Nebraska’s Top Model

Anyone watch America’s Next Top Model?

Anyone?

C’mon..I know SOMEONE out there used to DVR it every week like me. Legendary Supermodel Tyra Banks chooses several dozen potential models from casting calls across the country.  These young women must then take part in photo shoots, commercials and experiences to best prepare them (and test them) for the high-pressure world of professional modelling.  Aside from the cat fights, gossip and inevitable tears during makeovers (‘Tyra cut my hair!!!! My life is OVER!!!’), there was a time I. LOVED. THIS. SHOW!!  ANTM was my binge TV–I’d watch marathons while doing laundry all Saturday or on a rainy day off from work.

Over the seasons, Tyra revealed details about a tough adolescence.  She told ABCNews: “I was thin, I was 98 pounds, I was 5 foot 9, I was an inch shorter than I am now.  So that is not just supermodel thin, that’s just, like, what’s-wrong-with-her thin, and I had very low self-esteem because nothing I could do would make me gain weight.”

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Hard to believe now, looking one of the world’s most beautiful, successful women..

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..but Tyra Banks will NEVER forget those years.  Now worth an estimated $90 million as a model, host, producer, author, etc.. Banks donates time and money to numerous causes devoted to young women, including her own TZONE program, aimed at leadership and life skills development, and the Tyra Banks Scholarship, a scholarship fund for African American girls.

They say life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.

Cue Nebraska’s Top Model.

Just Shoot Me Photographics

MISS ALLIANCE’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2015 SHANIAH FREESEMAN

(Photo courtesy Just Shoot Me Photographics)

“I can describe myself in three words: I’M A FIGHTER,” Shaniah told me recently.  “I was insecure about myself when I was younger and I didn’t feel like I fit in.  I was the girl with the glasses, I looked like a string bean with long legs (given the nickname daddy long legs), and I had crooked teeth.  What I didn’t realize until later is that God created me unique.”

Shaniah, a high school student from Gordon, Nebraska moved from Nebraska, to Colorado, back to Nebraska when she was younger.  Making new friends compounded the feelings she already had about not fitting in, but Shaniah says she was determined to keep her chin up.

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“My faith and my family are what really helped me through this change,” said Shaniah.  “Family means so much to me, and I love being able to say that God has blessed me with these amazing people.”

Shaniah is determined to share her story, both her challenges and what empowered her, to others who need a boost.

“I know what it’s like to be in their shoes,” said Shaniah.  “I use what I’ve had to go through to make me a stronger person that helps motivate others to overcome their challenges as well.”

That message is now part of Shaniah’s personal platform as Miss Alliance’s OT, ‘Overcoming Adversity’.  Shaniah recently visited Gordon Elementary to read to students and just to talk to them about never giving up when there’s a bump in the road.

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“I have always loved kids and making kids smile always brightens my day!” said Shaniah.  “Not only is it amazing for me to tell my stories, but I am all ears to people who have things they’d like to share with me.  I am striving to be a leader in my community and a role model to others.  Everyone has their own difficulties, but I am here to show people that it is possible to get through them.”

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  Shaniah is also busy with her own activities, including her church’s worship team, multiple youth group/bible studies groups, and singing opportunities through church as well as through Miss Alliance’s OT events.

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“I have [performed] the National Anthem at multiple events such as basketball games, a wrestling tournament, and the NWTF (National Wild Turkey Federation) banquet.  I have also shared my love for Christ through music, by singing solos at church, talent shows, at the Sandhills Alive music festival, as well as just kicking back and singing with my family and friends,” said Shaniah.  “When I think of pageants, I think of an opportunity to share my love for Jesus through music and show people that beauty is what’s on the inside.”

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Shaniah adds that the Miss America Organization reinforces her belief that everyone is beautiful in their own way, and has helped her build poise, public speaking skills, determination and confidence.  That girl who was once self-conscious, embarking on a scary, new adventure just days before school began in a new town, now holds her crowned head high.

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“Even though I have long legs, now I’m a starting varsity volleyball player,” said Shaniah, who also plays basketball, competes in track and is a member of her school’s color guard.  “My teeth have straightened out and I have learned to accept myself for who I am.  No matter what people might tell me, I’m beautiful in my own way and I keep telling myself that.  I don’t let the difficulties tear me down, I let them build me up.  I can’t wait to continue sharing my platform, and inspiring others, all while being associated with the Miss Nebraska Organization!”

Tyra, if you’re reading this.. feel free to contact Shaniah but just hold off for a few weeks; this Top Role Model’s already booked through June, ready to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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(Photo courtesy Just Shoot Me Photographics)

Follow Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Shaniah Freeseman

 on Facebook, Instagram and on Twitter.

To contact Shaniah for appearances and events, click here to visit the Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen pageant on Facebook.

For more information about the Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen pageant, including how to become a contestant, contact Director Melinda Cullan at 308-710-5593 or by email at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant will take place June 5, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website or the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook and on Twitter.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg

COMING SOON.. Miss Western Nebraska 2015 Chrissy Townsend

To read more about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

May Day

SPRING!!! When flowers bloom, when you can finally breathe deeply without wintry Nebraska air making your face hurt, when you can go on a walk and feel the sun’s warmth shining bright.  I. LOVE. SPRING.

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May might be one of my favorite months, especially now that I have little boys running free in the backyard. The giggles, the smiles, the JOY I see after they’ve been cooped up inside all winter is just AWESOME.

The young woman you’re about to meet also looks ahead to May every year, but for a very different reason.  To her, this month is about work, awareness, and in many cases, answering cries for help.

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MISS GERING 2015 KAYLEE CARLBERG

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“My platform has been ‘changing minds’ by educating and promoting awareness about mental illness in a positive light,” Kaylee told me recently.  “May is Mental Health Awareness Month.”

Like many of this year’s Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, Kaylee’s fight is personal.

“During my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar Disorder,” said Kaylee.  “I unknowingly dealt with this for a couple of years prior to receiving any professional help.  The impact the illness had on me and my family is what inspired me to speak out about this issue, because we don’t have enough people sharing their stories.”

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Kaylee’s been sharing her story for several years now, holding local titles twice before in the Miss Nebraska system.  Her Facebook page is FULL of images like the three you see above, promoting awareness and understanding of mental health disorders, as well as resources for those affected and their families.  Kaylee is also involved with The Kim Foundation, NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), Bring Change 2 Mind,and Don’t Be Sidelined (in association with the University of Nebraska’s Husker Sports Marketing Department).

“The number of families who are affected by mental, emotional and behavioral health disorders in America is staggering,” said Kaylee.  “Statistics show that mental illness affects one in four adults and that nine out of ten people who experience a mental health problem will also experience social stigma and discrimination.  These ever-growing reactions and behavior of others towards mental health patients can be more damaging than the diagnosis itself.  I wholeheartedly believe this is a very serious issue in America, and the timing of my platform is crucial.”

From this journalist’s perspective, current events certainly seem to back Kaylee’s assertion.  From mass shootings, to prison overcrowding, to health care, mental health is an issue that is constantly surfacing and part of national policy debate.

Kaylee wants to take that debate to as many people as possible.

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“I have been able to present my program at schools and educational events as well as being featured in local press, television interviews, and as a guest on a radio podcast,” said Kaylee.  “I was also blessed to be the keynote speaker at an event for the Central Nebraska’s National Alliance on Mental Illness.”

To explain such a complex issue to children, Kaylee has developed a presentation geared towards kids, describing the brain using colors in a way children can understand.

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“What’s so touching is I have had kids (as young as 2nd grade) tell  me they take medicine and see a therapist, too,” said Kaylee.  “They are excited to see someone else who deals with the same thing as them.  It’s wonderful being able to give them hope!”

For Kaylee, the Miss America Organization provided an outlet for her to share her story, while offering opportunities to sing and earn money for school.

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The night Kaylee was crowned Miss Gering 2015 by Miss Western Nebraska 2014 Morgan Yost and Miss Gering 2014 Alexis Smith

“Not being a vocal major I never get the opportunity to sing outside of pageants!” said Kaylee.  “How many programs offer young women the chance to speak out on a personal issue near to their heart, receive scholarships for college, gain valuable interview and marketing experience, perform a talent, travel the state, dress up in beautiful gowns, make children smile because you’re a ‘princess’ and bring awareness to important causes in the community ALL in one year!?”

That has now become part of Kaylee’s mission as well, to spread word of the Miss Nebraska pageant and to change minds about Miss America.

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Kaylee and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

“When a gentleman tells people he is an Eagle Scout he receives respect for his perseverance and discipline  Society knows how much work goes [that] but all too often, people don’t know how much work goes into becoming Miss Nebraska,” said Kaylee.  “I have been told on many occasions that the Miss America program is outdated, and being Miss Nebraska does nothing but reinforce society’s idea of ‘physical beauty’.  That is FAR from the truth.  This is a scholarship program that builds impactful leaders in their community.  Miss Nebraska is a philanthropist, she has strong interpersonal communication skills, knows how to market herself and the charitable organizations she represents, she is committed to physical fitness, she utitlizes her life experiences to help inspire and change other lives, she knows how to entertain and pull an audience in with her talent, she has countless hours of community service, and she is resilient and convicted in her beliefs.”

Kaylee Carlberg is a college student at Southeast Community College.  She works at Region V Services, helping people with developmental disabilities.  She’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and huge Star Wars fan (I just teared up a little with pride about that..)  She’s volunteered countless hours for animals, for children, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Salvation Army, and more.

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Most importantly, this young woman is not only advocating for those with mental illness, she’s setting an inspiring example by bravely talking about her own challenges and successes.

“Today, I manage my illness with proper medication and by living a healthy lifestyle,” said Kaylee.  “We need role models in our communities to help shed light on this issue so people won’t be afraid to ask for help.”

And when they do, when those struggling across Nebraska and beyond issue that May Day now or any other time, Kaylee Carlberg will answer.. as someone who understands, as a community leader, and possibly in a few weeks, as Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg

on Twitter and on the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant Facebook page.

To contact Kaylee for appearances and events, email kayleecarlberg@gmail.com.

For more information on Mental Health Awareness (#ChangingMinds), click on any of the following resources:

Don’t Be Sidelined ** Bring Change 2 Mind ** The Kim Foundation ** NAMI Nebraska

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Heather Hayes at 307-340-0601 or by email at Heather.Hayes@chartercom.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Emma Kate Brown

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Shaniah Freeseman

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

When I See You Smile

There are some people in the world who can literally light up a room with their smile.  Take one of my best friends, Melissa.. no matter where we are or what time we are at in our lives, her smile makes everyone around her smile.  She is PURE JOY, pure sheer goodness, and that positivity just radiates out of her.

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My best friends and I at Omaha Fashion Week.  Melissa is the hottie second from the right.  Thanks to Herb Thompson for the photo!

I first saw the young lady you’re about to meet when she competed in the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen pageant last fall, where she finished 1st Runner Up.  From that night on, I continued to follow her over social media through the pageant where she would win her own title, and I don’t think this teen HAS EVER STOPPED SMILING.

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MISS PLATTE VALLEY’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2015 EMMA KATE BROWN

(Photo courtesy J Allen Photography)

Now, as I read my interview with Emma Kate and see what’s behind that smile, her attitude not only inspires me.. she’s kinda knocking my socks off.  Emma Kate is fighting two chronic illnesses, Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease.

“I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when I was three years old, so we’ve been doing gluten free at our house before it was trendy,” joked Emma Kate.  “I cannot eat wheat, barley, oats, malt or flour.”  (For more on what Celiac Disease is, click here to read my interview with Miss Crane Festival 2014 & Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012 Lianna Prill.)

Emma Kate has also been an ambassador for Diabetes awareness and research long before her pageant days, appearing on KETV First News for an interview with John Oakey several years ago.

“Something else unique about me is my love for public speaking!  I had a great time talking with John Oakey and showing him my dance moves,” said Emma Kate.  “I wasn’t nervous a bit, but I do think my interview skills have improved.”

She’s getting plenty of practice; Emma Kate is also a youth ambassador for the JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation).

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Emma Kate: ‘Had a great time this morning volunteering for my favorite group, the JDRF. Met this little girl who was diagnosed with diabetes two months ago. She inspires me by how strong she is facing such a life changing disease. Loved getting to talk about my story and hearing hers.’

“My platform is turning Type 1 into Type None and it is about raising awareness and funding for a cure to Type 1 Diabetes,”
said Emma Kate.  “[It] allows me to tell my story to businesses in the area.  I also volunteer at JDRF events throughout the year.”

(For more about Diabetes and fundraising efforts in the Omaha area, click here to read my interview with former Husker Jay Foreman regarding his work with the Foreman Foundation, as well as Diabetes services through Nebraska Medicine.)

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Until I heard about all of this from Emma Kate during our interview, I had NO IDEA she faced challenges like this.  The 16-year old junior at Elkhorn South High School is on the go NONSTOP, participating on the dance team, in show choir, concert choir, in speech and in National Honor Society.  This year alone, Emma Kate starred in Shrek the Musical as Princess Fiona, and took part in a grueling competition schedule with Elkhorn South Blackout (the varsity show choir), including trips to regionals and then nationals in Chicago.

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And off stage, when she’s not volunteering, there’s yet ANOTHER side to this girl.

“Even thought I am super focused and goal-driven, I love to get lost in a great book,” said Emma Kate.  “I love the ‘Matched’ series, the ‘Selection’ series and the ‘Red Queen’ series.  One of my proudest moments would be when I recently got a group of my friends to start reading as much as I do.  Now we talk about books at our lunch table and it’s so much fun.”

One of those friends is Emma Kate’s fellow dance team member and Blackout star, Morgan Holen, the current Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“Morgan encouraged me to compete in an upcoming pageant.  I was hooked after my first pageant experience in November.  I was so impressed by the whole organization that I knew I wanted to take part in it,” said Emma Kate.  “I enjoy meeting like-minded, successful girls my age and learning about their platforms and experiences.  All the girls are so kind and I have made lifelong friends.”

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That is Emma Kate’s message to other teens who may read this; she wants to encourage them just as Morgan encouraged her.

“This program is relevant because there are more girls like me and other contestants who can benefit from the scholarships, volunteer opportunities and sisterhood of the pageants.”

I agree with Emma Kate on the positives that come from the Miss America Organization.  I DISAGREE with her that there are other girls like her.  That smile is simply one of a kind; welcoming, full of life, excited about what every day could bring.  She’s got ‘Outstanding’ on that sash for a reason.. and Emma Kate Brown is ready to prove it in North Platte.

Emma Kate Dance Team Pic (original)

(Photo courtesy Deyo’s Photography)

Follow Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen Emma Kate Brown, and contact Emma Kate for appearances or events via Facebook, Instagram and on Twitter.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant will take place June 5, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website or the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook and on Twitter.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Northwest 2015 LaRissa McKean

NEXT.. Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg

To read more about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Sleepless Beauty

As a young professional, I counted down minutes until the weekend.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and did back then, too, but reporting is a stressful, non-stop business! Aaaah, the anticipation of sleeping in, lounging around doing nothing, taking naps, and then meeting up with friends at night.  My mid 20’s weekends were just LAZY.. and it was great.  The moment you have a child, that all changes.  Your weekends are still great, but being lazy is NEVER an option.  You are up when your kiddos are, you are lucky to get a bathroom break alone, and despite what feels like around-the-clock cleaning, your house often looks like a burglar ransacked the place and split.

I remember one moment in our newsroom after my first son was born and one of my in-his-20’s coworkers said “I just can’t WAIT for my weekend–I’m SOOOOO tired!”  Truly, I think my head slowly rotated on my neck exorcist-style and I said, “dude.  You don’t KNOW tired.”  I don’t envy my former self–I would NEVER trade this time with my little boys–but I kinda want to shake that pre-2011-Brandi and say ‘get off the couch!! Look how much free time you have!  Go for a run!  Volunteer!  You could have redecorated your entire house, woman!’

All of this makes me that much more impressed with young ladies like the Miss Nebraska contestant you’re about to meet.

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MISS NORTHWEST 2015 LARISSA MCKEAN

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I am a full time student and I currently have three jobs,” LaRissa told me recently. “For a woman who loves to sleep, I don’t get much of it!  I am up most mornings at 6:30 and go to bed around 2 every night.”

And LaRissa’s college major is a tough one; she’ll graduate in just weeks from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting, specializing in Public Relations.  She’s already put those studies to use, involved in the Finance Club and serving as the VP of Finance for the Theta Omega chapter of Delta Delta Delta, in addition to work on the Standards Committee, as Recruitment Chair, and as a Rock Chalk Revue Director.

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LaRissa is also extremely active in dance, both for work and pleasure.  She’s part of the pre-professional dance company Art in Motion (AIM), teaches at a dance studio in Lawrence, Kansas, and is a dance instructor for Universal Dance Association.  All of this no doubt requires talent, dedication, and TIME, by my count, practice or instruction nearly every day of LaRissa’s week.  She notes she usually travels once a month for dance competitions, including a trip to New York City to chaperone 17 high school seniors performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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“I have been dancing since the age of three and started competing at four,” said LaRissa.  “Performing on stage is second nature to me.  The thrill of throwing every trick you wan to showcase in 90 seconds while smiling and being a source of entertainment is amazing!  I love being able to share my passion with others and putting all my hard work into an adrenaline filled routine!”

LaRissa says the Miss Nebraska pageant was a natural step for her to take to combine everything she cared about: talent, communication and education.

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Miss Northwest 2015 LaRissa McKean with Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Cherokee Purviance, and LaRissa with Miss Chadron Tosha Skinner and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

“I have known many contestants throughout the years and supported many at events, but I didn’t decide to compete until I saw what an impact pageants [could] have on my life,” said LaRissa.  “Every woman I’ve known in the Miss America Organization system has been driven to succeed and a huge role model to me.  Contestants have the opportunity to grow intellectually while being a leader in their community!  I love being able to impact others and make a difference in my state like the role models did when I was a little girl.”

Being Miss Northwest has also given LaRissa another opportunity to promote a cause she’s already connected to, support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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“St. Jude provides care and treatment for children at no cost to their families,” said LaRissa, who visited the hospital in March.  “They also have top researchers [working to find] cures for cancer every day!”

St. Jude is also LaRissa’s chapter sorority’s philanthropy; she’s volunteered around the KU campus raising funds for St. Jude.  Now, on a more personal level, LaRissa sends letters to friends and family asking for St. Jude donations, she encourages dance teams to write support letters to St. Jude families, and she speaks to groups about St. Jude’s mission.

“I was asked to emcee the Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen pageant and was able to share my platform with the audience,” said LaRissa.  “It as a pleasure to share what I have been doing and how MAO has helped me pursue my passion in saving children who are suffering from cancer or diseases.”

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Could LaRissa McKean be any busier?!? And she’s not getting a break anytime soon.  Next on her list: Jayhawk graduation, moving back to Omaha (where this proud Millard South graduate was born and raised!), and making final preparations to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska.

Robert Frost once wrote: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”  LaRissa McKean is dancing her way through this journey, and never, it seems, taking a break to rest.

“I am happy to say I do what I love and it never feels like a day of work,” said LaRissa.  “All of these jobs and commitments makes sleep at the bottom of my to-do list.”

 THAT is marathon mentality, and the finish line, the Miss Nebraska pageant, is in Miss Northwest’s sights.

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(Photo courtesy Mindy Armstrong Photography)

Follow Miss Northwest 2015 LaRissa McKean

on Facebook and on Instagram.

To contact LaRissa for appearances and events email larissamckean@gmail.com.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Marleta Hastings at 308-432-3847 or Director Renae Noble at 308-432-5129.  You can also email misscnwdirectors@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. **SPECIAL FEATURE** Miss Iowa 2014 Aly Olson

NEXT.. Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Emma Kate Brown

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Party Like A Journalist

There’s a twitter account I ADORE right now: @JournalistsLike.  The account administrator (I’m not even sure who he/she is!) shares tweets from around the country from journalists, using #PartyLikeAJournalist as our connecting thread.

@SunGriwkowskyC: Wonder if the fact that the election is on Cinco de Mayo will mean newsroom burritos instead of the traditional pizza?

@MissyRileyNews: I probably won’t sleep until Sweeps is over.

@jlivi2: Waiting for calls back like…….

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Speaking for my fellow reporters here at KETV.. it is AMAZING how representative this is!!  We ALWAYS have pizza on election night!  Ratings periods, dubbed ‘sweeps’ in TV news, are arguably the most stressful times of our year when we put in extra hours for more in-depth stories.  And waiting for calls.. on deadline.. often FEELS like FOR.EV.ER.

No matter what market you’re working in, where you are at in your career, or what type of beat you cover in news every day, there are things that bind us all together as journalists.  I saw that firsthand Friday night at the Omaha Press Club, honored to present closing remarks at the 2015 OPC Scholarship Awards Dinner, which also recognized this year’s Career Achievement and Journalism Educator Award winners.

I was also at this dinner 12 years ago… as a scholarship recipient.

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The recipients of the Mark O. Gautier, Jr. Intern Award.  SIX of us either work or have worked at KETV.

When I applied for this scholarship, I had interned at KETV THREE SEPARATE TIMES; twice in news and once in sports.  I was a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and mentioned to my mentor, the man who hired me and guided me through each of my internships, KETV Assignment Editor Joe Kasmir, that I was applying for the Gautier Award.  Joe suggested I ask KETV News Director Rose Ann Shannon to write me a letter of recommendation.  Thankfully she did, and with her much appreciated support I was honored with this scholarship.  It was the first of many ways Rose Ann offered me a hand when I was a green, wannabe broadcaster, opening a door for me to get into this business with a little extra oomph to push me along.

This is all part of what I shared in my speech Friday night, and I’m sharing it all here on my blog as well with a few hopes; first, that it encourages anyone reading this to consider a donation the Omaha Press Club Scholarship fund, and second, that maybe it connects–that we connect–with aspiring journalists just like I once was.  These awards not only provide a nice financial bonus for students who are often trying to take on unpaid journalism internships in addition to classwork, but it shows them someone out there believes in them.  Someone wants them to succeed.  Someone thinks they’ve got what it takes to be a journalist; to tell good stories, to tell their community what’s going on in the world, and to be trusted that what we are telling them is FACT.  I didn’t think Rose Ann Shannon even knew my name back then; I won that scholarship and thought, ‘hey, maybe she does know who I am.. and maybe she thinks I’m doing a good job.’

Three of this year’s scholarship recipients, one from each university represented, briefly spoke at Friday night’s ceremony.  Mara Klecker has already spent time in Australia and Ecuador, chronicling current events and interning with major outlets like National Geographic.  Scott Prewitt is the editor-in-chief of the Creightonian, even filming, editing and narrating a mini-documentary which debuted at the Omaha Film Festival.  Matthew Barros has been an active contributor to UNO sports radio and spoke with so much enthusiasm and professionalism Friday night, he made US excited to be in the same field as him.  I daresay I speak for many people in that audience as to how excited we are that these students are the future of our business.

Broadcasting is constantly evolving and changing, never more than now.  The world can turn to Twitter, to Facebook, to cable, to text messages and Google searches, but in the end, journalists can provide something no one else can: FACT.  True information.  We are the microphone for the child’s voice who isn’t heard.  We are the siren for the scandal under the radar.  We are clarity when people are confused and need answers.  And we are passing the torch on to people like the 18 students in that room Friday night.  It’s an awesome responsibility, and it’s one hell of a ride.

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Photo courtesy Dailykos.com

December 5, 2007 was a day that arguably, no Omaha journalist will ever forget.  We all started very early that day because President Bush was in the city.  By early afternoon, most of us were back in our buildings, formulating presidential visit coverage for our newscasts, websites and papers.  1:00, I was sitting at my desk when the scanners in our newsroom started going crazy; there had been a shooting.  Rose Ann came out of her office and we all heard ‘man down at the bottom of the escalator.’  I will never forget Rose Ann’s reaction in that moment, saying ‘we’ve got to put everything we’ve got on this.’  In those short seconds, I hadn’t even had time to process what dispatchers were saing, yet Rose Ann just KNEW this event was unprecedented.  Her instinct told her this was very, very bad.

Inside Westroads Mall, a teenager had shot and killed nine people, including himself, and wounded four others.  That cold, overcast day right before Christmas became one of the darkest days in Omaha history.

But that’s the thing.  That day was history.  As unthinkable, as tragic, and as terrible as that day was, Omaha journalists chronicled that history.  It’s our job to tell people what is going on.  Thankfully we also cover INCREDIBLE moments; reunions, joyous events that bring us to tears, things that literally seem to be miracles before our eyes.  I’ll never forget covering my first Nebraska football game, standing on the field at Memorial Stadium and literally feeling the adrenaline rise within me as 85,000 fans surrounding me screamed for the Huskers.  Who else, in what job, gets to witness history like journalists?

The other reason I brought this up Friday was because of what Rose Ann showed me that day: instinct.  Sheer listening, feeling, knowing what was a story before anyone else did.  Rose Ann has been in broadcast journalism now for 40 years, and that day, it was like she was still a beat reporter out in the field everyday.  SHE JUST KNEW.

THAT is something within all journalists, something that drives us to want to tell stories, and to tell the rest of the world what is going on.  It’s the common thread that links all of us, from the college student just starting out, to the news veteran with decades under his or her belt.

And all of us were in one room together Friday.  Ironically, as I spoke to these 18 scholarship recipients and their families, I also spoke to Rose Ann, still my News Director, Larry Walklin, my college professor, and arguably the best of the best in Nebraska news.  Rose Ann and Dr. Walklin were honored Friday night for their dedication and accomplishments in journalism.

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KETV News Director Rose Ann Shannon, receiving the 2015 Omaha Press Club Career Achievement Award

To Rose Ann and Dr. Walklin, THANK YOU for believing in me and helping me believe in myself a little more.  Thank you to all of the parents, teachers, mentors and friends who encourage and support aspiring journalists; the hours are long, the timing is terrible and the stress is high.  Most of all, to the 18 men and women who are joining us in this crazy world, and reigniting our passion all over again, CONGRATULATIONS, and good luck.

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CONGRATULATIONS to the following 2015 OPC Scholarship recipients!

UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA – LINCOLN

Joseph Hoile, Vanessa Daves, Jane Ngo, Madison Wurtele, Brent BonFleur, Mara Klecker, Christopher Heady, Natasha Rausch

UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA – OMAHA

Angela Eastep, Matthew Barros, Nick Beaulieu, Maria Brown, Marin Krause

CREIGHTON UNIVERSITY

Anthony Robinson, Catherine Adams, Michael Holdsworth, Krysta Larson, Scott Prewitt

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Click here for more information about the Omaha Press Club and how to become a member. (You DO NOT need to be a working media member to join!)

Click here for more information about the Omaha Press Club Foundation and scholarships for future journalists.

Special Feature, Miss Iowa 2014 Aly Olson

It’s human nature, picking favorites.  We naturally gravitate towards a choice flower, a soda we’ll always buy at the grocery store, the character you follow on that great show (coughcough, Grey’s Anatomy.. Alex Karev..coughcough).  For decades now as I’ve watched from home, I’ve chosen favorites on the Miss America stage, too.  This year, when the Top 15 names and states were called, this young lady quickly became my FAV.

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MISS IOWA 2014 ALY OLSON

(Photo courtesy the Miss Iowa Pageant)

There was just something GLOWING about Miss Iowa on that stage.  Her sheer excitement, how genuinely elated she was to represent her state and be chosen in the Top 15, and just simply how stunning she was; that red hair and gorgeous smile just RADIATED into my living room.

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(Photos courtesy the Miss America Pageant)

I don’t think I was alone; during preliminary competition, the Twitterverse was all ‘atweet’ about Aly’s vocal performance during talent and she quickly emerged as a social media favorite.  Pageant Junkies predicted Aly would be among the Top 5 contestants who could be crowned Miss America.  And in the end, when the Top 10 were named and Aly’s name was not among them, pretty sure my moan was echoed by several others watching at my house.

For Aly, the Miss America experience was more than she ever expected.

“I was called 14th of 15 on Sunday night’s broadcast of Miss America.  I was shocked when at last I heard ‘Iowa’,” Aly told me recently.  “My fellow contestants (I prefer to think of them as sisters) are so intelligent, kind, funny, NORMAL, beautiful and driven.  Support from my sisters is an enduring highlight from my Miss America experience, although making it into the Top 12 at Miss America was also more insane than I could have imagined!”

So what next?? Often, I think people (and sometimes titleholders themselves) forget that these young women hold their crowns for a full year, whether they win that next level or not.  Aly Olson came home and figured out who she was as Miss Iowa AFTER Miss America.

“I began to say yes to as many opportunities as possible, which blossomed into a remarkable year as Miss Iowa,” said Aly.  “I have traveled over 30,000 miles, spoken with thirty schools about my platform of Do One Thing: Diversity Everyday, and performed for hundreds of thousands of Iowans.”

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HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF IOWANS.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Hundreds of thousands of Iowans now know there’s a Miss Iowa, who she is, and what she stands for. On November 1 alone, Aly sang the national anthem at the Iowa vs Northwestern football game in front of 67,000 people.

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Aly’s been interviewed by television, radio and print reporters across the state and beyond. (Including me!  Click here to watch my interview with Aly before she left for Miss America!)  She’s been recognized by Iowa’s elected officials as well as businesses, institutions and organizations.  All of these things make our program RELEVANT; it shows people why the Miss America Organization MATTERS.  It drives publicity not just for Aly and what matters to her, but for every Miss Iowa and local titleholder who follows in her footsteps.

Still, Aly says her proudest accomplishments are more than numbers.

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“I have been able to connect with people in special moments, such as visiting a child in a hospital, eating a meal with a family that is hosting me in their community, being welcomed into a variety of cultural organizations, and listening to the incredible stories of life,” said Aly.  “The resulting relationships are more inspiring and beautiful than I could have ever expected.  I feel lucky to have been touched by so many people in my year as Miss Iowa.”

That time will soon come to a close for Aly as she ends not just one year but a legacy with the Miss Iowa program.  Aly also spent a year as Miss Iowa’s Outstanding Teen.  That’s at least five years of her life as a teenager and woman devoted to serving others and bettering herself.

“Being Miss Iowa had been a dream of mine for a long time, so it is definitely more sad than I had anticipated to see it nearing the end,” said Aly.  “However, I know that there will be many more exciting chapters in my life.  I will return to the University of Iowa in the fall to finish my Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and then graduate in December 2015.”

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As Aly told me last fall, she’ll do that debt free thanks to all of the scholarships she’s received competing in the Miss Iowa Program.  DEBT FREE.  Just one of the lifelong benefits she’ll take with her when she passes on her title.

“[My fellow Miss America contestants] continue to support each other as well as find ways to connect across the country.  Our class truly is an example of sisterhood,” said Aly.  “I want every girl from the Midwest to know that her state and background do prepare her for success in life; that is one of the main sentiments I took home from Miss America.”

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And Aly herself will continue to mentor those future titleholders; she wants to be a Miss Iowa volunteer.

“I can help other women discover how much grace, poise, compassion and love they have within themselves through the Miss America Organization,” said Aly.

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(Photo courtesy Miss Iowa Pageant and Say Uncle! Photography)

Was it what she expected?  When she imagined this moment for so many years, did Aly Olson every think this year of her life would be HER favorite?

“This year has been so much more than what I had expected; more exhilarating, more beautiful, more tiring, more demanding, and more important.”  IMPORTANT.  That one word from Aly is MY favorite part of our interview.  Aly Olson MADE her reign matter, for both herself and for her state.  Iowa’s never had a Miss America, but Aly put her state BACK on the Miss America map, showing the country what Hawkeyes are made up, and laying the groundwork for those who follow in her footsteps.

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A warning to whomever that young lady may be in 2015; Aly Olson is leaving you with VERY big shoes to fill.

To learn more about Miss Iowa 2014 Aly Olson, 

follow her on Twitter, InstagramFacebook, and Tumblr.  To book Aly for appearances and events, email businessmanager@missiowa.com.  Aly was also recently profiled by Pageant Junkies; click here to listen to the podcast interview with Aly!

The next MISS IOWA will be crowned June 13, 2015 in Davenport, Iowa.  For more information about the pageant, the Class of 2015 contestants, and how to compete in the Miss Iowa Scholarship Program, click here to visit the organization’s website, and click here to follow the organization on Facebook. 

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Sandhills 2015 Kate Lynne Duncan

NEXT.. Miss Northwest 2015 LaRissa McKean

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014 and more special features, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Madame Butterfly

Think back to where you were in 2012.. what you did, the places you traveled, the person who were. My husband and I took a long awaited trip to Hawaii… as parents of ONE, not two.  I can’t imagine life without my two little boys.. and can hardly remember a time before I was a momma of two, even though it was just a few years ago.

Now, imagine how much your life changed between when you were, say, 17 years old.. and 20 years old.  The music you sang along with in the car.. the stages in life those songs represented. For this young woman, those ages and times could arguably be represented by two records, two Miss Nebraska pageants, and two very different points in her life.

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MISS SANDHILLS 2015 KATE LYNNE DUNCAN

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“The last time I competed at Miss Nebraska was in 2012 as Miss Scottsbluff.  I was only eligible for the Miss division because I graduated from Gering High School less than one month before Miss Nebraska, I was only 17 at the time,” Kate  told me recently.  “I am absolutely elated to have the opportunity to compete on the Miss Nebraska stage again!  Three years later, I’ve experienced a lot of personal growth.”

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2012 to 2015, sister queens Jessica Littlejohn and Kate Lynne Duncan

That maturation is what inspires Kate’s platform of service: ‘True Beauty: It Shines From The Inside.’  She’s promoting the DOVE Beauty Project, in addition to her own message to women to see their own beauty as others do.

“[Reveal] your attitude, outlook, confidence, intelligence and passion,” said Kate.  “It is all too easy to be absorbed in the body shaming negativity seen in the media.  Young women often feel inadequate if they fail to fit the picture-perfect, highly photo-shopped and airbrushed mold.  I strive to inspire young women to inspire and create a world where beauty is a source of self-confidence, not anxiety.”

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As Miss Sandhills, Kate created a self-esteem workshop, including varied activities for elementary, middle and high school students.  Schools are familiar environments for Kate; she’s studying K-12 Music Education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney focusing on vocal music and a 7-12 English endorsement.  She’s also a Resident Assistant on campus, is active with the Loper Activities Program Counsel, the collegiate chapter of the National Association for Music Educators and the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.

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“I would have not been able to afford my first year at UNK wthout the scholarships I received from competing in the 2012 Miss Nebraska pageant,” said Kate.  “With the funds I have received from competing, I will pay off my only student loan this fall and graduate in May 2017 debt free.”

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Kate has also spent the last three years perfecting her passion, music.

“With three years of private vocal study under my belt, my voice has grown tremendously since the last time I competed on the Miss Nebraska stage,” said Kate.  “This June I will be performing Carrie Underwood’s ‘Something In The Water’.  She has a powerhouse voice and I’m definitely up for the challenge.  The first time I heard that song it gave me goosebumps and I knew I had to sing it.”

And arguably, a fitting choice.  The song is all about evolution within faith, growth in spirit and as a person.  Kate Lynne Duncan, 2015.  Flashback to 2012 when she sang Blessings by Laura Story.  From a promising high school graduate testing the waters of independence, to a driven woman achieving her academic goals as a leader among her peers.  Two songs, two stages, transformation.  Kate Lynne Duncan is a butterfly, ready to return to North Platte and poised to reveal HER inner beauty.

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Follow Miss Sandhills 2015 Kate Lynne Duncan

and contact her about appearances and events on Twitter, on Instagram and on Facebook.  Click here to read Kate Lynne’s blog A Whole Latte Love.  

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Shardel Nelson at 308-760-7266 or by email at shardel@bbc.net.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2015 Allison Tietjen

NEXT.. **SPECIAL FEATURE** Miss Iowa 2014 Aly Olson

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.