Miss America: 91 Years of Advocating for Education and Funding the Dreams of America's Young Women

As seen on The Huffington Post by Sam Haskell

Tomorrow night live on ABC, we will mark the 91st anniversary of an American icon as we continue our beloved tradition of crowning the next Miss America. At the Planet Hollywood Resort in spectacular Las Vegas, one woman will be chosen from 53 national finalists who are the most beautiful, talented and intelligent young women this country has to offer. At the risk of sounding like a diplomat, all of our contestants are winners. Here’s why:

Our young women have dreams of going to college. Last year, the Miss America Organization made available more than $45 million in scholarships to help turn those dreams into reality. I’ve watched lives change because of the scholarships from our pageant program.

Here are just two examples of the impact that Miss America can have in fulfilling American dreams — 50 years apart from one another.

Crowned 50 years ago, Maria Beale Fletcher was told by her father that it wasn’t his dream that she go to college. It needed to be hers to dream and to fund. Maria promptly entered the local pageant and won $250. She went on to win Miss North Carolina and the Miss America pageant in 1962. With her Miss America scholarships, Maria earned her B.A. in French and philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She went on to become a successful business woman and an advocate for education.

As we say goodbye to the 2011 Miss America Teresa Scanlan, we proudly watch her pursue an undergraduate degree in government at Patrick Henry College, followed by law school. Not only has Patrick Henry College offered her a full scholarship, she plans to use the more than $62,000 in scholarships from the Miss America Organization to attend Harvard Law School. We wish her the very best as she pursues her dream to be a lawyer, U.S. president and Supreme Court justice.

The Miss America brand is known and loved for helping to fulfill the dreams of our nation’s young women. We are now entering a new era for our organization as we expand our mission to encourage more girls and young women to pursue their dreams of a higher education and to attain the goals that will take them into their future.

Following her crowning on Saturday night, the 2012 Miss America will spend her year touring the country to encourage all young women to pursue a college education, and will focus on driving interest in the arts, as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. The Miss America Organization will work with national and community partners to create an unconventional approach to driving young women’s interest in STEM.

Our efforts coincide with the national momentum to teach STEM curricula outside traditional school settings, targeting female students who are currently underrepresented in STEM professions. Our hope is to help shift girls’ attitudes about STEM and boost the percentage of women employed in STEM-related industries. It’s not just the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do for America’s future and our economy.

Across the country, millions of little girls have the dream of becoming Miss America. Some of the young dreamers have won the crown and gone on to become media stars and moguls, missionaries and mothers, news anchors and newsmakers, singers and scientists, lawyers, doctors, teachers and preachers… and none of them started with a crown. They started with a dream.

The Miss America Organization is so much more than a beauty pageant. It’s a dream machine.

So please join us tomorrow night on ABC. When the lights go up and the music begins, you will be a part of something bigger than crowning a new Miss America… you will be inspiring the next generation of little girls who will dare to dream.

Sam Haskell is the former chief of Worldwide Television at the William Morris Agency and the current Chairman of the Board of the Miss America Organization. He was named in 2007 by TV Week as one of the 25 Most Innovative and Influential People in Television over the last quarter century.

Prince Edward Welcomed to Washington

HRH The Prince Edward with Elizabeth and Rep. Dennis Kucinich

It isn’t every day that a member of the British royal family walks the halls of the US Capitol.

Washington welcomed HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, with a reception Monday evening by honorary co-hosts Sen. Roger Wicker, Sen. Mary Landrieu, Sen. Kay Hagan, and Sen. Thad Cochran. The Queen’s youngest son is the international champion of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a program founded by his father, Prince Phillip, more than fifty years ago. The award is designed to encourage youth around the world between the ages of 14 and 25 with character and self-esteem development through volunteering and physical challenges.

“We hear a lot about young people going wrong and very rarely do we actually give credit to the vast majority of young people want to go right. And here’s just one program that does that,” said Prince Edward. “At the end of [the program] they get recognized for their achievements and that’s a mark that will then hopefully open doors for them wherever they go.”

The program is now in 132 countries and has helped more than 800,000 youth become leaders in their communities. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – Young Americans’ Challenge was founded in the US in 2007, and is currently in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

Josh Randle, the President and Executive Director of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in the US, explains: “To earn a bronze, silver or gold award, participants spend approximately 1 hour each week on each activity, culminating with the adventurous journey component. The award is non-competitive, it’s non-academic but rather it aims to develop one’s entire self, creating responsible and experienced citizens and encouraging selfless service to others.”

Prince Edward is traveling to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and New York City to share the program’s mission, and to encourage and develop support from additional states, as well as other local and national youth programs, universities, and businesses.

“I’m proud to say that my state of Mississippi is among one of the 21 states to have embraced the award,” said Sen. Roger Wicker. “The award has achieved excellent momentum since it was launched four years ago here in the United States. I’m very excited about the work that has been done and the work that is to come.”

Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan is starting to work towards her own Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. In traveling the country and talking to young people she hears time again the biggest issue facing teens today is peer pressure.

“I think that says something huge. Why is peer pressure an issue? Because they don’t have the self-confidence to stand up to it. And how do we develop that self-confidence so they do have that and they’re able to stand up against peer pressure? By giving them opportunities for self-improvement. To have that sense of accomplishment that many people don’t get until they’re much older. And that’s what this program is all about, that’s what the Miss America Organization is all about: earning that sense of accomplishment.”

Attending the royal reception were Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – US Board Members Sam Haskell and Lanny Griffith; British Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald; Rep. Dennis Kucinich and wife, Elizabeth; Greta Van Susteren and John Coale; POLITICO’S Roger Simon and Marcia Kramer; Ellie Schafer, White House Visitor’s Office; Nathan Naylor, Veterans Affairs; AP’s Kimberly Dozier; Juleanna Glover; Ed Henry; and Michael & Meryl Chertoff.

For more information about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program in the United States go to www.usaward.org.

Don Graham + DC Student Superstars

DC Cap Talent Competition Winner Victoria Davis

It could have been a tryout for American Idol, from the terrific talent on stage to the enthusiasm in the audience. Yet, it was for something more important; providing scholarships to DC public and charter school students to go to college.  It was the third Annual DC College Access Program All Star Talent Competition and Gala led by co-chairs Donald Graham and Deborah Lehr.

The kids sang, danced and drummed their way across the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Stage as the audience clapped, hooted and voted on their favorites using dial remotes. The judges were internationally renowned opera soprano, Harolyn Blackwell, Olympic gold-medalists, Dominique Dawes, Broadway star, choreographer, and director Baayork Lee,  and Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, who knows a few things about competing.

Mr. Graham reminded the audience that it was a GOP led Congress that introduced and voted for this special program that helps keep DC students competitive and motivated by giving them scholarship money for college.  Speaker John Boehner was the head of the Education committee that helped pass such a resolution and was awarded a special apple for his work.  Congressman John Kline of Minnesota accepted in his honor and joked that the tears would be flowing if Speaker Boehner was there tonight.  Ms. Lehr also presented philanthropic superstar, Catherine Reynolds with an award for her great efforts for DC kids and helping many Americans be able to go to college.

ABC7/WJLA’s Leon Harris served as Master of Ceremonies and kept the competition moving and recognized DC Cupcake sisters, Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis, for their hard work in the community and their generosity of donating 400 cupcakes to the DC CAP Gala.

It was a tough choice for the judges to pick a winner as all of the contestants were incredibly talented.  The final results were:  3rd Place went to Sherman Wood ($4,000 scholarship), 2nd Place to Savannah Cranford ($6,000 scholarship) and 1st Place to Victoria Davis, a terrific singer, ($10,000 scholarship) and plans to pursue a degree in classical music.  All of the winners attend the Duke Ellington School of the arts.

Famous faces were everywhere including Julius Genachowski, FCC Chairman, David and Katherine Bradley, John Rogers (Deborah Lehr’s husband,) Steve Elmendorf, Wayne and Lea Berman, Pat Butler, and DC CAP board member Mark Ein.

A dance party followed with a red carpet, a band, fake paparazzi, beautiful starlets and lots of every happy DC students and their families.  Even a President Obama impersonator made an appearance.

Mr. Graham moved the crowd with his remark that DC-CAP is not just fulfilling the dreams of the very talented students on the stage but also the friends of those students. Marl Ein moved the crowd by pledging to give a $2,000 scholarship to each of the other seven finalists.  Other notable guests were CFO of Discovery Channel, Brad Singer and wife, Ali, co-founders and CEOs of OPNET (a Bethesda based tech company), Marc Cohen and brother, Alain Cohen.

Check out the photos from the competition and after party below!

New Miss America: Aspiring Politician

Good-bye Miss Nebraska, Hello Miss America!

Teresa Scanlan made history Saturday night in what was an evening full of firsts in the Miss America Pageant’s 90 years. At the age of 17, Scanlan is the youngest (since they enacted age limits in 1938) and the first from the Cornhusker state of Nebraska to win the crown. As Miss America 2011, Scanlan will travel approximately 20,000 miles each month as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and to promote her platform of Eating Disorders: A Generation at Risk. She was inspired to take up the cause by a friend who is struggling with bulimia.

Scanlan, who turns 18 next month, is deferring her enrollment at Patrick Henry College in Virginia. But her aspirations to study law and become a politician are stronger than ever. As she told the Associated Press, Scanlan is going into politics so she can “stand up for what’s right, stand up for integrity and honesty.

“At this point, attorneys and politicians are looked down on and have terrible reputations for being greedy and power hungry and I really think it’s important for people who have their heart and mind in the right place get into those powerful positions,” she said.

The recent high school grad beat out 52 other young women for the ultimate prize at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, taking home a $50,000 scholarship sponsored by Artistry exclusively by Amway to continue her education.

First runner-up honors went to Miss Arkansas Alyse Eady whose talent performance was Vocal-Ventriloquism to “I want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” Eady earned a $25,000 scholarship while Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier was awarded $20,000 as second runner-up.

America had their say in another pageant first by voting online and via text message for their favorite contestants in the days leading up to the pageant. Miss New York Claire Buffie and Miss Delaware Kayla Martell won ABC’s America’s choice, both making headlines for the causes they represent. Buffie was the first contestant to ever run on a gay rights platform, and Martell hopes to raise awareness about alopecia areata, a disease that caused her to start losing her hair at the age of 13.

The Miss America Organization is the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women, making more than $45 million available last year alone. Want to see who won over the judges? Here’s Teresa Scanlan in her first press conference as Miss America 2011:

Check out the story in The Washington Post and watch her talk about her plans to run for President in 2028.