I thought that arriving in Orlando, meeting all of my sisters and kicking off this Miss America experience would be incredibly overwhelming. I thought that being surrounded by 50 incredible, intelligent, dedicated women and realizing the size of this organization I am a part of would consume me. Thankfully, I was wrong. Day one of orientation was exciting as it was the first time the entire Miss America class of 2019 were in the same room. We heard from the MAO chairwoman, Gretchen Carlson, as well as the CEO, Regina Hopper, who helped paint a picture of their vision for the future of this program in our minds. Miss America 2018, Cara Mund, spoke to us all as well and I was in awe. What was truly a pivotal moment was when we were told that Miss America 2019 is here, sitting in this room, we just don’t know who she is yet. That was a crazy realization that in a few weeks, one of us will wear that crown of honor to serve our country and represent the MAO, CMNHospitals, our home state and every community in America.
Tuesday night, the first night of preliminary competition for the teens, I saw Miss America step into an elevator and as she turned to face the doors I waved to her and she waved back! I would be a liar if I said my eyes didn’t begin to water and I felt giddy like a kid at Disney World! To me, Miss America was this inspiring role model I had only seen through social media. That night at visitation after the show I had my chance to not only take a picture with Cara, not only meet Cara, but I received the warmest hug from this incredible woman. She has such a warm personality and literally was warm to the touch as her hand shook mine! In that moment talking to Cara she made me feel as though I was the only one in the room even though there were many people surrounding us waiting for their turn to meet our queen.
Fast forward to the next day and my first day of Miss America orientation, Cara spoke to the entire class. I could not believe what an opportunity I have ahead of me and the honor I have sitting in that room as Miss Oregon, representing my home state and coming to realize that I get to compete for the job of Miss America in just a few short weeks!
Each night before the teen preliminary competition our entire class would meet to walk to the theater together. Sitting with my sisters as we watched our teens take the stage was so much fun. Watching Kennedy on that big stage made me one proud big sister. Kennedy went into Miss America’s Outstanding Teen true to herself and it showed on that stage! She excelled in each phase of competition and didn’t let a single thing discourage her radiant smile. Kennedy’s energy is so magnetic that nothing can stop her from being her. She was stunning in her light blue gown and answered her on stage question with such poise and grace. Being able to articulate an answer to a question you have never heard before on a stage with an audience watching you is not something I could say I would be comfortable doing at sixteen years old! Kennedy truly impressed me. Wednesday night, the next phase of competition for Kennedy was lifestyle and fitness and you better believe I was watching that girl’s push up for strength and control! She had high energy and showed us her hard work she has put in at the gym! The final night of preliminary competition was Kennedy’s favorite phase of competition, talent. My girl can SING let me tell you! She came out on the stage in this incredible black beaded gown, took a deep breath and left it all on the stage. This young woman is so talented at such a young age! I would definitely consider allowing her to sing me lullabies every night to put me to sleep!
Friday was a day off of competition and was a day full of fun! During the day I had photoshoots and filmed promos for marketing material for Miss America. I had a blast with Tall Pony Productions and Young & Rubicon. Huge shout out to them for filming and shooting all 51 of us quickly and making sure that we all looked our best! Friday night was a special night because all of the Miss, Teens, directors and families participated in the 2nd Annual MAOTEEN Children’s Miracle Network Hospital dance-a-thon! We all danced to raise money for the 62 kids who enter a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital every minute. That’s 10 million kids a year! Last year at this event they were able to raise 33,000 dollars in just 3 hours! This year, I am proud to say that we collectively raised 35,820 dollars!!! This blew my mind. There were some miracle families in attendance as well that shared their stories with us. Also, earlier in the week when we were learning about the partnership the MAO has with CMNHospitals we learned about a young man by the name of Joe Joe. He was born with many health complications that would send any parent in a downward spiral, but not JoeJoe’s family. They had the help of their local CMNHospital who took care of JoeJoe. Well, we had the honor of meeting him and he is truly inspirational! JoeJoe was so excited to see everyone and the moment he ran to give Cara a big hug my heart melted. This is what being the national goodwill ambassador for CMNHospitals is all about. As Miss America part of the job is to put smiles on these kids’ faces who are in hospitals fighting for their lives and to show them that staying positive is how you will push through the tough times. Actively volunteering in the CMNHospitals and raising funds for this organization is what keeps these families hopeful. For people to interact, bond and really build relationships with these miracle kids is what building confidence is all about. I couldn’t imagine facing the challenges these kids are confronted with, but they are fighting, and they are fighting hard!
I am thankful that I was in Orlando this week meeting my sisters, learning about the new direction of Miss America 2.0 and watching my teen queen live it up on the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen stage! This year is going to be incredible and I am so, very thankful to have Kennedy to enjoy it with! Kennedy brings out the silly in me and constantly makes me laugh.
I am thankful for her honesty, drive, compassion, talent, heart, poise, gratitude and goofy personality. Kennedy is truly a special soul who leaves a lasting impact on those she interacts with. I cannot be more proud of the young woman Kennedy is and who she is becoming. I am honored to be her big sis throughout her year of growth, volunteerism and service.
This week has come and gone and I can truly say that I am honored, thankful, blessed and ready, for my Miss America journey. I absolutely loved getting to know my sisters and I did my best to interact with each of them at least once throughout the week! We are so diverse as a class and can really see everyone’s personalities show. I cannot believe that I leave for Atlantic City in just over 4 weeks! So much to do, so little time! I am ready for one of the most incredible experiences of my life!
That being said, I hope to have the continued love and support from every one of you! Prayers and good vibes are accepted and highly encouraged! Tune in live on ABC September 9th at 9pm EST! See you there! #MissOregonForMissAmerica
Taylor Ballard / Miss Oregon 2018