dazzling smile.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I was having severe back pain, went in for an xray, and they discovered that my curve had become 46-degrees and was congenital,” Allie told me recently.  “Meaning, it was a birth defect so I wasn’t really a candidate for surgery or treatment, since they had found it too late.  The doctors basically told me that I would have to live with the pain, and would probably not be able to do everything I wanted to.”

The Allie on the left is the girl I’ve known for about two years now.. the photo on the right shows what her spine looked and felt like within her body.  Allie had been diagnosed with scoliosis at 13 and underwent physical therapy, but she had no idea how dramatic her problem had become.  Still, that dire diagnosis from a doctor didn’t derail this incredible young woman from everything she intended to pursue.

“I smiled politely and said ‘watch me’,” said Allie. “Most people do not know I have it, strangers I meet on the street have no idea, and many close friends didn’t know for years.  We all know someone who is struggling.  We don’t always know their story, but to attempt to understand what that person is going through can mean the world.  Now, I am so much more aware of those things, and I try my very best to have empathy towards others, but also not beat myself up too badly when it feels like I am nowhere near as good at something.”

THAT IS the Allie I know.

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For several years now, Allison Baird has devoted herself to her community and others as a local titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.  Twice, she finished 1st Runner Up in the state pageant.  To give you an idea of the caliber of talent and character in those years.. both of those winners finished in the Top 10 at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.  Each year when the other girl’s name was called, Allie conducted herself with grace and humility, being the FIRST to genuinely and warmly congratulate the winner (read more here!)

Without skipping a beat, Allie entered the first Miss pageant she was eligible for.. and in her first try, won the title of Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016.

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“My mom is my best friend and definitely my role model,” said Allie, hugging her mom in the photo above, moments after winning the Miss Scotts Bluff County title.  “She has been a serious source of my strength these past few months.  I think I would have pulled all of my hair out and not had any fingernails if it weren’t for her!  I truly wish everyone could have someone like her as their manager, friend, confidant and coach.”

And with that support system firmly in place, Allie began a nonstop year of appearances, college preparation, and activities as a senior at Gering High School.

Allie is a 4-time state speech medalist, she’s held lead roles in all of her school’s theater productions since her freshman year, she’s a nationally-qualifying DECA member, she’s captain of the Varsity show choir, and was a cheerleader at Gering for 3 years.  An aspiring actor, singer, journalist (or all of the above!), Allie is also a news anchor for her broadcasting team, the Editor In Chief for her high school paper, she’s had articles published by her hometown paper, and she’s shadowed yours truly here at KETV.

Somehow, Allie finds time to volunteer in her community as Miss Scotts Bluff County, whether it be making quilts, donating blood, or simply making a child smile.  She speaks to groups large and small about her personal platform, ‘Learning CURVE’, teaching courage, understanding, respect, value and empathy.  Her favorite part of the pageant experience is Interview, the chance to tell a panel of judges about everything she’s doing.

 “I truly believe this is where the magic happens at the competition,” said Allie.  “When the judges get to see that spark of passion, that light in your eyes when you talk about what is so near and dear to your heart, there is absolutely no better feeling.  Public speaking is a passion of mine, and I wish that Interview could be 20 minutes instead of 10!”

Public speaking is the ONE THING I promote to EVERY SINGLE CLASS, STUDENT AND INTERN who I come in contact with, and Allie Baird is a shining example of WHY that tool is so powerful.  It’s a trait she credits to her participation with the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“The amount of self confidence I have gained from being involved in this organization, I will be forever grateful for,” said Allie.  “I am not scared to talk to a group of CEO’s or a classroom of kindergartners because of the communication skills I have received.  I have heard girls on the Miss America stage, and even the Miss Nebraska stage, articulate their opinions on hard hitting subjects with better grace and dignity than most of the [presidential] candidates.  These ladies are the future.  We want to make a difference.  All of us have the potential, drive and work ethic to do just that.  We breed leaders in the Miss America Organization, and I think that is pretty amazing.”

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A final confession.. I am pretty ASTOUNDED by this young woman, and consistently shocked that this kind of maturity, intelligence, and independance are already so strong in a girl who JUST turned 18 years old.  Complete disclosure, she may also be my little boys’ favorite, after staying with us during a trip to Omaha this fall and playing ‘Olympics’.  Allison Baird connects with people, and inspires them.  She works hard and stays humble.  She stands tall, despite the things we don’t see that might break others down.  That is the message she hopes to take across the state if crowned Miss Nebraska 2016.

MORGAN WALLACE

Photo courtesy Morgan Wallace

“I want to spread awareness that if you are going through a personal battle, have courage and keep going,” said Allie.  “Know that you are valuable and worthy and that a setback does NOT mean you can’t achieve something you want to achieve.  It just means you might have to take a different road to get there.”

***

Click each link to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016 Allison Baird

on Facebook and on Instagram

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

2015 * Just Add Glitter

2014 * Special Feature, Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

For more information about the Miss Scotts Bluff County Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page and HERE on their website. For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by phone at 308-783-2940 or at 308-635-8615.

***

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Wilkinson!

NEXT.. Miss Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Aubree Noble!

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!

ROAR

Well, HELLO!!!!! Long time no post! As always, THANK YOU for reading the blog!

I have been ‘off the grid’ for most of the month of June.  Vacation, time with family, heaven at home.

IT HAS BEEN FABULOUS!

Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, step back, close your eyes and BE.  I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and reminded of who I am.  GO OFF THE GRID! IT’S GREAT!  Even if just for a few days.

Before my amazing time at home with the three men in my life (four, if you count our dog, Mack), my hiatus began with a long awaited trip to North Platte, Nebraska.

MISS NEBRASKA 2015.

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Photo courtesy of Corbey Dorsey for the North Platte Telegraph; click here to read the NPT’s wonderful article on Alyssa by reporter Kamie Stephen!

After seven days of rehearsals and events, four days of nerve-wracking competition, a lot of laughs and some tears, too.. Miss Douglas County Alyssa Howell was crowned Miss Nebraska 2015.  What an INCREDIBLE moment to cap off a wonderful week for this caring, young woman.  Alyssa has dedicated so much of her time to others.  She is sweet, kind, hard working and focused.  For five years, she also watched her big sister compete at both the Miss Iowa and Miss Nebraska pageant, finishing as a finalist multiple times.

THIS MOMENT WAS ALL ALYSSA.  SHE WILL NOW FOREVER BE MISS NEBRASKA.

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So many cool moments; the kids who just LOVED Alyssa, including her Little Sisters who took part in all of the Miss Nebraska events at her side, and the little boy who not only wanted one kiss, he circled around for a second.  Alyssa’s real boyfriend, Grady, and his excitement and sheer pride every moment leading up to his girl’s crowning moment.  Shrieks of joy between Alyssa and the new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien; the two have been Miss Douglas County sisters for months, now they are going to Miss America together.  And the heartwarming friendship and bond between Alyssa and her sister queen Miss Omaha Megan Gould, supporting each other from Omaha to North Platte and still to this day.

But.. I’m going to throw this out there.. was Alyssa ‘the best’?

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How do you choose which flower is ‘the best’ in the garden?  Which city is ‘the best’ in our state?  Which art, whether it be singing or dancing or playing piano, is ‘the best’?  Alyssa will be a FANTASTIC Miss Nebraska and I cannot WAIT to see how far she’ll go at Miss America.  This is Alyssa’s time; this is the result of her hard work; this recognizes an exceptional young woman, helping her to inspire so many more; and five smart, talented, and critical judges determined Alyssa Howell was the best candidate for this job as Miss Nebraska 2015.

The best of the best, you might say.. because HOLY CRAP, did this event showcase some absolutely incredible women in our state.

4th Runner Up, Miss Northwest LaRissa McKean

JOYFUL.  LaRissa McKean radiated happiness, and made everyone in the Miss Nebraska audience feel it.  She also shared that positivity with her fellow contestants, voted Miss Congeniality by the majority of the other titleholders.  LaRissa CAPTIVATED the audience Thursday night, winning the Preliminary Talent Award with an energetic and dazzling dance (another Kitty Lee Dance graduate!)  As I told one of my friends during finals night, she JUST MAKES ME SMILE.  What a better role model than that?

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3rd Runner Up, Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux

BREATHTAKING.  I love watching dance, but don’t know much about it (and hurt myself trying.) I know even less about ballet, but I LOVE the costumes, the makeup, the SHOW.  And boy, oh boy, did Steffani Jiroux deliver.

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Just stop and look at this picture for a second.. (and thanks to Kamie Stephen and the North Platte Telegraph for sharing it!)

It was like watching a scene from a movie. Steffani also seemed to enjoy herself every moment; smiling nonstop, walking across that stage like she OWNED it, twirling around her Little Sisters like they were just dancing in the living room and not competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.  What’s next for Steffani? Continuing LAW SCHOOL at Creighton University.

2nd Runner Up, Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann

SENSATIONAL.  Miss Nebraska and Miss America challenge a woman to become the best version of herself in all areas, and Brooke Ludemann pushed herself to the max in every. single. test.  Her gown made me gasp (in a good way!); her answers showed evidence of a woman with a business plan as Miss Nebraska; her physical self was a demonstration of what our bodies can become with hard work and discipline, and her talent.. I have no words.  On the final night of competition, with everything on the line, Brooke’s performance singing ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables game me CHILLS.  Brooke won 2nd place for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award, and she will be Nebraska’s representative at the National Sweetheart Pageant this summer.

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1st Runner Up, Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen

JAW DROPPING.  Every time Allison Tietjen walked on stage, my eyes were just DRAWN to her.  (In a completely uncreepy way, regardless of how that sounds…) She is the model of poise, grace, and beauty.  Allison could’ve walked right off the Miss Nebraska stage onto Hollywood’s red carpet and fit right in. BUT, what I love is that Allison knows, and SHOWS, this program’s power and purpose extends long beyond Miss Nebraska week.  Allison’s work promoting awareness of our veterans earned her the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award and the Miss America Community Service Award; she also earned the Miracle Maker Award for raising more than $1300 for the Children’s Miracle Network, helping hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Oh yea, and Allison JUST TURNED 19 in April.  Truly exceptional.

I would argue not one of these women is ‘better’ than the other; each is SENSATIONAL.  They each prepared, volunteered, practiced.. hoping THIS was their year, and their time.  It was only destiny for one–and Alyssa is FABULOUS.  But this is why you see so many girls try again for the crown.. and thank the Lord for that, because they are all deserving, INCREDIBLE women, and bringing them together to recognize them and their accomplishments is uplifting and inspiring to everyone who can be part of it.  WE ARE WOMEN, HEAR US ROAR!!!!

***

Now to the moment I know you all have been waiting for…

The 2nd Annual Brandi Petersen Unofficial Superfan Awards!

( ahem… I’ll wait for your laughter to die down before I proceed..)

The ‘My Life Goal Is To Look Like Carrie Underwood’ Awards…

Again.. the work and service that take place the other 364 days of the year are arguably the most important part of the Miss America Organization.. but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the gowns!!  C’mon.. from dreaming of your wedding gown, to picking out prom dresses, to playing dress up as a little girl, who DOESN’T love beautiful dresses?!? 2015 was simply a RAINBOW of color on the Miss Nebraska stage, and THAT alone made it awesome.  So much diversity; different colors, styles, fits.. and so much elegance!

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Remember how I said Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann’s gown made me gasp?  GASP!!!  OHHH.. this dress.. this moment.. absolutely INCREDIBLE. (Details: Tarik Ediz gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique in Lincoln)

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Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen.. ANOTHER gown that stole my breath.  Just STUNNING.  (Details: custom Sherri Hill gown from the Winning Crown Boutique in Omaha)

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And boy, those Kearney Crane Festival Directors KNOW THEIR STYLE.. because Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen was possibly MY FAVORITE gown of the weekend!  There was just something so very special about Merrilee Prill when she walked on stage in this dress.  The color, the style, HOW she wore it.  I LOVED IT. ( Details: Jovani Fashions gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique in Lincoln–thanks to owner Joe Bohac for the photo!)

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Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen Cherokee Purviance.. what a GORGEOUS choice for her gown!  On stage, this color and the sparkle were just RADIANT.  (Details: a Mac Duggal gown from Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe in North Platte–thanks to them for the photo!)

The ‘Holy Crap, Petersen, Put Down That Blizzard’ Awards..

I’d like to show you my reaction to this year’s Miss contestants competing in swimsuit.

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My thanks to Taylor Swift for the assist.

ABSOLUTELY SENSATIONAL.  This year EXEMPLIFIED that Lifestyle and Fitness is just that–this competition is intended to encourage women to treat their bodies like temples and reach their full physical potential.  AND THESE WOMEN DID.  Abs, biceps, quads for days. This wasn’t about starving, or being the skinniest.  You could SEE their work; the time they spent in the gym and the time they DIDN’T spend at their local fast food spot.

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Miss Omaha Megan Gould was my winner for swimsuit.  I know this girl puts in countless hours of dance and practice as a Nebraska Cornhusker cheerleader, and WOW-did that hard work show!!  Plus Megan was just SOO confident, not conceited in the least, just wonderfully comfortable in her own skin.  You go, Megan!

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Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux.  This is her profile picture now on Facebook (taken by Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph), and to me, that’s using restraint.  If I looked like this, I’d make a cardboard cutout of myself to greet people at my front door.  THIS is what happens with 20 years of ballet training and several more as a member of the Creighton University dance team!

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Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen was the Overall Swimsuit Winner at Miss Nebraska this year, and here’s why!  Another absolutely radiant moment in red for the UNL sophomore, and in case you’re wondering, she’s a piano player.. so what you see is the result of sheer hours in the gym and dedication to nutrition!

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And Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann.  Just.. WOW.  MUSCLE ON MUSCLE WITH MUSCLE.  When I messaged Brooke about using this photo, she responded ‘I’m darn proud of those photos!’  AS SHE SHOULD BE!! AH-MAZ-ING!!

STRENGTH, POWER, HEALTH. Are you listening, America? I just read this morning there are more clinically obese people in our country than simply overweight Americans.  Heart disease remains a leading killer.  These women exercised and ate healthy with consistency and self discipline for months, and likely formed a foundation to continue to do so to some extent.  Long after that 10 second walk across stage in a swimsuit, their health is improved, their confidence is boosted, and they’ve empowered and inspired many others. (I’M AT THE TOP OF THAT LIST!) Ladies, you should be so very proud of yourselves.

The Nebraska’s Got Talent Awards..

MY WINNERS FOR TALENT: THIS YEAR’S MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN CONTESTANTS.

BLOWN AWAY.

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to the other young woman who wrapped up this weekend in North Platte with a state title..

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Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Steffany Lien is now Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015!  (A 3-peat for Omaha titleholders!)  While Steffany shined all night at the competition, SHE OWNED talent.  America, watch out; when this girl competes for the national title in Orlando this July, she will STUN YOU!

CLICK HERE to see a preview, showing Steffany competing at the World Championships in Italy in April, winning her SIXTH world title.

Steffany does things with a baton that challenge the Laws of Gravity and Physics.  Not only have I never seen her drop a baton in competition, I’ve never seen the girl even ‘almost’ drop one in rehearsal.  She is SENSATIONAL!

Nebraska’s 10th Outstanding Teen was one of several incredibly talented young teenagers who competed in North Platte this year.  Piano players, singers, dancers.. these girls are so young they can’t vote, but they knocked the socks off everyone in the audience Friday night.

Among my favorites (along with Steffany, of course!)..

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..singer Emma Kate Brown, Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen.  There’s a reason why little girls love her.. because someday she will be the voice of a princess in a Disney movie.  That’s how I described her voice to my husband.  Emma Kate sang ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story and her innate vocal talent is just BEAUTIFUL.  I’m calling it now.. the next animated blockbuster you take your kids to, you will likely hear Emma Kate in the soundtrack! (And a huge CONGRATULATIONS to this beauty as well!  Less than two weeks after being named 2nd Runner Up at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, the Elkhorn South student was also named Nebraska’s Best High School Actress, winning an all-expenses paid trip to New York to compete for the National Award!!)

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Grace Heggem, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen, was dazzling from start to finish.  She played Tarantella on the piano, her fingers dancing across the keys at the speed of light, and she NAILED it.  Much like ballet, I know nothing about piano, but I can hear a bad note… and I didn’t hear one off-key when Grace performed.  Incredible!

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Emma Keifer, Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen, was just a joy to watch.  I felt like I was watching an act from So You Think You Can Dance (and you all know what a freak I am about that show!!) Emma tapped.. up and down STAIRS.  Her energy was just OFF THE CHARTS.  Emma, you would’ve made Nigel proud!

And finally, though she wasn’t competing for a title, this performance was MY FAVORITE TALENT PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK..

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THE WATER CUPS DANCE.  Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen, performing the same dance her mother Jodi did as Miss Nebraska 1988 at the Miss America pageant that year.  Balancing three cups of water on her hands and forehead, Morgan bent backward, forward, down into splits, up from splits… all without spilling a drop.  You could’ve heard a PIN drop in the auditorium, as hundreds of us collectively held our breath through this performance.  ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE..  just like Morgan.  Many of us shed tears as she took her final walk as our state titleholder.. mine started to fall as her proud daddy, Brad, handed her a bouquet of flowers at the bottom of the Miss Nebraska stage.  The sky is the limit for this young woman–you WILL see her again.

The Brittany Jeffers Awards for Super Awesomeness

We all have someone we just ADMIRE.. their style, their confidence, just because THEY ARE AWESOME.  Some of mine: one of my best friends Jenni Rohacik who always looks so good she could host E!, my neighbor Brittni Madden who can take a picture off Pinterest and make a project look like it cost thousands of dollars.. and my fellow anchor/reporter/forever Miss Omaha Brittany Jeffers-Hannema, who I swear is fabulous, in every way possible, 24/7.  (And now that I’ve declared my obsession with these ladies.. they may all be working on protection orders..) THESE GIRLS ARE JUST AWESOME!  Brittany gets the award named after her because she had to work rather than attend the Miss Nebraska pageant this year.. she may have been on air in Oklahoma, but her heart was in North Platte!

Two young ladies made a huge impression on me this year.. two teens who I didn’t know prior to this year’s pageant.

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Shelby Blundell, Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, was the youngest and tiniest of ALL of this year’s contestants, Miss and Teen.  She was also Contestant #1 in the competition, a tough draw; you set the bar for the judges, you are the first contestant both that panel and the audience will see.  Shelby rose to the challenge, nailing her song in talent, and impressing the hell out of me during her on stage question.  Shelby was asked a very tough question, whether LGBTQ issues should be discussed at school in the classroom or in group/activity settings, or if those topics are best left for family and group discussion outside of school.  Without hesitation, tiny Shelby answered confidently and quickly, sharing her opinions without pause.  That’s a tough issue for politicians and public leaders to address, and often we see adults avoiding giving a clear answer.  This young woman tackled the issue head on, and agree with her or not, it was refreshing to see such a young person stand tall and share her opinion.

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I was also SO very impressed with Allison Baird, Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  For the second year in a row, Allison was named 1st Runner Up in the teen competition.  I’ve touched on this before.. as exhilarating as it is to hear your name called as a new titleholder.. it is incredibly disappointing when all of that work does not result in that win.  Allison’s now been through that twice.. coming ever so close both times.  BUT.. the moment that curtain closed after Steffany was crowned, when the spotlights were off and no one was watching her (except me, the nosy emcee/reporter backstage), Allison was the first one to smile and hug Steffany.  She was also the first to hug Morgan last year–and not just the cordial ‘arm around her, pat pat pat’ hug.. but a genuine embrace, wishing a friend well.  It’s the moments you think no one is looking when your true character is revealed.  Allison Baird is an exceptional young lady.  A gorgeous voice.  Mature and smart.  Beautiful.  And in those moments, when I can only imagine how her heart was breaking, she showed class and selflessness, to celebrate Steffany’s moment.  That’s something you don’t often see in adults, let alone a young woman just entering her senior year of high school.  Again, these competitions are not about choosing ‘who is the best’, but who is right for the position at that exact moment in time.  YOU ARE A WINNER, ALLISON.. your future is so very bright.

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So did you pick up on that ’emcee/reporter’ note?  I had the GREAT honor of co-emceeing this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant with this beauty, my final Awesomeness Award Winner, Jessica States!  A) She can sing REALLY well  B) She’s a born leader, holding a respected position with Junior Achievement of Lincoln  C) She was THE FIRST Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen in 2005!

AND, she was SUCH A GREAT co-host!!!  We had such a terrific time, and I hope the audience did, too!  (And thank you to Joe Bohac and the Black Swan Dress Boutique for providing our gorgeous gowns for the evening!)

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#MNOT2015.  Trending.

***

What a terrific, empowering week of incredible women and the people who support them.

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I enjoyed every single moment, and CAN’T WAIT until next year to do it all over again!  AND, I NEED to mention what these girls took away from Miss Nebraska (in addition to their own memories..)

MORE THAN $42,800 IN CASH AWARDS

AND MORE THAN $400,455 IN OFFERED COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS.

But hey, it’s just a silly scholarship pageant, right?

***

One final message to wrap up this post, and this year’s 2015 Miss Nebraska series..

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I was SO very honored and humbled to receive this year’s Miss Nebraska Volunteer of the Year Award.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all of you who have read these blogs and offered your congratulations.  I’m still mystified and elated that so many people check in to read my work, and to receive such an incredible honor for it is just a thrill.  THANK YOU.

To all 24 of the young ladies who competed in North Platte, YOU EMPOWER ME. You are the future of our state, and our country, and that makes me so very proud.  CONGRATULATIONS Alyssa, Steffany, and every young woman taking a chance to set an example, be a role model, and to just SPARKLE.

No matter what you do next, crown or not, go out into the world and continue to ROAR.

***

 Click here to learn more about the Miss Nebraska Organization, and the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.  You can also visit Miss Nebraska on Facebook, follow the pageant on Twitter, and follow the pageant on Instagram.

To read more about the Miss Nebraska, and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

We Are Nebraska

Who is Miss Nebraska?

I’m not just asking who is the current Miss Nebraska, but who is this person who travels the state wearing a crown and sash?  Who is the woman who goes on TV every year and represents all of us at Miss America?  Is there even one all encompassing definition of this person we call Miss Nebraska?

Click here and see the incredible compilation of Miss Nebraskas through the years.

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Miss Nebraska 1962 Mary Lee Jepsen was the first to crack the Top 10 at Miss America, twirling three fire batons; she went on to earn four college degrees, two of them Masters’ and one of them a Post-Masters, focusing on psychology and family counseling.

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Miss Nebraska 2002 Krista Knicely survived a horrific attack and assault before she was crowned; she used her time as Miss Douglas County and then Miss Nebraska to bravely share her story and inspire other victims of sexual assault attempts or attacks across the country.

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Miss Nebraska 2006 Molly McGrath traveled 30,000 across the state talking about financial literacy and economic education, has worked with both the Federal Reserve and in the private sector on multi-million dollar projects.

Such different stories during and after their time as Miss Nebraska, yet they all share a common bond, along with this young woman.

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MISS NEBRASKA 2014 MEGAN SWANSON

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I’m a tall girl with an even bigger heart,” Megan told me recently.  “The job of Miss Nebraska is so much more than what you look like, but rather is about the utterance of your heart by the words you speak and the message you believe in.”

THIS Miss Nebraska isn’t kidding about being tall, she’s 6 feet without heels.  That kind of altitude is common place in the Swanson household, but just short of legendary everywhere else.

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Megan eye to eye with her family.. and *slightly* taller than her pageant sister, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen

Megan wants people to remember more than that; she wants to be seen as the best possible candidate for serving her state.  That has been her intention from the beginning; click here to read my first interview with Megan during her time as Miss Douglas County.

“Nebraska is my home, my love, and my heart,” said Megan.  “It’s land, it’s people, it’s message, it’s feel.  While passionate about the nation, I believe this year I was supposed to make a visible impact on the state of Nebraska, and I believe I did so.  This year as Miss Nebraska, I put over 25,000 miles on my Miss Nebraska car, spoke to over 10,000 students alone, and really believe our residents would associate my name and platform in about 2 seconds.  THAT was what my goal was: for people to think Megan Swanson, Miss Nebraska 2014, and think: ‘Oh, yeah!  She’s genuine, she cares about people in a real way (not for show, not because she has to), and she’s a fitness/health/wellness buff.  Total Body Wellness: Spirit, Soul, and Body is her platform, AND she’s really tall!”

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“I’ve spent many a surprising time with tears slowly falling down my face at the testimonies from this year,” said Megan.  “You see, to me.. it was never about ‘my message’, despite being 328479384% passionate about it.  It’s about the people, your audience.  Why go into a school, auditorium, arena, business luncheon, or conference and speak about the same topic over and over that has no way of relating to people?  I made it my mission to write the framework and research the heck out of all facets of my program, and then make sure I became an expert in each area.”

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Megan has also shared each facet of her program on social media.  Using Miss Nebraska 2014 Facebook page (now nearing 1,350 followers), and Instagram (with more than 4,500 followers) Megan posts scripture, diet and workout tips and simply inspiring thoughts, along with a steady stream of photos showcasing her ‘days in the life’ of Miss Nebraska.

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‘{BE ENCOURAGED!} I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. (Ephesians 1:16-23 NLT)’

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‘Mar 7, 2014 | {4 hours of sleep} + [5 games (hours) of reffereeing 5th grade boys bball at 8:30am] + {1 small nap} + [my amazing cousins engagement party] = In Bed By 10:45pm and Miss Night Owl is now Miss Sleepy Nebraska 2014.’

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‘Day 9 is all about Abs, Abs, Abs!!! And are made in the kitchen folks! Your hormones and adrenal glands also have a lot to do with storage of fat around your middle section- here are a few quick bullet points to help! As always, if you have questions feel free to DM me!’

Megan has also secured sponsorships during her year as Miss Nebraska with private companies including Deep South Pout clothing, Envy Tans By Tammy, Max Muscle, Meal Solutions, and Smart Girl Style.  More so, she’s expanded and further solidified Miss Nebraska’s reach; in politics, visiting the state legislature, meeting Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, and singing the national anthem before a major Republican party event this spring.

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Megan has also appeared on television news across the state, participated in radio interviews, and has taken part in numerous fundraisers and events across the state, often with hundreds or thousands in attendance.  She’ll perform for one of her biggest crowds yet in just weeks, singing the national anthem for 30,000+ at the College World Series.  Click here to listen to her audition!

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CLICK HERE TO SEE KETV’S STORY WITH MEGAN, SEPTEMBER 2014

CLICK HERE TO READ MY FEATURE ON MEGAN & MISS IOWA ALY OLSON BEFORE MISS AMERICA

CLICK HERE TO READ ONE OF MEGAN’S FIRST INTERVIEWS, WITH KETV, AFTER WINNING MISS NEBRASKA

Still, Megan wanted more.  She told me several times leading up to Miss America she intended to win; her experience was no doubt memorable, but not all positive. An unflattering camera angle of Megan, seated behind ABC’s Miss America host, made national headlines.  Megan’s post on Facebook shortly after, ‘liked’ more than 400 times, spoke VOLUMES about her character and confidence.

‘Despite all the explosion of media recently- there are apparently pictures of me in a swimsuit even I didn’t even know existed! Hilariously, these show clearly more than the one accidental second caught on national television! Haha. To everyone- I have laughed about this and moved on! I am a strong woman of character, and confident in who I truly am and where I am going! I guess I am also quite definitely a true basketball player at heart and forgot for a second that I wasn’t on the bench ready for coach to tell me to get in the game! (Lesson learned…) obviously- this In no way means I am anything less than a person of extremely high moral standards. If you know me, you know that. Here’s to the future aiming to be the best Miss Nebraska yet! God can turn any situation for good, and hey- I’m excited to see how even this ends up being an outlet for my TRUE message: helping people to love, accept, grow, and transform themselves through the eyes of wellness education from the inside out! Spirit, Soul, and Body! I have even MORE of a reason now to advocate for my cause! #missnebraska#missnebraska14 #lifestyleandfitness #fitness #laugh#teammegan #tbw #wellness #missne

“I choose to BE overcome by a circumstance, or take it by the horns and OWN it, overcome IT myself,” Megan told me.  She remains focused on her positive take-aways from Miss America.

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“It was so amazing to get to sing on the Miss America stage, and it’s a time I’ll never forget,” said Megan.  “I am so blessed to have a network of 52 sisters that I bonded with at Miss America and still talk to literally every, single day.  We’re go-getters, we don’t take no for an answer, and we work for every dream in our hearts.  Watch out, world!  In ten years, we will have conquered wherever we land.  The CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, beautiful, intelligent, confident women broadcasting on television or ESPN, future famous musicians, teachers, educators, Super-Moms, and leaders alike, will be women who competed.”

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How do you measure a year? How do you define Miss Nebraska?

“This job has abundantly transformed my life for the better this year, and most importantly, grown ME as a young woman,” said Megan.  “I’m honored that every, single day, I woke up with the responsibility of being a role model for people of every age, gender, background, status, and walk of life and I don’t take it lightly.  It’s exactly that: a responsibility.  It’s my duty and my job.”

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Megan Swanson’s chapter in the History of Miss Nebraska will end this Saturday night, as she passes her crown on to a woman who was in her place one year ago.  She will return to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue her Commercial Voice Major.  Megan will continue to write and produce music, and pursue her family ministry through their church and via their new website (click here to check out We Are Swanson).

“Knowing who we are is the foundation of everything we become,” said Megan.  “I believe any role model must first know who they are and where they’re going, or they can’t lead!  I think that’s what makes me different.  My laser focus in on not just speaking for 30 minutes or an hour, but leaving a lasting impact, creating new leaders, helping people change their path and start walking towards the person they were created to be; first recognizing what makes them special, and then operating in those gifts.”

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(Photo courtesy Midwest Photo Pro)

  “When I go to schools, I get to look students in the eyes and genuinely convince them that all things are possible.  All future hopes and wishes are possible,” said Megan.  “Through hard work, trust, a stubborn perseverance and faith, God blossomed this caterpillar into a beautiful, young lady butterfly.  Confident. Strong. Firm in her goals and identity and ready to take on the world.  What’s holding you back?  What excuse are you taking as truth?  Run. Run towards your dream every day.  Because even if you’re at 0, and your goal is at 100, 1 + 1+ 1 eventually = 100.”

Follow Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram

Click here to read a special profile on Megan and ‘predictions’ for the Class of 2015 from the nationally popular Pageant Junkies!

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen

THANK YOU, SINCERELY, FOR FOLLOWING THIS YEAR’S SERIES ON THE 2015 MISS NEBRASKA AND MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN CONTESTANTS!

GOOD LUCK, LADIES!!!

Click here for my recap of the 2015 Miss Nebraska & Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Defining Outstanding

Once in awhile, you meet someone who you just KNOW is going to be a star.  There’s just something dazzling that radiates from them.  They are THAT stunning, THAT talented, THAT well spoken, THAT inspiring.  They are simply OUTSTANDING.

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MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2014 MORGAN HOLEN

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

This is my 4th blog post I’ve written about Morgan.  I’m not a creeper (at least in this case), she’s just that incredible.  Beauty inspiring nationally renowned photographer Jenn Cady to invite Morgan to South Carolina for a premiere fashion show and photo shoot.  Talent and a gift for dance that earned Morgan a state championship this year with Elkhorn South High, the dance award at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, and acceptance and scholarship into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and Dance Program.

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Sheer kindness and love for life.. rooted deeply within her family and now woven across our entire state.

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What an outstanding young lady.  Like so many in the Miss Nebraska Organization, I first met Morgan through her mom, Jodi, who was Miss Nebraska 1988.

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Jodi, also a former Miss Omaha, was hands down one of the most welcoming, kindest people I met the night I was crowned Miss Douglas County and unknowingly entered this new and overwhelming world.  At her side, and then at MY side asking for pictures, were two sweet, little girls.

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Me and the Holen girls, shortly after the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant, Fall 2001

Morgan has been attending the Miss Nebraska pageant with her mom for as long as she can remember.  She decided to compete in this new version of Miss America for teenagers, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, her freshman year of high school.  (Click here to read about Morgan’s time as Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen!) One year later, just weeks (if not days!) after completing her sophomore year at Elkhorn South, Morgan was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014.

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Morgan’s crowning moment one year ago.  CLICK HERE to read more.

Immediately, Morgan began preparations for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, knowing Nebraska had never cracked the Top 12 at the national level.  Morgan did.

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“I am extremely honored and humbled!” said Morgan.  “Then my competition mode just kicked in and I didn’t realize really what happened until it was over.  I competed in the first area, fitness, and made the cut to the Top 10 where I was able to perform my talent one more time.”

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As Morgan told me last summer, (click here to read more!), her talent was a self-choreographed tribute to her longtime dance instructor ‘Miss Kitty’ Dahlberg.  Dahlberg passed away the summer before Morgan won Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen.  Among those in the crowd was Dahlberg’s daughter and another of Morgan’s instructors, Diane Hansen.  This dance, dedicated to Morgan’s friend and mentor, was nothing short of breathtaking.  Watching the webcast from home, I was in tears.  Someone in the audience tweeted ‘Morgan Holen just set a new standard for talent.’

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“Then, after the evening gown competition, I was thrilled (and stunned) to be called out in the Top 5,” said Morgan.  “Outside of Teresa Scanlan, who has been a role model, no other Miss Nebraska or Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen had ever placed that high, so to be standing there representing my state was in incredible honor and an indescribable experience.”

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KETV: Omaha Teen Crowned Among Best In Country

Morgan finished 4th runner up, surrounded by a huge fan club who traveled to Orlando to support her, and the new friends she made while there.

“The friendships last long after the pageant,” said Morgan.  “My roommate Page Mackenzie (Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen) and I have visited each other in our home states.  We bonded over the fact that by the time we left our hotel room, our feet could stick to the bathroom floor due to hairspray (pageant girl problems.)  We remain very good friends today and talk at least once a week.”

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“I also was very blessed to have the third or fourth largest crowd of supporters,” said Morgan.  “My parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, dance teacher, local and state directors, and Megan were all there to support me and of course, they were easy to spot since they help up big red Husker N’s.  There really is no way to represent Nebraska without the Huskers!  Other contestants even commented about it and were a little jealous.”

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As for the last 10 months.. Morgan has simply been on the go NONSTOP.  She’s on Elkhorn South’s state champion dance team, in addition to dancing competitively for Omaha’s Kitty Lee Dance; she’s also on the award-winning Elkhorn South competitive show choir squad.

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Still, she’s been out across the state as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, not only taking part in EVERY local pageant this year, but volunteering and making appearances for various events.  Morgan cares deeply about her platform Random Acts of Kindness, promoting good deeds and service to others, big and small.  Last January, Morgan even created a ‘kindness calendar’ and shared it across social media, suggesting something different every day of the month you could do to pass on a random act of kindness.

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Morgan volunteering with her big sister and best friend, Brittany Holen

“My one regret is that there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week!” said Morgan.  “As a teen, you are obviously still in high school and the girls who compete for and win these state titles are involved in many activities inside and outside of school.  I only wish I had been able to do more as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because there are many opportunities the title affords you, however, you still have to go to school and honor your other commitments.”

That’s part of the advice Morgan has for whoever she’ll crown in just five short days, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015.

“To the next MNOT I would say do everything you can, but understand that some days there are just not enough hours in the day and that is okay,” said Morgan.  “I would also tell her to enjoy every minute because the year flies by and you will never have these moments back.  It will be an awesome experience!”

And still, Morgan shows me even now how exceptional she truly is.  As part of that message to her future MNOT sister, a reminder, and a sign of this young woman’s maturity, sense of self, and state of mind.

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(Photo courtesy of The Mullers)

“Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen did not make me who I am,” said Morgan.  “Lots of people have invested in me over my 17 years: parents, sister, family, friends, teachers, coaches, over the years shaped me into the person I am and for that I am grateful.”

Morgan asked me to note her gratitude to her local director Kelsey Joseph and her state directors Rachel Daly and Kayla Jacox, not only for what they have done for her, but for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Program.

Morgan, I thank YOU.  Thank you for being KIND.  For sharing your incredible gift of dance.  For filling me with hope thinking of the young people that will soon be the adults in our world.  For showcasing our state and this program to people everywhere, and making them do double takes.  You are simply outstanding.

And I think Morgan’s own words confirm that:

“I hope that I have represented all of you in a way that made you proud.”

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(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

Click here for a special feature on Morgan on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page!

Click here for a special interview with Morgan by the nationally popular Pageant Junkies team!

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant will take place June 5, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website or the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook and on Twitter.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Merrilee Prill

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

To read more about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.