Behind the Tiara



With the Miss Florida Pageant coming in July, three local pageant winners will compete at the state level for a chance to represent the State of Florida at the national Miss America Pageant in September. SRQ goes behind the tiara with Miss Manatee Jercoiya Waiters, Miss Manatee River Jessica Hargrave and Miss DeSoto Heritage Samantha Hyatt to talk about goals, giving and why they chose the pageant life.

Like most pageants, July’s competition includes aesthetic contests with evening gowns and swimsuits, but there remains an intellectual side that often goes unnoticed. Public speaking, political awareness, professional composure—all are demanded of any potential pageant winner. “The four points of the Miss America crown we wear represent service, scholarship, success and style,” says Hyatt. “That in itself shows how well-rounded Miss America contestants are.” Hyatt herself is an experienced rifle twirler on the Elite Rifle Line with the Gator Band and performed for former president Barack Obama in the 2012 Inaugural Parade.In addition to all of this, each contestant must also have a platform—a cause that they champion through the competition. As Miss Manatee River, Hargrave’s platform is the Florida Oceanographic Society, which works to restore Florida waterways. With each contestant picking a platform close to their heart, Waiters speaks for autism awareness, stemming from her brother being diagnosed at a young age. Hyatt’s passion lies with the Girl Scouts, encouraging young women and girls to follow in her scouting footsteps.

And as an institution itself, the Miss America Organization holds an important place in all the contestants’ lives, opening doors and encouraging personal development. “It has offered me the opportunity to change my life through the ability to obtain an education,” says Waiters. “An education I know now will change the future, not only for myself but for the thousands of other young women who participate in this amazing program.” The Miss America Organization remains the largest scholarship provider for women in the nation and has catapulted countless careers including Fox and Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson and actress Vanessa Williams. “The skills pageants help women develop are incomparable,” says Hargrave. “I can truly say they have made me the woman I am today because competition has pushed me to become the best version of myself possible.”

The Miss Florida Scholarship Pageant Finale kicks off in Lakeland this Saturday, July 1st .

Pictured, from left: Samantha Hyatt, Jercoiya Waiters and Jessica Hargrave.

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