Today I wanted to share with you a speech I prepared for the Miss Connecticut 2019 contestants. As some of you know I was Miss Connecticut in 2012, and that experience changed my life entirely. I was a totally different person and looked at the world in such a different way before I was a part of the Miss America Organization.
I went into the organization thinking small, not really realizing the impact that one person can make in their own world. I came out with big audacious dreams, having a better understanding of the ripple effect from one small positive event. But the best part was, for the first time, I really believed in myself and my ability to achieve my dreams. I believed in my ability to make a difference in our world.
I talked a bit about that with the contestants who were running for the Miss Connecticut 2019 title. I talked about a legacy, and what that really means. I talked about what I wanted my legacy to be as Miss Connecticut but how I continue to live that legacy every day.
My hope in sharing this speech with you is to help you remember that we all have a legacy we leave behind. A way that we all are remembered when we phase in and out of people’s lives. How we show up and what we do every day really does matter.
At the very least, this may give you a little glimpse into my world the year I was Miss Connecticut. 😉
I am Emily Audibert McGrath, and I was Miss Connecticut in 2012. To those of you who don’t know me, I won Miss Connecticut the first year I ever ran in a pageant. It’s kind of a fun fact about me, but also gives me a good bird’s eye view of the pageant system as a whole.
To give a quick background on me, I ran for Miss Connecticut in the first place because my dance teacher, Miss Amy, suggested that I ran in our local pageant. She was my biggest role model growing up, and I hoped I could have the same impact on other young girls the way that she did on me, so I decided to run. I ran in the 2012 Miss Wolcott pageant and ended up winning.
Once I won I didn’t even want to run for Miss Connecticut, I was perfectly content as Miss Wolcott because being Miss Wolcott was a really BIG deal in our town. I actually asked my business manager if I HAD to run, and she said yes. I was contractually obligated to run unless I wanted to step down as Miss Wolcott and I didn’t want to do that, so I started to prep for the Miss Connecticut 2012 pageant. I ended up winning that title as well.
That’s a quick cliff note version of how I got to where I am today.
But today, I wanted to talk with you all about that final question on your Miss Connecticut paperwork, the question that asks, “What do you want your legacy to be?”
I remember when I was filling out my paperwork for the first time I felt like that was such a deep lofty question, and I didn’t feel like I ever a good enough answer for it. It always stumped me just like the question, “why should YOU be the next miss Connecticut?” My thought always was “ I don’t know! I just want to be and I think I will be good at it?!”
For both of these questions, in my heart, I knew I wanted to be Miss Connecticut and would be a good one, just like I knew I wanted to leave a good legacy behind, but I always had a hard time articulating exactly what that was.
What do I want my legacy to be?
Looking back now I can see it a bit more clearly, and even though at the time I really couldn’t explain to you what I wanted my legacy to be, I always knew what kind of Miss Connecticut and person I wanted to be in my life. Now I see, that is exactly what my legacy was.
My year as Miss Wolcott and then Miss Connecticut was a bit of a whirlwind, but throughout that year I always had the same mindset and goal in mind. I wanted to make an impact on the young women and girls that I met, and I wanted to be the role model that I would like to see in the world.
That was my mantra for the year. What kind of impact can I make? How can I show up as the role model I want to see in our world? For me the answer wasn’t a big extravagant goal, to run a huge event or really anything major where I was the main focus. Instead, I wanted to help enhance events for other people and when I went to an event to really see and interact with the people I met. I wanted to make everyone I met feel comfortable and special, and then maybe even inspired after met me. I didn’t want to be thought of like someone on a pedestal, but as someone that you would feel comfortable talking to in any setting. Someone who when you walked away from our conversation, you not only felt better about yourself but you also left thinking, if she can do it, then so can I.
That was the person I wanted to be remembered as. That was the impact I wanted to make.
I got a glimpse of that impact at one particular event as Miss Connecticut.
I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a Superintendent’s Award Ceremony. To give you some context these were students that were hand-selected by the teachers in the entire school district as being a “top student”. They were picked because of their academics because they were a good student and role model in the classroom and they gave back to their community.
The age range of the students was wide, there were some in elementary school and others about to graduate and head off to college. I had to present a topic that would be applicable to all of them at all of those drastically different stages of their lives. I decided to make my theme, “Never Give Up”.
I told them stories about how at various points in my life, I was the underdog or was told that I wasn’t smart enough or experienced enough to succeed but I didn’t listen, never gave up, and prevailed. I told them about the time where I worked really hard for dance scholarship at my studio, it was based on improvement and I made sure I went to extra technique classes and was constantly helping and working hard to get better. Then the end of the year came and I didn’t get it, and I talked about how much that crushed me. But then the following year, I got back up tried harder and won the scholarship. I told them of the time my Chemistry teacher told me I wasn’t smart enough to take AP Chem, but I did it anyways and then won the AP Chemistry award at the end of the year, over the top students in my class. I told them how about no one pegged me to win for Miss Connecticut. No one even thought that I was a top contender, but I didn’t listen, worked hard and won the title. Every time when I was told I wasn’t enough, I didn’t listen, I kept going and came out on top because I never gave up on myself.
I told the students how they were all already so much more successful than I ever was at their age and that I knew that they could do anything that they set their mind to, as long as they always stood back up, and never gave up on themselves. I was so emotional at that end that I totally cried, in a very non-public speaker way. But when I looked up I noticed everyone else had tears in their eyes too. Parents, students, teachers. They all felt what I felt, and were reminiscing in their own minds of times that they overcame because they never gave up.
Then at the end of that event, I was signing these autograph pads for some of the students, and I saw a little girl out of the corner of my eye, with light and feathery blonde hair, hiding under her dad’s arm but looking my way. I smiled and she turned away. Then I continued to sign for the other students and then there she was in line to see me, shy and sheepish next to her dad. She must have only been in 1st or 2nd grade. When it was finally her turn she came up to me, I smiled, asked her name and started signing. As I was looking down signing her name I heard this little voice say “My mom always told me to never give up. And I promise I will never ever give up.” At that moment I looked at that precious little face, full of hope and at that moment I totally lost my marbles and gave her a huge hug with tears in my eyes. I told her I was proud of her, she was a good girl and that she would do such great things.
I wanted to share that story because it was one of the best experiences of my life, not just as Miss Connecticut. But I think that story really shows what this organization is all about and what our legacy really is, being a role model and encouraging others to be the best version of themselves.
Being in the pageant system it’s easy to get lost in the politics, the small minute details of your hair, makeup, and clothes, things that don’t really matter. The only thing that really matters is understanding that you have a platform and an avenue to make an impact on other people’s lives. You have the opportunity to use your voice, and share it with your community to help make it a better place in any way that you can.
Even though there will only be two of you walking away from tonight with a new crown, it doesn’t mean that the rest of you, or any of us ever really take off our crown and stop spreading the good word. It doesn’t mean we stop being a role model for others or stop giving back to help others in whatever way we are most passionate about.
I think the true spirit of Miss America never goes away and lives on in all of us in some way or another, beyond the time that we are wearing a crown. That is our legacy.
When I think back on the women I competed with at the National level, so many of them are still embodying the title and they have been for years. Many of them are in our own pageant system. Acacia, Alyssa, Kaitlyn, Morgan, Eliza, Miss Amy, these are just a few who are all still give back to their community in some way. They all STILL make you feel comfortable and seen. They STILL make you feel special every time you see them or talk to them at any event. They truly are STILL wearing their invisible crowns.
It’s so cliche to say “invisible crown” and I hate myself for it but that but at the end of the day it’s true and being here on the official pageant day, I think it’s important for you all to remember that. You don’t need to be a Miss Connecticut to make that type of impact. You can do it every single day, with or without a crown. This organization has armed you with the tools to be a powerhouse of a woman. Take those tools and never stop using them for good. Never stop trying to make an impact on your world, even if it’s just your family and friends. Be the role model that you want to see in this world. That is the true spirit of the crown. That is the legacy you will leave behind, not just as a titleholder, but in your lifetime.”