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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Pleasing judges and defying judgments

Elysha Greenberg ’11 has learned that competing to be Miss America pays off

Published: April 15, 2011
Section: Features

‘No butts about it’: As Miss Manchester, Greenberg has given a presentation that she designed to hundreds of New Hampshire schoolchildren about the harms of smoking and tobacco use.
Photo Courtesy of Elysha Greenberg

Next year, Elysha Greenberg ’11 will be attending graduate school to get her Masters in Mental Health Counseling. She might also be touring her home state of New Hampshire, educating school children about the hazards of smoking and promoting the Miss America Organization, wearing the crown she could win in this month’s Miss New Hampshire competition.

When people find out she participates in Miss America, their first reaction is the usual notion of a pageant with stereotypically beautiful girls talking about world peace. To Greenberg, however, it’s much more than that.

“They instantly think of unintelligent people walking around in heels and a bathing suit, but it’s not like that.” For starters, she and other participants and organizers are very adamant that it’s a scholarship program, not a beauty pageant. “I know I sound like the woman from ‘Miss Congeniality,’” she says, but contestants are scored based on poise, eloquence and other character qualities—not on how they look in a bikini.

When Greenberg began competing, she knew nothing about Miss America. She discovered the organization, which is the world’s largest provider of scholarships for young women, while looking for scholarship money. She decided to compete, asking herself, “I have a prom dress, a swimsuit and a flute, so why not?”

After four years of competing, Greenberg has received more than $17,000 in scholarships after being crowned Miss Londonderry, Miss Auburn, Miss Deerfield Fair and Miss Manchester, her current title. This year, she hopes to be one of 12 local winners to go on to compete for Miss New Hampshire.

According to the Miss America website, the contest was designed to “provide personal and professional opportunities for young women to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community.”

In addition to presenting a two-minute talent, Miss America competitors must present a platform of a relevant issue, be part of an evening gown competition and a lifestyle/fitness competition, in which contestants wear swimsuits, and go through a 10-minute interview with a panel of judges and an on-stage interview of one or two questions.

Since 1989, contestants have been required to choose, issue and create a platform about issues ranging from eating disorder awareness to fighting cancer to promoting literacy. According to the Miss America website, after being crowned, Miss America and state winners “use their stature to address community service organizations, business and civic leaders, the media and others about their platform issues.”

Greenberg’s platform, “No Butts About It: Tobacco Use and Abuse Prevention and Awareness,” focuses on educating about the dangers of tobacco use. Since she began competing, she has spoken to hundreds of New Hampshire school children, mostly middle school-aged kids, giving a presentation that she designed. During spring break, she will speak to another thousand students.

The swimsuit component, Greenberg said, is “the ultimate test of confidence.”

“It’s about more than just making sure you look good in a swimsuit. They want to see if you’re fit and able to take care of yourself.”

Greenberg has gotten much more out of Miss America than she ever thought she would. In addition to boosting her confidence, she has improved her interview skills, which prepared her for applying to graduate schools.

“Once you’ve been in a room with a panel of judges questioning you, one person is nothing,” she said.

When she is questioned about current events, both on-stage and behind the scenes, she has to be able to give an opinion eloquently and concisely without offending anyone. The questions, she said, can be about literally anything, from abortion to the economy.

The week-long preparation for the Miss New Hampshire pageant is full of dance and production rehearsals leading up to the weekend competition, and backstage the girls “just have a blast,” Greenberg said. Her favorite memories of competing are cracking jokes with the girls, making each other laugh and just hanging out.

This year, judges have added a new component to the Miss New Hampshire contest. On the last night of competition, 10 contestants are chosen by judges to move to the finals. This year, an online campaign will add two finalists. If either of the top two online are already in the top 10, the next contestant with the most votes will move up.

In order to ensure herself a place in the top 10, Greenberg has created a Facebook page encouraging her friends to vote on the Miss New Hampshire Facebook page and website. If she is crowned Miss New Hampshire, she will receive a $15,000 scholarship and compete in the Miss America pageant.