Tag Archive | university of nebraska-lincoln

One Moment In Time

One year ago, I sat alongside my fellow ‘retired’ journalist Kamie Stephen in the front row of the North Platte High School auditorium. Hearts racing, we waited impatiently for the announcement of the new Miss Nebraska, the woman who would represent our state and continue another chapter in a program that’s spanned 80 years.

It came down to two: Allison and Wellesley. Both were PHENOMENAL young women. Both were well spoken, driven and purposeful, organized and responsible, charismatic and exceptional in all aspects. When host Dave Griek announced Allison had won, I watched her… she hugged Wellesley, she focused on her, Wellesley walked away… and all of the sudden emotion engulfed her.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Tears filled my eyes as I realized several things in that one moment. What an INCREDIBLE woman to focus her words and thoughts in those first few seconds on her fellow titleholder, who has just finished second. Then, watching a woman who was typically so composed, even reserved, allowing herself to become overcome with joy and gratitude, it truly hit home how much of her heart and soul Allison had put into the journey to become Miss Nebraska.

That one moment was just the beginning.

 

“I remember after I won Miss Nebraska that I wanted my goal to be to visit every county in Nebraska,” Allison told me recently.” There has only been one Miss Nebraska who was able to accomplish that, Kelly Keiser Terrell – Miss Nebraska 2005, and she was one of the judges!  She was able to do so much during her year of service and I wanted to have a year like hers. I have visited students in 57 schools across Nebraska.  School visits was not the only thing that I focused on this year.  I had 165 appearances which includes meeting many Kiwanis, Rotary, and Legion clubs.  I visited nursings homes, VA hospitals and clinics, retirements communities, pre-schools, and attended many fundraisers all across the state.  With attending all these different events, I traveled over 40,000 miles.  I went through a lot of audio books this year with all the long drives.”

There are titleholders who slow down after winning Miss Nebraska, or competing at Miss America. The high wears off; the goal has been reached. For Allison, the mission continued every, single day she held the title Miss Nebraska 2017. In her first few weeks, I threw about 12 radio, TV and newspaper interviews at her, one after another. I told her once, ‘feel free to say no if you’re getting burned out.’ Her response: ‘I’m only Miss Nebraska for one year. I want to do as much as I can.’

 

Allison was our first Miss Nebraska to work directly with Governor Pete Ricketts, attending Homecoming at the Governor’s Mansion and traveling with his office to Nebraska’s four Blue Ribbon Schools. She solidified our new partnership with Teammates Mentoring Program, securing a new arena of speaking opportunities and networking. She was invited to the College World Series, kicking off the team barbecue at arguably one of our state’s biggest events. She attended the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Heart Ball, spoke with hundreds of veterans in La Vista before their Honor Flight, performed live on Omaha TV for a fundraising telethon.. the list goes on and on.

“Another highlight of my year was each school visit,” said Allison. “I visited schools all over the state of Nebraska had so much fun learning what made each school unique.  I also had an absolute BLAST giving my presentations and answering all of the students’ wild questions.  While traveling Nebraska and meeting the students, teachers, and citizens of these communities, it gave me a great sense of pride for our state.  I was able to meet some of most genuine and hard working individuals in Nebraska.   I will forever cherish the people and communities that treated me with such kindness when I came to visit.  I can tell you that “Nebraska Nice” is a true statement!”

 

THIS is what I want people to know about Miss Nebraska and our program. Allison Tietjen is a woman of SUBSTANCE. All of America got a glimpse of that in September, when she represented our state at the iconic Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.

 

“Miss America was the first big moment for me,” said Allison. “I remember being very nervous for Miss America, not knowing how it was going to go.  Miss America was a mix of emotions, but overall it was pure joy.  I met some of the most amazing women, and friends that would help me all throughout my year as Miss Nebraska. In the dressing room I sat next to Miss Missouri (Jennifer Davis) and Miss Illinois (Abby Foster) and in those two weeks we became really close.  There were many times all three of us would be in tears we were laughing so hard.  These are the moments that I always look back on and cannot help but smile.   I also will never forget walking out on the Miss America stage for the first time in my gown.  I have never had a gown that I have loved more and having that moment on the Miss America stage is probably going to be a highlight of my life. I would not trade those two weeks at Miss America for anything, and if I had the chance I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

The sentiment about her year of service is the same – and that’s exactly what it was for Allison Tietjen. We refer to this title as a job, and folks, it is absolutely that and so much more. These women put their lives on hold – their college careers, marriage plans, and off the free time, partying and adventurine’ing you so often see in early 20-somethings. They dedicate their lives to others. For Allison – to children, to our nation’s heroes, to military families, and so many more.

 

CLICK HERE to watch Allison’s Miss Nebraska 2017 video.

   “I have had an absolute incredible year and have loved every moment of being Miss Nebraska, for that reason I am sad that it is coming to an end,” said Allison. “For something that I have put so much work into and has been my life for the past year,  it is a unique feeling that my Miss Nebraska journey will be over.  I am not going to let this chapter end completely though.  I will always support the pageant and want to continue to help in any way that I can.”

And with that, Allison Tietjen continues a journey, incredible with or without that crown. She’ll gain a new sister when her brother gets married this summer, she’ll regain some privacy with her longtime boyfriend, Garrett, and she’ll continue her work at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, pursuing a Bachelors degree in Family Science with an emphasis in Nutrition and Psychology. Her hope is to be accepted into graduate school for Occupational Therapy.

 

At a time when ‘pageants’ are under near-constant scrutiny – that they degrade and objectify women, that they place a woman’s focus on outer beauty rather than intelligence and talent – Allison Tietjen has a message for all young women who want the absolute best in all facets of their lives.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

“I was someone who had to take a leap of faith and try something completely out of my comfort zone. I was someone who thought “what if I would try to compete for Miss Nebraska”.  I can say with 100% confidence that I have not a single regret for taking that leap of faith,” said Allison. “Miss Nebraska pushes you to become the best version of yourself and it pulls you outside of your comfort zone.  With girls that might be considering it but don’t know for sure, I would encourage them to watch Miss Nebraska.  I remember being unsure of it but interested in the program when I was in high school.  My mom and I watched Miss Nebraska 2013, and from then on I was hooked.  From there I competed in the next local and learned along the way.  For me, becoming Miss Nebraska didn’t happen overnight.  It took years of hard work.  I encourage anyone who may be considering it to take that chance and try!”

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

Close your eyes, and think of the moments that define your life. Moments in time, adding up to one story. You have ONE life. None of us know how many moments we’ll get.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Thank you, Allie, for showing all of us how to make the absolute most of every, single moment. Thank you for taking our organization to the next level and building a legacy that can continue to titleholders down the road; you gave everyone reason to pause and say ‘yes, this is something I want to support and be part of.’ And thank you for sharing those moments with so many others. Your one moment in time, your year as Miss Nebraska, may be over, but your impact will certainly live on – in photographs, in autographs, in memories, and in countless hearts.

You are forever our Miss Nebraska.

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Click here to read more about the 2018 Miss Nebraska contestants, and the 2018 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants.

Click here to learn more about the Miss Nebraska Scholarship Program.

Be Kind

This has been one of those years that make you question everything.

Parkland. Santa Fe. Kentucky.

As our country mourned, debated and prayed over school shootings and tragedies repeatedly happening across America, students and in some cases, teachers, walked out of class to protest the violence, demanding change.

Did it make a difference? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m alone in believing there were many kids who walked out that didn’t fully understand what or why they were protesting.. but simply wanted to get out of class.

At Westside Community Schools, building leaders and staff members tried something different.. they encouraged students to take action with clear and well-thought out plans to enact change, not only outside our schools, but INSIDE them. Westside High students staged a sit-in; they lined the hallways with posters, signs and silence not only paying tribute to the victims lost, but spreading awareness to each other  about violence and to anyone who saw photos and videos of their event. Westside Middle School took this a step further, planning an entire week of activities promoting Safer Schools.

Organized by Student Council members, students created and sold T-shirts uniting their student body and benefitting their school. They made posters reminding each other to report problems and concerns, and they gathered together for an emotional assembly with a resounding message: KINDNESS MATTERS.

That was the theme of their week – to simply be kind to one another. Love always wins. That spirit of brotherhood and respect was palpable during the final assembly wrapping up their Safer Schools week.

It’s the same mentality that has compelled a young woman from western Nebraska to accumulate more than 1,000 hours of time serving others here, and around the world.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We need to accept people for who they are and embrace their uniqueness,” said Brianna Little, crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County last summer. “My platform is Be Kind, Be The Change, bringing acts of inclusion, acceptance and kindness into our daily lives.”

Brianna is no stranger to service, an active member of her community for the last several years as a teen titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program. However, she credits a trip to Nicaragua last summer as a key turning point in her mission as both a Miss Nebraska contestant, and a human being.

“I not only was made aware of the need in the world, but I saw just how grateful someone could be for the things we take for granted,” said Brianna. “When a young child, not even school age, runs up to you, dirty bowl in hand begging for beans with big, hopeful eyes, or when a mother will take any clothing you have to offer for her child, your view of the world will change the way mine did.”

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Brianna continued that mission when she returned home to Harrisburg, Nebraska, working to deliver meals to those in need throughout her community. She’s also volunteered with the Salvation Army, hospital patients, and the Special Olympics. Still, she wanted to do more.

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“I got and talk to schools about the importance of being kind to one another, and creating kindness challenges for them,” said Brianna. “Intertwining my platform with the national Miss America Organization partner, one of the first challenges I present is for the kids to collet coins for the Children’s Miracle Network. I speak with other local organizations such as our Scottsbluff Kiwanis Club about my platform. Whenever I volunteer or make an appearance, I also give away shirts, lanyards, bracelets and chapsticks with the Be Kind, Be The Change logo to remind people to always remember they, too, can be the change.”

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Brianna, a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Scottsbluff High School who has already earned an astonishing 51 college credits, notes the facts and statistics that back up the impact movements like her platform can have.. and the problems we all see in society without this work.

“The biggest issue facing my generation is self image,” said Brianna. “There are so many expectations for kids and teens that are both mentally and physically exhausting. There always seems to be something about yourself that needs change, from outward appearance to how to act. 20% of kids and teens in any given year will experience depression. 14% will at least consider suicide. 8% will make an actual attempt on their life. This is one of the many reasons why my platform is so tremendously needed. As a society, we need to change how we view the world and treat people.”

 

 

Reinforcing Brianna’s message are the connections and friendships she’s made by being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“The girls are amazing, kind and very likeminded,” said Brianna. “When they say it’s a sisterhood, it’s true. No matter what happens, I will have spent countless hours with some of the most wonderful women across Nebraska.”

Maya Angelou once said ‘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.’

Brianna Little shows through her words and actions she is brilliant, driven and determined. She is an award-winning cheerleader, a future University of Nebraska-Lincoln college student who hopes to become a Maternal Fetal Medicine Obstetrician. People certainly see the impact she’s having already, named just this week as a 2018 Miss Nebraska Community Service Award finalist.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Still, she hopes she’s remembered for KINDNESS. For making people feel better about themselves and the world around them, and for paying that powerful feeling forward to impact change in others.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“Knowing just how much of an impact I can make is the sole reason I pursued the title of Miss Nebraska 2018 and wanted to be part of this,” said Brianna. “Beyond the title, I want to show everyone what I stand for and share my message. I hope to inspire people to push the limits of their capabilities and always reach ahead of them to the next great thing awaiting in life. For me, if that is the title of Miss Nebraska, I will be thrilled and ready to represent my state sharing my platform.”

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To follow Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Energizer Bunny

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Bring It On

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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Alliance Kodi Baumann

COMING SOON.. Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson

Priceless

I just shared a jaw-dropping stat across social media:

This year, we will award a record-breaking $70,000 in cash, gifts and services to Miss Nebraska contestants, PLUS we will offer more than $1.4 MILLION in college scholarships!!!

That’s not a typo. $70,000. $1.4 million.

There are so many great things about participating in this program, that huge scholarship and prize haul being one of them! But more often than not, when new young women try a Miss Nebraska local pageant, we learn it’s the intangibles that drew them to compete.

Hayden Richardson was inspired by a friend and sorority sister, leading by example.

Hayden Richardson - Miss Twin Rivers

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I had seen how Allie Tietjen had thrived in the system,” Hayden told me. “She is my role model because she is the most positive and compassionate woman I have ever met. As a sister in Alpha Phi as well as a dear friend of mine, I have seen all sides of her and her bubbly personality is so authentic, whether she in in pajamas or in crown and sash, she is true to herself.”

At 19 years old, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student decided to give this pageant thing a go, too.. and won the title of Miss Twin Rivers on her first try. Her friend, Allison, aka Miss Nebraska 2017, was at her side to crown her.

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“I could not think of a better way to improve as an individual than to partake in something that has made Allie the strong woman she is.”

Allison won the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award in 2017. Hayden immediately followed suit, setting a goal to hit the ground running with a platform targeting a crisis spreading throughout Nebraska and beyond.”My platform is based on child trafficking in the state of Nebraska,” said Hayden. “I am focused on raising awareness of the issue, educating school faculty, and creating positive self image with our students. I have partnered with the Nebraska Coalition Against Human Trafficking, in which I have been able to speak to differing groups, from schools to girl scout troupes, advocating for each different aspect.”

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“Service is absolutely the most important part of the Miss America crown to me,” said Hayden. “My goal as Miss Nebraska is to have 10,000 children and community members hear my message. In spreading awareness of human trafficking and helping to reduce the risk factors, my goal is to change the lives of children that may have fallen victim.”

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Hayden’s goals are not exclusive to winning that Miss Nebraska crown. The self described ‘political science geek’ plans to someday become a lawyer.

“I want to pursue a life rooted in the advancement of human rights laws on the nonprofit side,” said Hayden, who is currently working for Nebraska State Senator Kate Bolz. “Later down the road, I wish to run for the House of Representatives to advance my message and serve my state and country. The Miss Nebraska Organization is allowing me the opportunity to begin my work now as a freshman in college to advance the knowledge of human trafficking here in Nebraska, as well as giving me the life skills necessary to work in an adverse field.”

And like so many other contestants this year and for years prior, this outlet is also an opportunity for Hayden to showcase her other talents and improve every aspect of herself creatively, mentally and physically. As a national-level competitive cheerleader and dancer, Hayden has found new stages to perform. As a 2012 Nebraska Gymnastics Championships competitor, she’s found new reasons to continue a focus on physical health and wellness.

“Miss Nebraska is essential to the state because it provides the role models for young girls across Nebraska,” said Hayden. “As a public servant, Miss Nebraska educates and inspires our youth to be the best they can be. It is so important to continue that.”

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Just as Miss Nebraska Allison Tietjen inspired Hayden, she now hopes to inspire others. Little girls in her hometown of Bennington are now watching not only Hayden, but newly crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Kelsie Therkildsen. And early next month, just one day before she leaves for her own state competition, Hayden will invite many those children to join her and directly make a difference in the lives of other Omaha kids.

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In the end, that’s what so many women like Hayden, and Allison, and myself, recall most about being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization. The money is AWESOME to help pay for school. The opportunities to perform and shine are empowering. But the impact you can have on your community and world around you thanks to a little extra notoriety in a ‘Miss So and So’ title…. those memories are priceless.

“The best part of this has been interacting with my community,” said Hayden. “I have made so many more connections than I would have ever been able to without the Miss Nebraska system. This  It gives us a way to voice who we are as women, and further develops our sense of self.”

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To follow Miss Twin Rivers Hayden Richardson, click here.

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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

NEXT.. Miss Star City 2018 Allison Baird

 

Breaking Out Of The Box

I wrote a few months ago about the STEM explosion here at Westside Community Schools, particularly with our female students. Led by a cadre of phenomenal female educators, girls at Westside Middle School and Westside High School continue to crush anything coding/engineering/robotics related. AND I LOVE IT.

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I love seeing people crush stereotypes. If you’re good at one thing, that must be it, you must fit into this box.

Um, no.

One of the young women starring in this story of students slaying science is Ramya Iyer, a freshman at Westside High School. She’s been to UNO Code Crush. She’s the 2018 regional NCWIT Award winner for Aspirations in Computing. She just won her FIRST state championship as a freshman in photo illustration. AND… just this week, we announced she also won first place out of 5,000 international submissions in a student video contest.

Ramya

Scientist. Student. Techie. Producer.

There ain’t a box big enough for what this girl is capable of.

Same goes for 23-year old Emily Curtis, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Nebraska, who also happens to be competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.

Emily Curtis - Miss Panhandle

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Mechanical Engineer.. AND a pageant queen? Could it be?

Hell yes.

Emily’s kind of a genius when it comes to ‘figuring things out’; solving puzzles using a scientific approach is her career and her passion.

 

“I was part of the Husker Racing Baja SAE Team, a student organization at UNL that got to design, build and race an off-road vehicle,” said Emily. “At the Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium in August of 2017, I was able to present my research in Austin, Texas to other students and researchers in the 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing fields. Ultimately, I want to work as a research engineer, focusing on sustainable manufacturing with 3D printing.”

<Editor’s note… here’s me just reading that.>

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So why pageants? Why Miss Nebraska?

“I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain,” said Emily. “I have about five more years left of school and two more degrees to earn, so the scholarship money provided by the organization is a huge help, allowing me to remain debt free throughout my higher education. Along with that, the performance aspect, and preparing to present myself on stage has made me more comfortable with presenting my research and approaching others in the field, two things that are necessary for researchers.”

 

 

Any scientist knows there is trial and error before success. The same holds true for Emily in this latest experiment. She competed several times, over several years, before winning a local title.

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“Finally earning that title with overall interview and overall talent awards, after so many years, and numerous local pageants, really validated the hard work I had put into my platform and this program,” said Emily. “I was just so happy, ecstatic, delighted and ready for this to happen.”

She seized the opportunity to take her platform to the next level; a message for all little girls and women called ‘Empowering Women in STEM.’

 

“I advocate for a network of support and opportunity for women and girls interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Emily. “It starts with highlighting strong feminine role models within STEM, and then continues by providing women opportunities to connect with each other and the means to achieve their goals.”

Emily’s own networking circle has expanded to include the same women she’ll compete with next month.

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 “[My favorite part of this] is the sisterhood,” said Emily. “Before this, I have never felt a more instant connection than I did with each of the titleholders in this year’s Miss Nebraska class. We all want to see each other succeed, and I can honestly say that I feel that I have made 14 new lifelong friends.”

“The foundation of this organization is a sisterhood, and the concept that women support women,” said Emily. “This organization celebrates the strength of women, not only a individuals, but as a collective group as well. I personally have never met a more dedicated, selfless, and passionate group of people (people, not just women) than the contestants, directors, volunteers and parents I have met while competing in the Miss Nebraska Organization.”

How’s this for a hypothesis: perhaps, engineering, and computer science, and video production, and being a beautiful human being, aren’t as dissimilar as some would assume them to be. Perhaps you CAN be a ‘pageant girl’ and brilliant all at once. Maybe, just maybe, YOU and only you, can define yourself and determine what you want to become.

Both KMTV and KETV are sharing Ramya’s success across Omaha TV this week. (Oh yeah, she’s also EXTREMELY well spoken, nailing every interview I threw at her.) Simultaneously, Emily posted this on social media.

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‘I am so thankful for the opportunity to receive an education, and still thankful for the Miss America Organization for providing scholarship dollars to women like me to further their education. Next stop, Grad School!’

The message at Westside High School, within the Miss Nebraska Organization, and from incredible young women like Ramya and Emily is simple and clear: BREAK OUT OF THE BOX. Find what you love – all of what you love – and DO IT.

“I look up to women like Katherine Jackson, Jane Goodall, and Sally Ride, who broke barriers and showed us all how strong, tough and determined women can be,” said Emily. “With my local title, I have become a role model and strong female voice, and I know have a bigger platform to reach out to my community and show women of all ages what possibilities and potential they have.”

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To follow Miss Panhandle Emily Curtis, click here.

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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Heartland 2018 Brooke Lodl

NEXT.. Miss Twin Rivers 2018 Hayden Richardson

Just Like Fire

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

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

Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIRLS WITH ME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * The Year of the Phoenix

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Fighting For Hope

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

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

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

Up For The Challenge

What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced?

The fact that nothing immediately comes to my mind as a forerunner tells me I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life. I think of breakups, hiccups throughout my career(s), how do I raise happy, healthy children, and simply time management. This is all just life, right?

How about this for a challenge.. battling a chronic disease, surviving a car accident, facing your parents’ divorce, all while double majoring in college and launching your own organization.

WHAT?

Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

“Although I’ve experienced plenty of life obstacles, I’ve used every experience as motivation to propel me to my goals,” Lianna told me recently. “I use my sassy and positive attitude to accomplish my dreams.”

Lianna doesn’t dwell on what’s happened to her. Instead, she focuses on what she’s doing NOW. For more than five years, she’s worked nonstop to make the world a better place and to make her aspirations become reality. For example… her mission to become Miss Nebraska.

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“There is nothing I want more,” said Lianna. “When I was eight, I promised myself that once I was qualified to compete, I would give it everything I had to become the role model that I looked up to back then. This organization continues to give me a stage to perform on, a voice to share my message, an opportunity to give back to Children’s Miracle Network and a scholarship opportunity to help me graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln debt free.”

Lianna was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012, the first step in that journey to achieve her dream. It was a chance for her to sing and perform for thousands of people across the state and at the national Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition that year.

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“I. Love. Talent.” said Lianna. “Standing on stage under bright lights and not seeing anyone in the audience allows me to truly perform for an audience of One. I believe everyone has a gift and belting out a song on the Miss Nebraska stage is how I give mine back to Him.”

But that exciting year wasn’t without challenges; around the same time Lianna finally found an answer to the crippling pain that had haunted her for years.

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“I unknowingly suffered from Celiac Disease for a decade,” said Lianna, who explains more about what that is HERE. “I needed to adhere to a strict gluten and dairy free lifestyle. It was then I realized the crucial link between diet and wellness.”

Lianna spread awareness of Celiac throughout high school, earning a D.J.’s Hero Award and a $10,000 scholarship for her efforts. She continued as a Miss Nebraska titleholder to advocate for others diagnosed or not yet diagnosed (approximately 1 in every 133 people).. but realized that her message applied to everyone, not just those facing this chronic disease.

“I wanted to make my message universal,” said Lianna. “‘Eat Well, Be Well’ focuses on healthy lifestyles full of whole foods designed for our bodies. Nutrition is a game changer and eating well makes you feel well and be well!”

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Lianna, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took her message even further, forming the Gluten Free Community on her campus. She’s also a busy sorority member on campus, a staff member at the Daily Nebraskan, and a student with two majors in her work towards a career in broadcast journalism.

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Her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed; Lianna is now a finalist for the 2017 Miss Nebraska Community Service Awards, and earned the People’s Choice Award sponsored by Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe after earning more than 1,100 online votes from her friends, fellow students, and perhaps, strangers inspired by her story. A story and mission that once again, are all part of her lifelong dream.

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“Hey, I’m not a Barbie! I lead a healthy lifestyle, and I strive to be well-rounded,” said Lianna. “The Miss America Organization is a training ground for interviews, jobs and life. It has given me the opportunity to hone communication skills that I will use in the future and in my career, not to mention, it funded my college career and allowed me to not only attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but double major and graduate this year. I have become the best version of myself because of the four points of the Miss America crown.”

Service. Scholarship. Style. SUCCESS.

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How do you measure success? Only if you rise about those challenges and accomplish your goals? Or do you succeed through pushing yourself further than you ever thought possible in the attempt?

Lianna Prill looks at every challenge as more motivation.

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Appearances speaking about Celiac Disease aren’t work; they are opportunities to help more and more people Eat Well and Be Well. Every time she takes the stage to sing, Lianna doesn’t think ‘what if I mess up?’ She embraces each moment and revels in it. The countless hours spent visiting schools and groups across Nebraska don’t take away from her time, they add to her resume as a future reporter and anchor.. and possibly, a future Miss Nebraska. THAT may be the biggest challenge Lianna Prill has ever faced, and she says BRING IT ON.

“I want to give back in any way I can; the Miss America Organization makes that possible,” said Lianna. “I have worked incredibly hard on my journey to Miss Nebraska this year, and I am looking forward to seeing God’s plan unravel.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill, CLICK HERE to follow her on Instagram, CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Wonder Woman

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Fueling The Journey

For more information about the Miss Alliance Pageant/Miss Harvest Moon Festival Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook. You can also email Director Riki Cornish Hunter at riki.hunter@farmcoop.com or miss.alliance.pageant@gmail.com or call 308-430-4355.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

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!

Memorial Day

Early 2003. I was a student at UNL, and planned to meet my good friend Adrian for lunch. Many of you know him as KETV’s award winning anchor & reporter Adrian Whitsett; I’ve called him ‘friend’ since our high school days at Papillion-La Vista.

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Then, Adrian was enlisted in the Marines and had spent time across the US and in Japan. I don’t remember where we were or what we were doing that day back in Papillion, but I remember at one point, him telling me that he would probably be leaving soon. He couldn’t tell me where he was going or when, but just wanted to let me know.

March 20, I was lying on the couch in my parents basement swollen like a chipmunk after having my wisdom teeth removed, when network news broke in; the United States was invading Iraq. I pointed to the TV and said ‘hey!!’ and realized that was what Adrian was talking about.. he was there.

While I attended candlelight vigils for our troops and wrote Adrian letters from the comfort of my Omaha apartment, my friend was on the front lines of a war-torn, unstable country thousands of miles away. He eventually lost hearing in one of his ears from firing high-power weapons; he cleaned himself in the 120-degree+ Iraqi heat with Wet Wipes; he saw and experienced terrible things most of us will never even think of. Adrian came home that August. Thousands of brave Americans did not.

Army Pvt. Kenny Nalley of Hamburg, Iowa. He was 19 and wanted to be police officer.

Marine Lance Cpl Shane E. Kielion of Omaha. He died the same day his son, Shane Jr., was born.

Army National Guardsman Spc. Joshua Ford of Pender, just 20. The same explosion that killed him claimed the leg of one of his fellow soldiers, a man who bravely stood to salute his fallen brother at their return ceremony.

A Nebraska woman has spent countless hours volunteering and uniting people across the state, ensuring we remember these brave men and women on Memorial Day and ever other day.

Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

“My grandfather was a Marine during the Korean War, and was very proud of the years he served his country,” Allison told me recently. “When he passed away, I knew I wanted to do something to honor him and everything he stood for. That is when I first got involved with the Nebraska Honor Flights.”

Vietnam Honor Flight (2016)

The Honor Flights are massive cooperative efforts to fly veterans to Washington DC, at no charge to them, to see the monuments and tributes built for them and the friends they have lost in war or since conflict. They are organized by Patriotic Productions; founders Bill and Evonne Williams are literally angels on earth, devoting their lives to this cause and to their traveling Remembering Our Fallen exhibit, a tribute to every single man and woman who has died serving our country since 9/11.

In 2014, Allison spearheaded efforts in her tiny hometown of Chester, Nebraska to raise $500, the cost to send one Korean veteran to DC on an Honor Flight. They raised $4,000.. and Patriotic Productions asked Allison to join them as a guardian, a trip she also talked about when I interviewed her in 2015.

Korean Honor Flight (2014)

“It was an amazing and humbling experience that truly set me on a lifelong path to honor and respect these men and women,” said Allison. “Since this first Honor Flight, I [have helped] with the Gold Star Kids Honor Flight. This was a weekend dedicated to families who have lost a loved one in combat. To hear these little kids talk about their heroes with such optimism, hope and love was something very special.”

This mission, which she dubs ‘United We Stand: Honoring Our Military’, was Allison’s personal platform of service when she held two local Miss Nebraska titles in 2014 and 2015. She didn’t compete in 2016, but never stopped focusing on this important cause.

“The year I took off I was able to raise over $14,000 for the Vietnam Honor Flight and serve as a guardian for the second time,” said Allison. “I made over 300 ‘Bracelets for the Brave’, used as a fundraiser for a Kindergarten class to raise money for our veterans.”

So why compete again for Miss Nebraska, when she was accomplishing so very much as Miss Allison Tietjen?

Miss Heartland

“This fall, I was looking through Facebook and noticed a message that was never opened,” said Allison. “It was sent May 2015. The message was from a mother who just sent her son off to the Marines. She had received one of my ‘Bracelets for the Brave’ and told me how much that meant to her. She thanked me for thinking of her and wished me well as I competed for Miss Nebraska. At that moment I realized that all of this isn’t about me. It is about those mothers who know that Miss Heartland cares about them and their sons/daughters who are going off to serve our country. It is about the veterans who smile when Miss Heartland shakes their hand and tells them they are appreciated by myself and students across Nebraska. What clicked for me is I finally understood what the ‘power of the crown’ really means, and it’s why I competed for Miss Heartland and I’m working towards Miss Nebraska.”

Allison, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, has reached out to schools across the state to spread her message of patriotism and appreciation.

“I have students write Thank You notes to our active military and veterans,” said Allison. “I sent them to a non-profit called A Million Thanks that will send them to US service members all over the world. I have collected 300 so far and my goal is 700 by June, and 20,000 as Miss Nebraska.”

Remember that last goal Allison set and crushed? She is on pace to raise 60-times that initial $500 she had hoped for.

“I sent an email out to as many elementary, middle and high school principals as I could, detailing what an Honor Flight is and how they can get involved,” said Allison. “I described what my school and community did, and with just emailing, I was able to help start eight school fundraisers that raised a total of over $14,000. This year, I sent out another mass email and have around six schools that I know of raising money. In total, schools across Nebraska have raised $30,000 for Honor Flights in the last two years!”

Allison credits the Miss Nebraska Organization for showing her another way to serve her country, as well as helping her find a purpose and passion. She also volunteers through her sorority, Alpha Phi, Girl Scouts, and her church, University Lutheran Chapel, where she plays piano.

Ihop

“I always tell students I’m speaking to, ‘find what you love, discover your talents and strengths, and ind how you can use those strengths and passions to serve others.’ Being Miss Nebraska is not alway a glamorous job. I want people to know that behind the makeup and beautiful gowns are just a bunch of strong-willed, determined women who are working to make this world a better place.”

Africa

For this woman, that won’t stop if she doesn’t win the Miss Nebraska crown. She’s proven that twice now. When the lights turned off and the crowds went home, Allison proved her power. She studied abroad in Africa. She went skydiving. She took care of her body and mind (“piano is my therapy”). She was motivated to make every day better than the last for herself and everyone around her.

Every time a man or woman signs that paper, puts on that uniform, and leaves all of our comforts to PROTECT everything we know, they are ensuring we have another beautiful day. Another opportunity to wake up in America and do anything we set our mind to.

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Adrian, an American hero, was home to sing at my wedding eight years ago. I cannot wait to watch him marry his best friend and love, Emily, this October.

We take so much for granted. We take every day for granted, we take our freedom for granted. We never say thank you enough to the men and women, and their families, who sacrifice so much to make that possible.. so we can say what we please, do as we please, and work to become whatever we want to be..

..even Miss Nebraska. And if she wins, Allison hopes to say thank you to as many service members and their families as she can.

“I am the small town farmer’s daughter, but I am able to walk into a room full of strangers, clearly speak, share my story and take control of the room,” said Allison. “I understand what it means to give back and serve others without hesitation. I know how to put your heart and soul into something and be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. I truly believe that we live in one of the greatest countries on earth and that is because of the men and women who have served for us.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Patriotic Productions, the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit and the Nebraska Honor Flights.

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Click here to follow Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * All-American Girl

CLICK HERE * 2014* Where The Heart Is

For more information about the Miss Nebraska State Fair/Miss Heartland Pageant or to become a contestant, email Directors Chelsey Jungck at cjungck@statefair.org or Shelley Penner at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

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!