Trading crown for books, Miss America prepares for college after pageantry life

Miss America Teresa Scanlan speaks to a crowd at the Nebraska Union at a University Program Council-sponsored event.

Story and photos by Emily Giller, NewsNetNebraska

Last year, Gering, Neb., native Teresa Scanlan traveled more than 140,000 miles, flew on more than 150 airplanes, visited 36 states and five countries — and was proposed to six times.

Ah, the life of Miss America.

As Scanlan finishes out her reign as Miss America, she recently reflected on how she’s changed and how different her life will be as a freshman in college.

“I mean, last year I was graduating high school in Scottsbluff, and working in the local grocery store for my job and just one year later everything has completely changed,” she said. “Coming from a smaller town, and really being able to travel so much and meet so many people and doing all sorts of things is really incredible.”

Scanlan won the Miss America title in January 2011 at 17, the youngest Miss America contestant to win the title since 1921, when the pageant first began.

Once her reign as Miss America is over, Scanlan plans to attend Patrick Henry College, a private Christian college in Purcellville, Va., and then attend law school. Her immediate career goal: to be a prosecutor. Her long-term goal: to become president or a Supreme Court justice.

College life, though, is a difficult transition for many students, and for this pageant queen, after deferring a year of school to become Miss America, the transition may be even harder.

Scanlan, however, is eager for the stability that college will provide for her.

“I’m really looking forward to have somewhere to put my things rather than have two suitcases that travel all over with me,” she said. “It’ll definitely be different considering I’m pretty much on my own this year and it’ll be much more dictated by sharing a dorm room with other girls and all of that that I’m not used to.”

Although the change from pageant to classroom will call for some adjustment on Scanlan’s part, she credits the Miss America program for helping her expand beyond her comfort zone during  the past year. While the program may have helped her become more courageous, she credits her Midwest roots for making her who she is today.

“I think more than anything the Midwest in general develops a strong work ethic,” she said. “It gives you morals and character and values that maybe aren’t necessarily the same across the country.

“Growing up in Nebraska, the people here have really made me who I am and through everything that I’m doing this year, I try to make them proud and represent them. If I can just do that and then show the world what Nebraska is like, then that’s my goal.”

Scanlan also used her personal experience when she chose eating disorders as her platform for the year. Her childhood friend suffered from an eating disorder. The problem first started when she and her friend were 13, too young to fully understand the implications of the disease. As time went on, though, Scanlan became aware of the disease’s danger.

“I think the first thing that really stood out to me was the fact that you could die from it and as a friend, obviously, that was the first thing I wanted her to understand how serious it was,” she said.

It took several years before her friend sought help for her disease, but from that experience, Scanlan decided to devote her year of service as Miss America drawing awareness about eating disorders.

“I think the best way that I can do my job is by sharing those things that I’ve learned and hopefully it will help someone and through that, it will start to change those reasons and those things behind where eating disorders come from,” Scanlan said. “Eating disorders are the result, and we need to focus on the cause, the problem, because that is what we can change.”


Video: Miss America tells a UNL audience about her effort to bring awareness to eating disorders.

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Scanlan will spend the last couple months of her reign continuing to spread the message about body image and eating disorders by giving speeches across the country.

As the upcoming Miss America pageant quickly approaches in January, Scanlan said that she has learned to be more adventurous and that she isn’t afraid of what the future holds. Above all, she said she has learned the importance of serving others.

“It’s just incredible that you find [selflessness] across the country, across the world, people that have a heart for others,” Scanlan said. “I think that’s something that I would like to emulate the rest of my life and definitely want to take forward.”