Once a shy youngster, 18-year-old Amanda Starrantino relishes the opportunity to bolster the self-esteem of little girls as the new Miss California Teen.
The recent Chaminade High School graduate emphasized in her "I believe in pink" speech at the National American Miss Pageant in Anaheim last month that it's especially important for girls to discover who they are and believe in their potential.
"I would really like to be a positive role model," said Starrantino, who has always wanted to be a broadcast journalist. A figure skater from the age of three who loved performing, she felt tongue-tied talking to people and joined the National American Miss organization to improve her self-confidence and public speaking.
In a phone interview with The Tidings conducted during her freshman orientation week at Chapman University in Orange where she is a film student, Starrantino said the time management she learned as a high school figure skater getting up for 4 a.m. practices has helped to balance her college and pageant activities.
Since she was crowned the state's Miss Teen on Aug. 8, she has distributed books and stuffed animals at Casa Pacifica children's and families agency in Camarillo as well as at the Children's Hospital in both Los Angeles and Orange counties.
One of five volunteers in a recent "Queen for a Day" activity giving makeovers to ill patients at Children's Hospital in Orange, Starrantino was moved to tears by the experience. Memories are still fresh from the January cancer death of a Chaminade dance team member classmate, Susie Beazley, who was the sister of a close friend.
The night Beazley died, Starrantino and a core group of high school friends went to the beach and honored their classmate by bringing roses. The tragedy bonded the teenagers, and about 20 of them were present when Starrantino was crowned.
Cancer awareness is part of Starrantino's pageant platform, and she will participate as a greeter at the Sept. 10 Avon walk for breast cancer in Santa Barbara. "I'll be there cheering on everybody and talking to people," said Starrantino.
She is grateful for the support of her parents, Maurice and Karen, and her 15-year-old brother, Adrian, who races go-karts. Adrian usually acts as her pageant escort, and patiently listens while she practices her speeches.
"My brother is my best friend. We make skype calls almost every day. I always go to him for boy advice," she confides.
Her mom, she says, is her best cheerleader who drove her to figure skating practices from their home in Simi Valley to ice rinks in El Segundo and Lake Arrowhead for years. The hard work paid off as Starrantino was ranked as a professional skater by the U.S. Figure Skating Association this year.
Growing up, "skating came before silly things. It's an independent sport, so it made me an independent person," said Starrantino, who might do a summer tour in an ice show in the future. Right now, her priorities are her studies and preparing to compete for the national Miss Teen title Nov. 22 in Anaheim.
Her faith in God, nurtured at St. Rose of Lima in Simi Valley where she attended the parish school and ministered as an altar server and lector, is a source of constant strength. She wears a cross every day, including one pinned on the inside of her gown when she won the state title.
"Having God with you makes you a stronger person. You always have someone on your side. I'm thankful to my parents for raising me with faith," said Starrantino. Her title, she adds, is not just for her benefit, "It's also to benefit others" with messages of hope and encouragement, especially for young girls.
As she says in her pageant speech: "The strength obtained by accepting and realizing one's inner beauty is essential for a girl to conquer the obstacles and challenges that prevent her from fulfilling her dream, a strength that every girl possesses, but often does not show. Any dream has the potential of becoming reality, it only depends on believing in oneself to obtain that ultimate goal."