Please welcome back to Mid Life Celebration, Miss America Lorie Sheffer, from Central Pennsylvania. Lorie has been here before and her wit, wisdom and candor are refreshing, and inspiring. Take it away Lorie:
It comes as a surprise to some of my friends when they discover my dream of a crown. Doesn’t really fit the personality of a woman who is politically active, has taken part in a massive march on Washington and who doesn’t put much importance on outward appearances. But ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been besotted. I’ve never missed a Miss America pageant. I get misty when high schools crown their homecoming queen, and I won’t even try to explain how I felt about Princess Diana. Show me a crown and I turn into a star struck six year old. I think when I was younger, it came out of a desire to be “the best”.
I was the girl who sat home dateless almost every weekend. I had boy friends, but not boyfriends. I tried out for cheerleading a total of six times and only made the squad once, for 8th grade wrestling. We had to sit in the bleachers the whole time, wearing home sewn uniforms, as the “good squads” got the good uniforms. Clearly, we were not “the best”. Every year, I would sit in front of the TV and see Miss America walk down the runway, crown on her head, and think how it must feel to be told you are a winner. I always envisioned her as a benevolent queen who was adored by everyone. In my eyes she was kind and gracious and empathetic.
Part of the scoring for Miss America is based on talent, and back in the day when I was eligible that amounted to 40% of the total score. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, fall if my feet leave the ground, and cannot play an instrument. I took baton lessons once, but my mom made me quit after I kept catching those high throws with my face. I tried ballet, and that ended about as well as the baton lessons. If pie baking was an acceptable talent I may have had a shot.
Years passed and as luck would have it, the same people who ran my daughter’s ballet company were also the directors of our local Miss America preliminary. (My daughter’s natural grace is one of life’s greatest mysteries to me.) I once heard “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” All of those years of pageant obsession paid off! I volunteered my time, became very active in the organization. Over the years I helped to prepare dozens of young women to compete on the local and state level, as well as helping two of them to prepare for Miss America. Last year alone, the Miss America Organization awarded over 45 million dollars in scholarship money to more than 12,000 young women.
I met one young woman whose parents had set aside money for her education, but instead had to spend it on nursing home care for her grandmother. The scholarships she won paid for her final semesters of college. Another young woman paid for her master’s degree entirely with pageant winnings. Where else but in the pageant world would I become good friends with a young lady who holds a Masters in neurobiology from Johns Hopkins and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA? It felt good to be able to volunteer my time to help make the dreams of those remarkable young women come true.
Over the years, I realized that I didn’t need someone else to tell me I was good enough. When our pageant board discovered that one of the crowns we had ordered was missing a stone, I bought it instead of having our director send it back. I didn’t care if it was one rhinestone short of perfection. I cleared a spot in my grandmother’s antique breakfront, where I can see my crown every day. I don’t need a panel of judges to tell me I’m good enough. I may have “aged out” of the pageant over 25 years ago, but I earned every rhinestone in that crown, and don’t even notice its imperfection.