My Miss America dream started when I was eight years old and was made possible by the largest and most selfless village of human beings on this earth, whom I will get to in a little. Through their support, and some hard work and dedication, I was crowned your Miss America 2017, and the journey of a lifetime began.
Throughout this year I have been able to promote my platform, “Eat Better Live Better”, and have seen it grow and take on new paths through #savvychoices and #missamericawerk. Selfishly, I have been unbelievably inspired by the number of humans who I’ve seen take charge of their health and start their journey to a healthy lifestyle. I was so encouraged to see people make the connection between what they are eating and how they are feeling.
In March of this year, I was appointed the Honorary Chair and Statewide Ambassador for the Healthy Active Arkansas Initiative by our Governor, Asa Hutchinson. This initiative is aimed towards the education and implementation of health goals for the State of Arkansas. It is such an honor to be recognized and appointed as a health ambassador by the Governor.
As the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals I have been able to travel to hospitals across the country meeting the most courageous and loving kids along the way. I am changed from the compassion and love I have seen in these miracle children. My time at Momentum was a week filled with the warmest hugs and the sweetest tears, and I have become so inspired by the people I have met through this organization. Thank you John Lauck, Kelli Davis, and CMNH for giving me one of the best parts of my job, and allowing me to see first hand how miracles are happening across the country everyday.
During Thanksgiving break, I had the honor of going overseas with former Undersecretary of the Army, Patrick Murphy, to thank the troops for their service to our country. My deepest thank you goes to Eleaine Rogers and Caroline Ketzler Hunter for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime and allowing me to be apart of the USO family. My time spent overseas made me beyond thankful for those who serve in our armed forces. I will always cherish the memory of sitting around the Thanksgiving table with our troops listening to what everyone was thankful for.
Another highlight of my year was presenting at the award shows. Thank you so much to Mike Mahan and Dick Clark Productions for these opportunities and for supporting me throughout the year. I am deeply thankful for the once in a lifetime experiences you all gave me. Who would’ve thought a small town Arkansas girl would appear on Live with Kelly and Good Morning America, or be seen presenting at the ACMs, AMAs, and Billboards!
I’ve been struggling to write my farewell as it is hard to believe this year of magic is coming to a close. In reflecting on my time as Miss America, what comes to mind are all of the people who have been with me throughout this year.
Thank you to the Miss America Organization national staff and Board of Directors for helping thousands of young women across the country achieve their goals, and for making this year so special.
Sam Haskell, where to begin? Thank you for your time, generosity, guidance, and love you have given to me this year. From the very beginning you have inspired me, and so many others, with your dedication and passion for this organization.
To Julie, Liz, Megan and Stacy, you all are the greatest tour managers a girl can ask for. From making sure I’m still alive to letting me talk your ears off about “good lighting”, I cannot thank you all enough for the love, patience, and help you all so graciously gave me on a daily basis. Love you all so very much.
Thank you to the wonderful MAO sponsors. Sherri Hill, thank you for always helping me look my best and making me feel like Miss America. Ecotools, since I was twelve years old you have instilled in me the desire to find my true beauty, and getting to share you with America was one of the sweetest parts of my year.
My Miss America sisters, class of 2017, I want to thank you for letting me represent you this year and for lifting me up every step of the way. From the daily messages of encouragement, to taking me in whenever I was in your state, I am forever grateful. I brag about you all every single day and am constantly inspired by the hardworking, influential women you all are. I can’t wait to see how you change the world.
To the Miss Arkansas Board, thank you for believing in me and letting me be authentically Savvy. To Jessie Bennett, the greatest Executive Director ever, thank you. You constantly reminded me to be true to myself, and I can not thank you enough. To the rest of the Miss Arkansas Board, thank you for your services, words of encouragement, time spent helping me pack, and running errands for me – there is absolutely no way I would be here without your selflessness. I miss you all so much, and hope I made you proud this year.
To the University of Arkansas, ever since I was five years old you have played an influential role in my life. From being the place I always knew I would attend, to being the campus I now represent. Thank you for investing in me and allowing me to invest back into my home away from home. Go Hogs!
My Home State of Arkansas, wow. I have been overwhelmed by the love you all have given me. I have carried you in my heart this entire year and it has been my honor to represent you across the country.
To the ever crucial inner circle of support who has been there since the very beginning, thank you.
Robyn Ledbetter, you believed in a thirteen-year old girl who did not know there was a state pageant, and you told a twenty-one year old woman that she could be Miss America. I say with confidence that I would not be where I am if it were not for you. Because of you, I fell in love with this organization, as I experienced first hand how a mentor grows young women into who they are suppose to be.
Ashley Mowery, you taught me how to point my toes and encouraged me to reach higher than I thought capable. I am a dreamer because you told me I could be. If it was not for you instilling these ideals in me, I would not have become the woman ready for this job. You are not only my dance teacher, but my heart builder. I will never forget winning talent prelim last year and how precious it was celebrating with you through the tears.
Brooke Robinson, thank you for understanding. You’ve supported me through every season of my life, and you have molded me into the human I am today. I say it all the time, when I grow up I want to be like you.
Kattie Hansen, thank you for being the older sister I never had. I cannot list the number of phone calls, face times, favors, pep talks, notes, or words of wisdom you have given me. Thank you for always making me red carpet ready while giving me so much joy. You are the Queen Bee, I can only hope some of it rubs off on me.
To the Miss Heart of the Ozarks team and Homecoming squad, the amount of time, energy, and effort you all have poured into my life for the past twelve years is overwhelming. You are my people. The homecoming weekend was a highlight for me this year, and I know it took a village to pull it all off.
To my close friends, you all have been screaming, chanting, and yelling my name at every pageant since we were kids. Thank you all for killing the long distance friendship game, for changing our group text to “Miss America’s Squad”, and for loving me so well.
Nathaniel Wolfe, if it wasn’t for your belief in my dreams I would not be here today. You saw in me what I did not know was possible, and challenged me to reach for a goal I thought was impossible.”Thank you” is the understatement of the century. From being my constant supporter, listener, and encourager, you are the greatest boyfriend in pageant history.
To the best family ever who has loved, laughed, and cried with me through this season of life.
Meme + Papa and Momo + Grandpa D, thank you for making me feel like I was Miss America long before I ever competed.
Brother America, Dane Shields, from sending me songs from the 90’s to always throwing me over your shoulder, literally, thank you for always being there. I could not have dreamed of a better brother. I am so thankful and so proud to be your sister.
Dad, even though pageants aren’t exactly your forte, thank you for never saying no to my dreams, but rather doing everything to encourage, challenge, and help me achieve them. Thank you for the countless hours of input and insight into interviews and onstage questions. You’re the greatest dad and the best friend, #westside.
Mom, you played so many roles in this journey and you played every role so well. From encourager, bedazller, dance cleaner, life coach, practice judge, healthy food guru, funny text giver, caption helper, good light finder, to best friend and mom. You are the one who made me believe I could do this in the first place, I am me because of you. I love you forever.
To all the contestants, I pray that you approach this week not as a competition, but as an opportunity to meet someone different from yourself and encourage each other in the insecurities we all have. My hope is that you take this experience with joy and love, for then you will walk away with more than a crown.
To the next Miss America, I must say all the clichés because they hold so much truth. Soak up every moment, because your year will fly by. It is your job to be a role model and as you are now part of something much greater than yourself, and trust me, it is the best job in the world.
When I think of who I was on September 11, 2016, and I compare her to who I am on September 10, 2017, I find myself looking at two different people with the same soul. I have laughed, cried, felt like I could conquer the world, and questioned if I could do the task ahead all in the same day. I have grown and been tested more than I could’ve imagined, and I wouldn’t trade a second of it.
This has been the hardest and greatest year of my life. The night before I was crowned, I was scared. The feeling that my time was potentially approaching filled my heart, and I was nervous I was not ready for what was ahead. Even as I was holding the hands of my sisters when they called “Arkansas”, I was thinking to myself, “do you really think you can do this job well?” As the months of my new life followed, these thoughts never went away, but my perception of this idea did. Through facing my fears head on, I have realized that we can handle far beyond what our insecurities tell us we are capable.
It is said that every good and perfect gift comes from above, and this is absolutely one of those gifts. I feel so undeserving and thankful to have been a part of something bigger than myself. Every state I went to, every speech I gave, every event I attended, and every person I met has left a lasting impression on me and has made me the Miss America I am. I stand here this week humbled and changed for the better, praying for a legacy of love.
Thank you all so much. I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life as I turn the page on this one.
With so much love,
Miss America 2017