Sweet Success

2018 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Jessica Baeder is eager to embrace every opportunity her new role offers

Pageantry magazine: It’s so exciting to be able to speak with you, since you had your national event down here in our hometown of Orlando, Florida. How was that experience for you?

Jessica Baeder: It was amazing. That whole week in Orlando was just full of fun, but also a little stressful, but that’s why the other contestants and I got so close. And those are definitely friendships that I’ll hold on to for the rest of my life.

PM: What memory still stands out as you were standing there center stage awaiting the announcement for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen?
JB: Oh goodness, wow. I don’t remember much from that moment because there was a lot of emotions and chaos, but I was standing there with Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen. She was actually the first MAOTeen pageant sister that I met in the organization, so it was pretty crazy to have my first friend in the system and going to nationals with her and then it being us two standing there in the end.

PM: You’ve now joined the MAOTeen sisterhood. What are you looking most forward to?
JB: I’m really looking forward to raising more awareness for the organization and what it does for young women across the country. It opens up so many scholarship opportunities, and it’s also a personal development program that I don’t think a lot of people understand. It helps young girls develop their public speaking skills and their talents and their passions and it gets them involved in community service, and I’m excited to do that. And I’m also excited to take my platform to the national level and work with national organizations to end hunger in the country.

PM: You actually entered pageantry at a later age than many have. What interested you most in beginning to compete in Miss America’s Outstanding Teen?
JB: I started doing pageants actually when I was 15, so that is a lot later than most girls get started. I was at the Miss North Carolina 75th Anniversary Pageant, and so that’s the first time I saw the Outstanding Teen Program. I didn’t know what it was or that it even existed for that matter, but I started researching it more and understood what it stood for and the things that it promotes, and I really fell in love with it. I love what it promotes for young women.

PM: Your talent was jazz en pointe. How long have you been training?
JB: I’ve been dancing, basically growing up in a dance studio, since I was about three years old, and then I started doing pointe when I was 10 years old. And our studio is very classically trained, so we focus on ballet, but we also incorporate jazz and modern contemporary hip hop, so those are all styles that I love to do. And so, for my talent, I decided to combine some of those things and combine ballet with jazz to make one of my favorite dances that I’ve ever got to perform.

PM: And this next question is very close to my heart. You’re also a second degree black belt in taekwondo.
JB: Yes, I am. Actually, my dad owns a taekwondo school, so I’ve been running around on those karate mats since I could walk. It’s definitely been like my home, and I got my first degree black belt when I was seven and my second degree when I was nine years old. And since then, I’ve been training and teaching younger kids the importance of martial arts and how it emphasizes self-control and discipline along with defending yourself.

PM: Between capturing the state and now the national titles of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, how much have you earned in scholarship awards?
JB: Well, my state that I come from, Alabama, they are amazing in scholarships. Just from winning my state title I received full tuition scholarships to about six different colleges in the state of Alabama, so that already opened up so many doors for me to pursue my education. And then at the national level, I earned around $32,000 to $35,000 in scholarship prizes. And so there’s some crazy big number of 1.1 million if you add up all the in-kind and all the cash scholarships that I got, but overall, this organization has definitely helped my future and my education. It’s opened up so many doors so that I could attend college.

PM: You were additionally recognized at the pageant for your community service with the Teens in Action Award. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
JB: The Teens in Action Award is similar to the Community Service Award and the Quality of Life that they give out with Miss America. Specifically in Teens in Action, it’s promoting young girls getting involved in their communities and taking a stance on what’s important to them and doing something about it. My platform is Healthy Food for All, and it started out as an educational program about food and nutrition and health and wellness. I was going around to different elementary schools and middle schools and teaching kids about how to eat healthy and how to exercise and how they can do that in today’s society. But the more work that I was doing with that, I realized that there’s a big problem, especially in my state. And so I started working on the policy level and on the ground level of getting children in the state of Alabama, and now across the country, more access to healthy food so they can make the right choices.

PM: You’re extremely scholastically recognized and are included in some very impressive honor societies, one being math.
JB: Yeah. I am very interested in going into a STEM field, and math has definitely been one of my favorite subjects in school. I don’t know, there’s something about trying to figure out problems that’s always interested me, and I think that’s also why I’m interested in the medical field and the engineering field. More specifically, I’m interested in biomedical engineering and creating prosthetics and how to implement those for people who need them through orthopedic surgery and also making them accessible and affordable for many people in this country. I’m hoping that through my education, and now through the scholarships provided from this organization, that I can pursue that degree through college.

PM: I know that you have dreams of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. What got you interested in that particular field?
JB: I think growing up as a dancer I’ve always been interested in how the body moves and how it works and how we can fix it. With whatever career I end up going into, I know that I want to make a difference in people’s lives, and the medical field is one where you can immediately see the difference that you’re making. Someone goes into surgery and comes out a completely different person, and I want to be someone who’s involved in that process.

PM: And as a senior in high school obviously with all the scholarships and in-kind services, it’s time to start making decisions on your secondary education. Is there a particular school that you’re looking at?
JB: I’m kind of keeping my options open. I grew up in a college town, so I’ve been around that atmosphere and kind of know what it feels like. I live in Auburn, so I’m definitely considering Auburn, but there’s also schools around the country that I’m going to apply to, and with the scholarship money I’ll have more opportunities there.

PM: You’re from a military family, and as I understand, you’ve also considered the military academies?
JB: Yes. My dad was in the Army, so I’m applying to West Point also. I’m definitely considering that as not only my college, but as a career, and obtaining my biomedical engineering degree and then pursuing that through the military.

PM: As Miss America’s Outstanding Teen you enjoyed the opportunity to attend the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. What was that experience like?
JB: That was amazing. One of my favorite parts was getting to be a part of the historical “Show Us Your Shoes” Parade, which was super fun. All up and down the boardwalk, seeing that whole community come out to support those who are competing for the job of a lifetime was really amazing. And, I got to do a lot of community service while I was there. We worked at a food bank, me and the other Teen contestants who could make it up to Atlantic City. We packaged 300 bags of food that were given to people living in motels who otherwise might not be able to afford groceries.

PM: Let’s talk about your homecoming in Alabama. It was sweet home Alabama.
JB: It was. It was coming back to sweet home Alabama. It was so fun. It was crazy to be in an auditorium with so many friends and family there to support me and congratulate me, and it was really very special and surreal to see that many people there that had helped me along this journey. It’s been three years to get where I am, and there’s been so many people who have been a part of it. I say that it takes a village, and I just happened to find the perfect little village, and they were all there, and it was really a beautiful program. Many people danced and sang and performed their talents and spoke, and it was great. And there was a reception afterwards with a lot of food that was catered by local restaurants in the city, so that was really awesome to see.

PM: Now that you’re Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, how has the community, especially your high school peers, reacted to the news of you capturing this illustrious title?
JB: I think it’s kind of raised more awareness for it because Auburn pageants aren’t as big. In Birmingham they’re a bigger thing, but a lot of people are kind of asking, what is this? What is Miss America’s Outstanding Teen all about? I loved getting asked that, because I get to explain what it is about and what it emphasizes and hopefully bring more young women into this organization.

PM: You have all these young ladies who look up to you across the country. Why should they become interested in this same program?
JB: I think this program is a great program for anyone who competes in it. Whether you win a title or not, you’re developing, like I said, your public speaking skills and your talents and your passions and the things that you care about, and you’re still able to make a difference. And it doesn’t matter how far you come in this program. My first year competing, I didn’t walk away with any awards or any top placements, but I came back with a bigger understanding of what this organization’s about. And it’s not about the shiny crown or the sash, it’s about young women making a difference.

PM: When we hopefully speak at the end of the year, and we go back in retrospect and revisit some of these questions, what do you hope to have accomplished as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen?
JB: I hope that when everything is over and I’ve finished my year that more women across this country will know that they have a voice. And that’s another message, along with my platform, that I want to spread–that everyone has a voice. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can make a difference. You can find what you’re passionate about, whether it’s in your community or in the country or this world, and you can take a stand on it and make a difference by using your voice and saying what you believe and why you believe it and why things should change.

PM: Is there anything that you would like to address that possibly I did not touch upon?
JB: Being Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, I have the honor of being the National Teen Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. This is something that is very close to my heart because I was a CMNH kid. Between the ages of 6 and 10, I was treated at Children’s of Alabama for a kidney malfunction, and I was back and forth between my house and the hospital for checkups and tests, and I went through an eight hour long surgery. So this is something that I’ve dealt with and been through, and so I’m really excited for this year to go into these hospitals and talk to these kids and talk about being a kid and ask them their favorite color and do arts and crafts with them. I want to help give them their childhood back, because it’s really easy to lose your childhood when you’re in an environment where there’s adults doing tests and surgeries, and that’s kind of what you’re thinking about all day. And I’m excited to go into these hospitals and just be a princess with these kids and just talk to them and bring them more happiness.

PM: Is there anything you would like to add or anyone that you would like to recognize?
JB: I’d love to recognize all my friends and family: my mom, my dad, and my siblings who have really been there with me through everything on this crazy journey. It has only been three years, but it’s been a wild three years that has brought me here. I’m super excited and honored to be able to represent the 50 other girls who competed with me in Orlando and to hopefully share what this organization is about and bring more girls into it.