When it comes to scholarship pageants, Carroll County will be well-represented on the national stage this year.
For the second straight year, a Carroll woman will represent Maryland in the Miss America pageant in the fall. Kathleen Masek, of Westminster, won the Miss Maryland crown at the end of last month, after one of her best friends, Hannah Brewer, of Manchester, represented the state for the past year.
Then, Saturday in Westminster, Elena Rippeon, a student at Francis Scott Key High School, won the Distinguished Young Women of Maryland Competition.
Carroll also had runners-up in each of the two competitions. Emma Lutton, of New Windsor, was one of three finalists in the Miss Maryland competition while Brooke Nixon, of Finksburg, was the runner-up in the Distinguished Young Women of Maryland contest.
While some are quick to dismiss these competitions as mere beauty pageants, we respectfully disagree. For the young ladies involved, competing can not only be empowering, but the competitions also place a heavy emphasis on service to their communities and the importance of education — two pillars we can certainly embrace and recognize the need for role models.
For Masek, that service can be seen in her platform of supporting military families, where she's drawing on her own experience growing up to help children with parents in the armed services who move frequently help cope and be comfortable when they start over in a new town and school. "I was a military child myself so I know how it feels to be moved around and tugged in one direction and then another," she told us.
Operation Integrate, which is part of her platform, would involve a peer-facilitation program in which another student would partner with an incoming military student to help them acclimate to the new school. As part of her platform, Masek also does volunteer work with the USO and Operation Welcome Home Maryland.
Her stature of Miss Maryland, which will involve plenty of travel to ribbon cuttings, parades and other events across the state over the next year, will allow her to talk about these ideas and organizations that are near and dear to her.
Young ladies competing in DYW, meanwhile, are encouraged to get out in their communities and talk to other young people about how to "Be Your Best Self," in areas such as academics, fitness and being drug-free, character and civic participation, and goal-setting. Individuals in the Maryland competition, including Rippeon and Nixon, spent a morning at the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster last week working with youth there on activities designed to drive these points home
Rippeon is a great example of the goal-setting and academic tenets of the Be Your Best Self initiative. She plans to use the $3,600 in scholarships for her win to study biomedical engineering at Duke University, something she became interested in when her sixth-grade class was visited by an engineer. We've written recently in this space about the need for more women in engineering and other STEM-related fields, and Rippeon can use her standing as Maryland's Distinguished Young Woman and her plans to advance that cause among her peers.
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Yes, there is certainly an element of beauty to these pageants, and that isn't lost on us. But the emphasis on education and community service in these programs makes these young women more than just beauty queens, it makes them role models.