Leah Roddenberry was so shy that at six years old, friends’ parents wondered if she could speak at all. In high school at Cardinal Mooney, she kept her head down, sporting a low braid and headband while reviewing AP History facts and focusing on getting good grades. “There was always this fear of what people thought of me,” says Leah, describing an anxiety that has slowly atrophied thanks to, as she calls it, “The Organization.” 

Beginning with The Sunshine Princess Program, the entryway to the Miss America realm, Leah stepped into a world of mentorship and rigorous self-investment, eventually inspiring a dream with not-so-mild stepping stones. Not one, but two, victories as Miss Florida Outstanding Teen in both 2013 and 2015 was only the beginning, leading the way to Miss University of Florida, which Leah won as a sophomore in 2019, then Miss Tampa, conquered in 2020 at the age of 20. And it was only in June that Leah was named the 85th Miss Florida, set to contend in the 100th Miss America Competition this coming December. In her first month on the job, Leah Roddenberry traveled 3,000 miles to sketch wardrobe designs to the World Championship of American Cornhole in Manatee County, from retirement homes to elementary schools, committing a supportive and spotlighted face wherever it may be in need. “It’s a platform to do good in my community and throughout the state,” she says, acting as her own booking agent, cold-calling nonprofits and local organizations by day and sending hundreds of emails by night. She calls it her “year of service,” evoking a grit and resilience that combats the outdated visions of swimsuit competitions and girls with nothing but a smile and a sash.

Roddenberry (@leahkrodd/@missamericafl) rides into her hometown in proper style. 

Instead, at 22 years old, Leah Roddenberry is the founder of Be a LeadHER, a nonprofit organization encouraging young girls to find their voice, express their opinions and pursue their goals unapologetically, as well as the author of the children’s book, Leah Goes to Washington, for the politically ambitious and civically oriented. “Being politically ambitious doesn’t just mean waiting until you’re 18 to vote or running for office,” she says. “It means getting involved in your community, finding out what you’re passionate about and knowing that there really is no age limit to make a difference in your community.”

The proceeds of her book contribute to the Ignite Your Spark Scholarship fund, which Leah hopes to one day award to one girl in every state, honoring what she says is no longer a pageant, but a scholarship competition. “We’re changing as society is progressing,” she says, “focusing now on what the young women are doing in their communities, their academics and career goals and who and what they stand for.” Throughout her career, Leah has won over $37,000 in scholarships as part of The Miss America Foundation which is the largest provider of women’s scholarships in the nation. She plans to attend Belmont University College of Law in Nashville next fall though, she admits, her year of service may divert her path one way or another—as she hopes it does.