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As Kate?s year of service winds to a close, Pageantry asked this brilliant and beautiful woman to summarize her year as Miss America 1998.

by Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle

Kate speaking photoAbout eight months ago, I got a new job. It?s a job which I?ve wanted for years. It?s a job which, purportedly, ?every little girl in America? dreams of having someday. And most of all, it?s a job which, if my own experience can serve as an example, is very very different in real life than it is in the imaginations of those who seek it.

Don?t get me wrong. I love being Miss America. I spent months working intensely in preparation for the various levels of competition. And now that I hold the position, at least for another couple of months, I have the opportunity to advance my commitment to HIV/AIDS prevention to a national level. This organization provides an absolutely unique forum for young women to affect positive change in their communities. There is no other program ? at least, not one that I?ve encountered ? which empowers 17-to-24-year olds on this grand a scale. And the scholarship dollars which it distributes are, in a word, tremendous. Over $32 million dollars in scholarship assistance is provided each year by this, the largest women?s scholarship provider in the world. It?s truly amazing to examine the impact that the Miss America Organization has on the lives and futures of those who participate in its program.

The Miss America Organization is (and always has been) about enabling young women to achieve while reflecting the values of American society. In America today, there are truly unlimited opportunities for motivated women. The platform issue is the central focus of the program? by applying herself to the competition, a young woman can also ensure that she is making a real difference in the lives and futures of those affected by whatever social issue she is addressing. And by continuing to stay active with her platform issue beyond her actual involvement in the Miss America competition itself, she can ensure that the goals of the program are being met. She has empowered herself to make positive change, regardless of what title she holds.

My other goal in this article is to clear up some misconceptions about what it means to be Miss America. If you are a potential contestant, listen up! I want to give you an idea of my daily events, my schedule, and the impact that this program has had on my life. And, of course, I have some advice for aspiring Miss Americas. But it might not be what you expect.

Quite frankly, there really is no ?typical day? for Miss America. I travel about 20,000 miles every month, and my schedule varies drastically depending on what I?m doing. I?ve left hotels at 3 a.m. to make an early flight so that I could work at 5:30 in the evening; I?ve worked all day and flown to the next location at night. Next week, I will leave Des Moines airport at 7:00, speak at a National American Red Cross Conference in Salt Lake City, and then fly to Orlando for the Children?s Miracle Network Telecast. There are days when I have five appearances and days when all I do is travel to the next city (that?s sometimes easier said than done: a few weeks ago, we had so many delays that it took us 31 hours to fly from Philadelphia to Reno). Traveling around the country isn?t anything like going on a year-long vacation. It?s more like going to work on a plane! I travel and/or work seven days a week. And, if I?m lucky, I get a day off every month.

It?s not exactly as glamorous as it seems on television. I don?t see my family or friends very often. To tell you the truth, I grew used to being away from home when I left New Jersey to attend college in Illinois. These days, I keep in touch by phone and e-mail (I travel with my laptop computer). The first few months my phone bills were huge!

I encounter a lot of paperwork: Background information for appearances, speechwriting, requests for autographs, notes from friends, last-minute schedule revisions and interview confirmations, thank-you notes that I receive and that I write to others, responses to articles and letters printed by newspapers across America, and notes from local and state contestants asking for advice on platform issues, talent pieces, or wardrobe. By now I know that when my bags start checking in overweight at the airport, it?s time for me to go through the stacks of papers that have undoubtedly piled up! This year has forced me to become as organized as possible.

Kate and a child cancer patientSo how about the good stuff? Well, there are definitely plenty of positive aspects to this job. Like I said, most of what I do is speak. I speak to students of all ages, AIDS organizations, community and civic groups, government officials, you name it. Being Miss America is certainly an adventure. It?s not at all like having an office job, as you can probably imagine. Part of the fascination of this job is that it?s constantly evolving. Because of the strides made by the Miss America Organization, and because each Miss America has a unique platform issue, it?s safe to say that no two Miss Americas have ever had the same year. We travel to different cities, attend different events, met different people. And every year, Miss America is able to do things that none of her predecessors have done. In the next couple of months I?ll be tackling a hundred-mile bike ride in New York and maybe a four-hundred-plus-mile bike ride from Minneapolis to Chicago, all in the name of fund-raising for AIDS organizations. And when I travel to the World AIDS Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, this summer, I will become the first Miss America to leave the country on a platform-related appearance. The opportunities for young women in this program are constantly expanding and changing.

But it isn?t necessary to be Miss America in order to benefit from either the scholarship funds or the chance to make change in your community. Anyone who gets involved on any level of this competition can take advantage of these aspects of the program. Of the nearly $60,000 I won while on the road to this job, only $40,000 came from actually becoming Miss America. The rest was from other local, state, and national awards. There are women who have paid for their entire educations without ever winning a state title. There are literally millions of scholarship dollars just sitting around, waiting to be claimed by motivated young women. The rewards which this program provides are almost innumerable. And in order to take advantage of those rewards, all you have to do is enter.

So you want to be Miss America? Well, there are a few things you should know.

First, the logistics. To compete in the Miss America Program, you must be between 17 and 24 years of age, be involved in some kind of community service, have some kind of talent, and have some kind of plans for higher education (or at least college loans to pay off). There is never an entry fee of any kind.

And here?s my advice: Whether you aspire to be Miss America, a doctor, lawyer, or anything else, your best shot comes from being well-rounded. Get involved in lots of different activities. Explore your interests as much as possible. Try sports. Try Girl Scouts. Learn to sing or dance. Read as many books as you can. Whatever you do, don?t spend all of your time doing just one thing. If you want to compete in a few pageants, go ahead, but make sure that you give yourself a chance to experiment with a variety of extracurricular activities. That way, if the day comes when you change your mind about your career goals, you?ll have experience in a lot of different fields, and you?ll be more likely to know what you want to pursue.

And if you want to be Miss America, then get involved in your community! This is an absolute requirement. Volunteering doesn?t have to be a major time commitment. You can collect canned goods at school or at church which you can distribute to those in need. You can volunteer at a soup kitchen. You can participate in an AIDS Walk. You can help kids learn to read. You can visit a nursing home or a children?s hospital once a week. And you will learn very quickly that volunteering isn?t just something to put on your resume. It?s something which brings with it its own unique set of rewards.

The job of Miss America is a great one. It?s grueling; it?s challenging; it?s exhausting, but it?s also one which provides unlimited opportunities. Competing to become Miss America will teach you things about yourself that you never knew. It?s fun, but it requires a great deal of hard work and commitment.

Here are the honest facts: winning the Miss America competition might give you a bit of a boost in the self-esteem department, but having this job is not an automatic cure for insecurities. If anything, it challenges your self-confidence on an almost daily basis. If you?re hoping to become Miss America in order to show the world how beautiful, smart, and talented you are, then you need to re-examine your priorities. It?s always important to stay focused on your goal but part of the danger of anything competitive is that some people are only interested in the payoff. If you?re going to get (or stay) involved in this program, you have to learn to appreciate and learn from the experience rather than just chasing the crown. And you can?t just do it for the glamour, because this job is like any other job. It?s work. It?s fun in between the work, but the first priority is taking care of your responsibilities.

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to be yourself. It seems like a clich?, but it?s definitely something you should do. Be yourself at all times, regardless of the situation but especially with respect to the Miss America competition. There is no place in this program for contestants who are only trying to please the judges. It?s transparent, and no one will be able to relate to you. It?s so much more productive to bring your best possible self to the competition and know your opinions and be willing and eager to explain and stand up for them. That way, regardless of what title you hold, you will always know that you?re being true to yourself!

Like anything, you get out of this program what you put into it. If you decide that you want to compete a little bit, earn a few scholarship dollars, and maybe win a local or state title, then you just might achieve that goal. If you want to be Miss America, you?ll have to be disciplined and you?ll have to make sacrifices. No matter what your goal is, you can achieve it. Now ask yourself if you want it enough to commit and work for it!

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