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Featuring Miss Oregon!

The running joke in my friend group this last year has been that I am not what one would call a "pageant girl." And yet, this is precisely why I chose to compete in National American Miss. This unique pageant, with the sole focus of bettering the world by uplifting and encouraging the young woman in it, is a far cry from the stereotypical pageant that I and many others are used to. What started as curiosity and trepidation for being on stage and being judged for my ability to be myself has turned into gratitude beyond measure for the growth I have achieved. National American Miss provided the spring board that my insecure, painfully shy, and socially nervous 14-year-old self needed to blossom and grow into the confident, out spoken, social butterfly that I am today.
            National American Miss was different than anything I expected. Even in the registration line my first day, I knew that no matter what came next, I was going to learn and grow from that experience. The Washington team was so welcoming and graciously answered any and all questions that I had, which were many. While I did not win that year, I was bitten by the NAM bug, and returned again the next year. Due to family circumstances and moving, I did not return to NAM again until I was 19 years old, having come home for the summer after my first year of college. I had lost confidence, as most people do after a brutal year of schooling, and I needed a pick-me-up. My mother in her infinite wisdom suggested I try National American Miss one more time. How inspired she was! Looking back at my NAM memories, I realized that I loved NAM because I was never made to feel weird or like I didn't belong, but that was because every girl there had something in common, something that every NAM girl has in common: we want to make a difference. Gandhi said it best, "the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." I needed to find myself again, and NAM helped me do so by encouraging me to look outside myself to how I could help others.
            This year, I have had the opportunity to volunteer in individual events with my sister queens, ranging from celebration parades to suicide awareness campaign events. On my own, I have had the opportunity to volunteer with Brigham Young University's Anti-Human Trafficking Club's Clean the Stadium event, volunteer with the Provo chapter of Head Start with pre-school children, as well as spend time every week volunteering as a 4-H mentor for an at risk youth in the area. What many people don't know is that 4-H is not just a youth program for learning the tools of farming and ranching, it is also a club geared toward helping youth of all ages find direction and acceptance by serving their community. The 4-H pledge recited at every group activity goes as follows:
            I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
            My heart to greater loyalty,
            My hands to larger service,
            and my health to better living,
            for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

            I fell in love with this group, because this is exactly what National American Miss strives to do through pageantry! I have found the discipline and determination can be learned just as effectively through wearing a sparkling gown as they can be through shucking stalls (although neither is better than the other to be certain.)
            While my time as the 2016 National American Miss Oregon may be winding down and coming to a close, the lessons I have learned and the personal growth I have had because of my experiences in NAM will last a lifetime. I feel truly blessed beyond measure for this time I have been given to represent my home state of Oregon. Like any true Oregonian, I've learned to embrace the age old adage to dance and play in the rain despite the seldom occurring Utah rain storms, and encourage all to keep looking for fortuitous moments to do the same!
            National American Miss is all about embracing who you are, whether that's the science geek, the "girly girl," or even the person still figuring out exactly what you want to do, knowing that will likely change a hundred times before anything solid sticks. You are the only you, a truly unique and wonderful person trying to make a difference, so revel in that and hold your head high. No matter the outcome, and no matter how cliché it sounds, you are a winner for trying, and you need only to look at my personal transformation to see that.
Thank you National American Miss!
Gabrielle Elrod
2016 National American Miss Oregon


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