By Diana Russo, Editor in Chief
A shortened version of this article can be found in the November issue of the Cardinal Courier.
- Tell me about yourself
I am a 21 year old senior student at St. John Fisher – studying business management with a minor in religious studies. I currently reside in Rochester, NY and have been fortunate to live here my entire life. I enjoy foreign travel (my latest adventure being in Southern Italy), exercising, volunteering in my community and being a part of the Mary Therese Friel, LLC Modeling Agency.
- What inspired you to do your first pageant?
My mother saw an ad at Wegmans. We had thought it would be a fun “one-time” experience. Eleven years later, I am still competing! I am so grateful for my experiences with pageantry, specifically with NAM, because it has opened so many doors for me (academically with scholarships, modeling opportunities, learning valuable life skills).
- What is National American Miss?
National American Miss is an organization for young women that teaches confidence, communication skills and the importance of believing in yourself. It was created by the wonderful Steve and Kathleen Mayes. It is the largest pageant in the nation for young women – with each state having their own set of titleholders (in different age divisions). These titleholders are given the role and responsibility of not only positively representing their state, but of NAM overall. Young women are taught valuable skills such as interview preparation, poise, elegance and public speaking. It truly is a remarkable organization and has allowed me to participate in self-discovery, as well as create beautiful friendships. Because of the Mayes family, as well as the effort of the magnificent state directors, staff, and volunteers, girls around the country get to participate each year in NAM; if you ask any past contestant or titleholder, they will tell you the same thing – that it is truly an experience of a lifetime.
- What does it mean to be Miss NY?
It means so much to me! This is truly such an amazing opportunity. Of course, it is fun to be able to put on a crown and sash, but to me, this is so much more than just a title. It is an avenue that I can use to be a force of positive change through volunteerism in our state. I have been fortunate to work with so many wonderful organizations and causes such as The Boys and Girls Club of Rochester, Foodlink, breast cancer awareness and more. My biggest motivation as Miss New York is creating an impact in the lives of those I encounter. I know I only have this title for a year, but the potential that it has to make a positive change can last a lifetime.
- What are you passionate about promoting throughout your reign?
I have had the blessing of working with the children in the Boys and Girls Club. I am a tutor in the Accelerated Reading Program. This is where I help the children with reading comprehension and help them develop a deeper joy for learning. I am a mentor in the SMART Girls Program – a program that teaches girls (ages 6-12) to be confident, healthy, and optimistic individuals. I aim to empower these girls to reach their full potential and achieve the goals they set for themselves.
Over this past summer, I held an Inner Beauty Pageant for the girls I work with at the B&G Club. This is a free pageant for low-income children created by the wonderful Wendi Russo (Miss Premier World 2017). We tell the girls “don’t worry about buying an expensive dress or getting your hair and makeup done” because they are judged solely based on their “inner beauty” – that is, being someone who is kind, giving and has a good heart. It aims to teach them the importance of being proud of who you are and recognizing your true inner beauty! It was amazing seeing the girls participate and realize their potential.
- You’re going to nationals in Anaheim, California and you will be competing against women from every state. What sets you apart from other contestants?
I am proudly a First Generation American. My mother is from Kabul, Afghanistan and my father is from Calabria, Italy. They traveled to America seeking a better life and through hard work and determination, they created a beautiful life for my brother and I. A life where we have a roof over our head, and food on the table – some of the things they were not fortunate to have all the time growing up. I believe I have inherited this same drive and have been able to use it in all aspects of my life, whether it be with school, volunteering or being Miss New York. My parents have truly taught me the importance of being hard working and never giving up, no matter what obstacle or limitation may stand in the way.
This is what inspired my work at the Boys and Girls Club. Many of the children there have very similar stories to that of my parents. I want to show these children that it is so important to believe in yourself and your ability to accomplish whatever goal you set. Rather than seeing where they come from as a limitation, I want them to use that as motivation – knowing that regardless of where you come from, it is where you’re going that matters.
- How has your Fisher education prepared you to compete at NAM nationals in November?
Fisher has done so much for me as far as preparing me for NAM Nationals as well as in life overall. As a business major, it is not uncommon to frequently participate in group projects and presentations. Being able to speak in front of an audience is such a critical skill for pageantry because as a titleholder, one of our responsibilities is being a spokesperson for the organization. We must have the poise and confidence that it takes to be a public speaker – Fisher has allowed me to perfect this skill.
As a business major, I have learned so much about marketing. Another responsibility as a titleholder is to promote the organization. I want girls to have the same life-changing experience that I had with NAM. I want to show others that NAM has made me the person I am today – being someone that is well-spoken, confident and reaches her goals. Using my marketing skills that I have learned here at Fisher, I am able to do that!
Furthermore, in my college career here as well as relating back to what my parents have taught me, I have come to learn that one must work hard in order to be successful. If we want to get a good grade, we need to put in the required work. What I love about Fisher is the resources it gives students. We have access to a wonderful library, countless tutoring sources, intelligent professors, etc. So we are given all the tools we need to succeed, but it is our responsibility to use those resources. This has helped me live up to my full potential as a student and reinforce the fact that hard work truly does pay off.
- What are your future personal and professional goals?
As personal goals, I would love to continue with modeling! This is one of my biggest hobbies and I absolutely love it! I started modeling from a very young age and have been fortunate to work with Kent and Mary Therese Friel of the Mary Therese Friel, LLC modeling agency. Kent and Mary Therese have taught me so much about poise, elegance, confidence and professionalism. I know that everything I have learned from them, I will take with me for the rest of my life. Other than that, I want to continue learning Italian – I have a lot of family in Italy and when I go there next, I would love to be fluent. Lastly, just maintain a positive, healthy lifestyle and continue my work to empower youth as a mentor.
As a professional goal, I would love to have a career in marketing. Being a business major, I am lucky to have a wide range of options when it comes to career choices – marketing has really caught my eye and it is something I would love to expand my knowledge on for the years to come.