Tag Archive | North Platte Telegraph

Seasons of Love

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year? In daylights. In sunsets. In midnights. In cups of coffee.  In inches. In miles. In laughter and strife.

How do you measure a year in the life… when you’re Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen?

Less than 11 months ago, Hannah Miller was named Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016.  Tomorrow, after trips to Orlando and Atlantic City, performances all over Nebraska, appearances at dozens of events, and connections with countless children, Hannah will pass on her crown.

“I’m not sad that I’m passing on the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. I had my year, and I made the most of it,” Hannah told me recently. “Now it’s time for another lucky young lady to have the same opportunities I had.”

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph

Hannah rose to the top of an epic Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen class jam-packed with talent, intelligence, civic leadership and grace.  She was articulate, magnetic and energetic from start to finish.  Immediately after she won the crown, Hannah devoted herself in preparation to compete for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.

Hannah MAO Teen intro

“I had the shortest amount of time to get ready for nationals than any other Outstanding Teen in Nebraska’s history. So that consumed the majority of the first part of my reign,” said Hannah. “I went into nationals wanting to give it my all and not have any regrets on my performance or my experience and I can honestly say that I did exactly that. I gave everything I had in every part of the national competition and I walked away knowing that I represented Nebraska to the best of my ability. I had the experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

For the third year in a row, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen was among the top award winners at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.  Hannah won a preliminary Evening Gown/On Stage Question award, and won a Top 5 Interview Award, her proudest moment in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Hannah came home and accepted the job that was only just beginning at the conclusion of competing at nationals.  Her new mission: find time for commitments as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding teen and for the activities and wishes of an American teenager.  Hannah is also a student at Elkhorn High School and a competitive swimmer.

“Since I’m extremely active with swim and my other school activities, it was hard to find the perfect balance between being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and being a student athlete,” said Hannah. “The first few months were rough. But with the help of my manager (aka my mom) I was able to find the perfect balance between my two vastly different worlds.”

Whereas Miss Nebraska attends most events and appearances across the state on her own throughout her year of service, Hannah was often accompanied by her incredibly supportive parents, Jim and Barb Miller.  During one of our program’s biggest weekends, Crowns and Gowns, Jim Miller drove Hannah to North Platte for a photo shoot, back to Omaha for a major swim meet, back to North Platte for a fashion show and autograph signing, and back to Omaha for school (and work!) on Monday.

I’m exhausted just typing that.

Hannah has often focused her speeches and messages on her personal platform, Safe Splashes, promoting water safety. (Click here to learn more!)

“Looking back, I will never forget going to the Olympic Trials, and having the opportunity to talk to children about the importance of water safety,” said Hannah. “I plan on continuing my work with ‘Josh the Otter’ and spreading water safety awareness. As Dory puts it, I’ll ‘Just keep swimming!'”

Hannah’s focus now is con continuing her education, using the thousands in scholarship money she collected through the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.

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“Right now I’m in the process of college planning,” said Hannah. “I plan on swimming in college and studying Elementary Education. To answer the burning question of if I’ll compete for Miss Nebraska someday, right now I’m not sure. I’m focused on college so I won’t be competing anytime soon!”

And this weekend, Hannah is focused not on herself and what she’s accomplished, but the 18 young women who hope to follow in her footsteps.

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“I want this year contestants to know that they have already made a huge impact on their communities and they are doing a terrific job promoting the Outstanding Teen program,” said Hannah. “Only one lucky girl will walk away as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen but you all have the opportunity to continue the great work you are already doing! You don’t need to wear a crown to make an impact!”

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year?

In smiles. In dancing. In thank you’s. In high school swim meets.

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In appearances. DEFINITELY in miles. In friendships and impacting lives.

525,600 minutes.  Thank you, Hannah Miller Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016, for giving us this year of your life.

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2016 HANNAH MILLER?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Just Keep Swimming

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.  For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Whitney Miller

NEXT.. Miss Western Nebraska 2017 Devin Owens

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

College Ready

I have been so honored, as of February 3, to be Co-Marketing Director of the Miss Nebraska Organization.  From the get-go, our Board has had several clear goals for this year: to set a new record in scholarships for our contestants, to provide new opportunities for Miss Nebraska and all of our titleholders, and to host one heck of a pageant in just a few short weeks!  That said, we could barely hold back our excitement at Orientation as Executive Director Rachel Daly told all contestants, their directors and their families that this year, we were proud to offer an estimated $1.3 million dollars in cash and college scholarships.

$1.3 MILLION DOLLARS

Yeah, that is worth the jumbo font.  One of our key contributors, Midland University, is offering every single contestant, regardless of how they finish, $15,000 annually.  That’s a guaranteed $60,000 for every, single Miss Nebraska contestant if they are accepted into Midland University.  One young woman’s mother approached us to confirm this was all true, and when we said yes, she said she almost cried.  Her daughter, Courtney, is going to Midland next year.

Miss Fur Trade Days 2017 Courtney Pelland

“I want people to know the Miss America Organization is not based on how beautiful we are,” Courtney told me recently.  “Overall, this organization provides scholarships for the girls who compete to help with college debt.  That is a huge deal.”

Courtney, a senior at North Platte High School, has witnessed the positive attributes of the Miss Nebraska Program for most of her life.  As she told me last year (click here to read more!) she and her family have been involved with nearly every facet of the program including Host Family, Little Sister, Teen titleholder, and now a Miss titleholder.  Courtney has also been mentored by several Miss Nebraska’s, including Miss Nebraska 2009 Brittany Jeffers and Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith.

“When I was 14, I wanted to start competing, but the only issue [I faced] was my shyness,” said Courtney.  “Halfway through my freshman year of high school, my Nana (my dad’s mother) passed away, five days before my birthday.  My Nana always loved pageantry and wanted me to one day compete for the title of Miss Nebraska.”

Now she will.  Courtney was crowned Miss Fur Trade Days last fall, in her first year eligible to compete for Miss Nebraska (click here to read an article about her win in the North Platte Telegraph!).  Volunteering has been a key element for Courtney in both her Teen and Miss roles, because she knows personally the impact one person can have.  In January of 2015, Courtney was admitted to the hospital, in dire need of blood.

“I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia; I was given two units of blood that day,” said Courtney.  “Eventually I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, but I also realized how important it is to donate blood.”

And Courtney has been taking that message across her hometown and beyond.  She’s spoken to students and groups, she’s organized blood drives in North Platte, she’s partnered with the American Red Cross to strengthen her impact, and she shares powerful statistics and stories on social media, hoping to compel others to donate.  Click here to read the North Platte Telegraph’s story about Courtney!

“My favorite part of the organization doesn’t have anything to do with the actual competition,” said Courtney.  “My favorite part is being able to give back to my community in a different way.  A crown and sash don’t define someone, it’s about all of us girls making an impact on someone.  I have a friend who says the reason he donates blood is because of what I had to go through.  I am involved with this program because I want to make a difference in this world and help others out.”

 Courtney makes appearances and volunteers at events in addition to an incredibly active personal schedule.  She works, takes part in musical, is a member of the Pacers Dance Team, trains with the Dance Factory in North Platte.. and she’s preparing for high school graduation next month!  Courtney was named her high school’s Bulldog of the Month in December, click here to read more!

“I am a very busy girl and always on the go,” said Courtney.  “Being this busy I have to be very organized with the things I have decided on.  Once I put my mind to something, nothing can stop me. If I want it I will do everything in my power to achieve that goal or get to where I want to be.”

Courtney credits the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organizations for helping her meet those challenges, and find support along the way.

“This organization has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into this bubbly, caring girl,” said Courtney.  “I have learned that it is okay to state your opinion, ask questions and show the world who you truly are.  I am now able to go up to random people and hold a conversation without even thinking about it.”

“On top of me finding my true self, I have formed some incredible friendships across the state,” said Courtney.  “Miss Chadron Shaniah Freeseman and I are sister queens this year, and I have been blessed to have a girl like her by my side.  She has become a sister to me.  This type of friendship is the one I hope every girl is able to form.”

Making long-lasting friendships is one of Courtney’s ultimate goals for her experience this year leading up to and at the Miss Nebraska Pageant.  She wants to network, make her hometown proud, and use the life lessons she’s learned on this journey as she attends Midland University to major in Fine Arts Management this fall.  She’ll also have a little help every step of the way… some extra cash in her pocket thanks to the Miss Nebraska Organization, and some extra love in hand as she competes for her state title.

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“Every time I compete in a pageant, I have a buckeye to remind me of Nana, and I always carry it around before my interview,” said Courtney.  “Knowing that she is by my side drives me to compete and to make a difference in this world.”

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Click here to follow Miss Fur Trade Days 2017 Courtney Pelland on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT COURTNEY?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Everyday America

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Sara Smith at misscnwdirectors@gmail.com or by calling (308) 430-2613.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little

NEXT.. Miss York County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alexandria Warneke

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Courage With a Smile

Each of us has a hidden story.. something we don’t openly share with others because it’s embarrassing, something we can’t change, something we wish would just GO AWAY.

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I’ve performed the national anthem DOZENS of times in the Omaha area for crowds of a few hundred to 15,000+.  Last fall, I waited off-ice at UNO’s first hockey game of the season, ready to perform once more.  I was running through the lyrics in my head, and about two minutes before I was up… I BLANKED.  I got to a middle stanza in the anthem and could not come up with the words.  In a panic, I googled the lyrics on my phone, just to have them ready in my pocket if my memory didn’t kick back into gear.

It didn’t.  In front of 5,000 fans, I had to pull out my phone in the middle of our country’s anthem and look down for help.  I LOVE MY COUNTRY.  I KNOW THIS SONG.  AND I WAS MORTIFIED.

I still shudder when I think about it… because to anyone who HADN’T heard me sing before, I will forever be the idiot who didn’t know the words to the national anthem.  I’ve only performed the anthem once since then… terrified this could happen again.

Now, an example of COURAGE.  A woman who not only accepts mistakes, she shares them to empower others to shrug their shoulders, learn and move on.

Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

Though I had interviewed Emma last year during her time as Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, I had never heard her perform.  When she sang at the 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.. this was me in the audience.

Emma won 1st runner up, an honor in large part due to that extraordinary vocal performance.  It’s something she’s quite accustomed to; a senior at North Platte High School, Emma’s earned the lead role in school productions, she’s a member of the NPHS Pacers dance team, and and she’s competed in multiple vocal and dance competitions.  CLICK HERE to read the North Platte Telegraph’s article on Emma when she was crowned in February.

Just this week, Emma shared a clip of her performance as part of a high school music contest.  (CLICK HERE TO WATCH!)  BUT… she also noted on the same post, ‘this was before I forgot the words.’  She wrote: After working for a month, I let myself down when I forgot many of the lyrics due to nerves and poor confidence. I walked away extremely upset with my performance. • I have chosen to take this experience as a lesson. All I can do from here is work harder next time, show up with confidence, and hope that I prove my worth. • Always take each experience as an opportunity to become a better you, no matter the end result. #motivationmonday#missnebraska2017

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Emma Wilkinson will turn 18 years old tomorrow.

An amazing display of maturity, acceptance and understanding, the result of a personal journey that Emma bravely speaks about as Miss Twin Rivers 2017.

“My platform, ‘Rethink Your Drink’, is focused on informing children of alcoholic parents that they are not alone,” Emma told me recently, noting alcoholism has touched her family as well.  “Once I reached the fifth grade, I made a best friend with similar experiences to my own.  We shared our struggles and helped each other cope with the pain brought about by alcoholism.  Addiction does not have to debilitate a child’s aptitude to achieve success and I want to spread those words like wildfire, especially to those who need to hear them most.”

Emma class

Emma has visited several schools throughout the North Platte area to share her story, her message carrying extra weight as a local girl who will compete right in her city at this summer’s Miss Nebraska Pageant.  As she told me last year, it was those former Miss Nebraska’s (namely Brittany Jeffers and Becky Smith-Wagner) who greatly impacted her life as she grew up.

“I hope to reach every person when making appearances by sharing the negative effects that alcohol can leave on everyone,” said Emma.  “Children are often informed about alcohol in elementary school, but I feel like they forget about the dangers of alcohol once they are surrounded by it in high school.  This is about spreading awareness of alcoholism in order to make people realize that it is not a rare occurrence.”

Emma is also already taking her title statewide, including a 8-hour roundtrip trek to Omaha to take part in the Miss Nebraska Princess Party fundraiser last month.  Emma and Miss Fur Trade Days Courtney Pelland left North Platte early, met dozens of little girls at the event, and drove BACK to North Platte the same day to take part in a dance team gala the same night.

“The amazing thing about the Miss Nebraska Organization is that it brings together poised, confident and beautiful young women from all over the state to catalyze positive change,” said Emma.  “Whenever I see one of our girls at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital visiting patients, I hold a huge smile on my face because this is what we’re about; making a positive impact within every life we can.”

And that includes their own lives.  Emma notes her own growth within the last year alone, crediting it to her time as both a teen and now miss titleholder.

“My social skills and confidence have improved the most through appearances and performances,” said Emma.  “My main goal is to use my platform as a tool to serve as a mentor to those who are affected by alcoholism, but I also want to continue to grow as a person through this organization.  I am one of the youngest in the pageant this year; I have so much more to learn and I trust this will help me become the best woman I can be.”

Emma with girl

A woman who aims to be warm and open to others.  A woman who is open-minded and remains positive, despite challenges and hurdles she has come across throughout her life.

“I do not judge someone based upon their values and beliefs,” said Emma.  “Everyone has been raised in different ways and has gone through different struggles; it is incredibly important to me that we accept people as they are.”

Someday, I want to sing the anthem again just to prove to myself that I will not let one embarrassing moment define me.  And if I feel those nerves, that fear, bubbling up again… I will remind myself of this amazing young woman, suck it up, smile, and rock every single lyric.  Here’s hoping I make my hometown as proud of Emma Wilkinson is making hers.

“I sometimes get upset when people think that our pageant is all about beauty, but I’ve realized, maybe it is about beauty; the beauty found within,” said Emma.  “Through any circumstance, I try to remain as positive as possible.  Any challenge can be overcome and I like to live through those words within every aspect of my life.”

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Click here to follow Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EMMA?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Sister Act

Emma was crowned at Crowns & Gowns 2017, Nebraska’s largest annual prom/pageant showcase.  CLICK HERE for more details about the 2018 pageant and event! For more information about the Miss Twin Rivers/Miss Sandhills Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sheridan Blanco

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

It Takes a Village

For the first time in 16 years, Westside High School won a gold medal at the NSAA State Wrestling Championships this year.  In fact, TWO Warriors made it to the top of the podium.

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Josh Jansa and Darlondo Hill worked tirelessly all season and for years prior to earn this achievement.  So did a handful of men working nonstop behind the scenes.. their coaches. These student athletes are Head Coach Mike Jernigan’s FIRST state champions.

“Getting your first state champion makes a coach feel that ‘I finally did it.  I do know what I am doing!’” Jernigan told me. “Getting two in the same tournament is even better! I finally felt like I belonged to the coaching fraternity. To finally have a state champion to call our own is a great feeling. I know my assistant coaches haven’t stopped talking about it yet.”

Behind every star is a support network.  Oscar winners thank their agents, Olympic athletes thank their coaches, EVERYONE thanks the family members who cheered them on every step of the way.  The Miss Nebraska Organization is no different; behind every charismatic, stunning, role model.. there is a village.  Executive Director Rachel Daly spends countless hours preparing our titleholders to be the best they can be for Miss America and for their entire year of service.  President Janet Heinzle has volunteered for DECADES to constantly strengthen the program’s support network in North Platte, Nebraska and beyond.  Scholarship Director Megan Doughty spends time every day securing new financial opportunities with countless business partners and universities.  And Board Member Carol Halley has dedicated the last 25+ years to a group known as the Miss Nebraska Little Sisters.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

The Little Sister’s program was started as a good will gesture between girls in the community and Miss Nebraska contestants. They meet at orientation and spend much of Miss Nebraska week together, including time on stage during the pageant itself. These friendships often last for many years and create a lasting bond between the big sister and little sister; it’s a direct connection between outstanding role models and little girls who absolutely adore their ‘big sisters’. Carol organizes ALL of this, and the impact is during that week of competition and for years after is simply immeasurable.

Here’s proof:

Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Kiera Rhodes

“When I was 10, I was a Little Sister in the Miss Nebraska Pageant,” Kiera told me recently.  “It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  My Big Sister was Mindy Schreiber; she was awesome.  Her talent was singing and I just looked up to her the whole time.  She got first runner up that year and I was so proud of her.  What I pulled away from that experience was the effect the girls had on my life.  I decided that I wanted to change people’s lives the way those girls did when I was younger.”

Mindy Schreiber, like so many of our contestants, is the textbook definition of ROLE MODEL.  She completed college in 3 years while working in her intended career field.  She held five local titles; a tireless advocate for her community, volunteering for the Teammates program.  She is kind, beautiful, healthy and hardworking.  And ‘little’ Kiera has emulated each and everyone of the traits she witnessed in her ‘big sister’.

“I am self motivated because I haven’t always needed someone to be telling me why and how I should do something, I just do it and I push myself to work hard for what I want,” said Kiera.  “I would like to say that I’m outgoing, I love talking and getting to know people.  I am very dedicated to the activities I am involved in; when I join something I always want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to help out.”

And boy, is this girl doing that as Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen.

Kiera is literally EVERYWHERE.  She’s signed autographs at carnivals, walked in charity fashion shows and volunteered at numerous local events.  Check out this article including Kiera in the North Platte Telegraph!  This busy sophomore, a student at North Platte High School, was selected for UNK Honor Choir this year, she’s performed the national anthem several times and she’s involved in musical productions in her hometown.  Singing is one of her favorite parts of being a titleholder and competing.

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Click here to hear Kiera’s recent national anthem performance at the District Basketball game in North Platte!

“I’ve always loved singing ever since I was little,” said Kiera.  “When I’m on stage singing, it’s like no one is watching and I’m just expressing my feelings.  It truly is an indescribable feeling.”

Kiera’s personal platform of service is ‘Bust A Smile – Break Down a Barrier’, encouraging others to break out of comfort zones to try something new or make a new friend.

“I really think a big problem we face today is not only the generational gaps but even the gaps within our own generations,” said Kiera. “More people need to realize that we all have a lot more in common than we think. Not only that but we can all teach each other valuable things if we would all just talk to one another more often.”

Fewer cliques, more connections.

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A mission that’s only been fueled by Kiera’s participation in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.

“Obviously we all want to win, but only one of us can win,” said Kiera. “The girls I’ve met and competed against are girls that are very true and they are super nice and I know I’m going to have long lasting friendships with [them].”

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Kiera with Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson; both were Miss Nebraska Little Sisters

Tremendous maturity and perspective from a teenager, likely credited to her parents, her sisters both by blood and by title, and the volunteers who worked behind the scenes to pave her way to success.  Thanks to the village, women like Carol Halley, little girls across Nebraska grow up with a little extra sparkle.. then as young women share that with countless generations who follow their paths.  Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes hopes to continue that legacy.

‘Little Girls with Dreams become Women with vision!’ – Carol Halley

“My biggest goal is just that I’ve impacted at least one person’s life in a good way,” said Kiera.  “Those girls taught me to be more confident in my opinions and that it’s ok to express your opinion.  Never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes.

For more information about the Miss Harvest Moon Festival/Miss Alliance/Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen Pageant and to become a contestant, email Director Melinda Cullan at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

For more information about the Miss Nebraska Little Sister Program CLICK HERE.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017 Tristen Wecker

NEXT.. Miss Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Naomi Turner

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Fire and Gold

June 4, 2015.

I had the humbling honor of hosting the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant, and spent the day at North Platte High School in rehearsals.  During breaks, I tried to upload as many photos to the Miss Omaha Facebook page as I could, typing furiously to tag contestants and draw more viewers to our site.  I almost didn’t notice when a stunning blonde sat next to me and said ‘Hi, how’s it going?’

Her name was Alyssa Howell.

Funny how such a small gesture of kindness, just taking a moment to ask someone how they are doing, can make such a big impact on how you think of a person.  A panel of six judges thought VERY highly of Alyssa.. naming her Miss Nebraska 2015 just 24 hours later.

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Photo courtesy the North Platte Telegraph

“Miss Nebraska week was the most fun I have ever had!” Alyssa told me recently.  “I was surrounded by 12 amazing contestants that not only were great friends to me during the week, but who also supported me throughout my year.”

And so began a reign that represents everything this Miss Nebraska has stood for; friendship, kindness, genuineness.

As a longtime Miss America fan and a journalist who is always subconciously observing, I’ve noticed over the years the reaction of other contestants speaks volumes about the woman crowned.  Minutes after Alyssa was named Miss Nebraska, she was immediately embraced by  her ‘pageant sister’, Miss Omaha Megan Gould.  Just weeks later, Alyssa invited Megan, as well as other Miss Nebraska finalists Brooke Ludemann, LaRissa McKean and Allison Tietjen, to perform at her send-off party for Miss America.  These women, Alyssa’s competition at this time last year, seemed genuinely happy for her and showed up in full force to give her their support; Alyssa was eager to share her spotlight that night to showcase the titleholders who had become her friends.

For me.. it goes back to that day in the cafeteria.. Alyssa Howell is REAL.  She doesn’t pretend to care about people; she just DOES.  She’s taken that incredible quality across the country for the last year, focusing much of her time and energy on children.

“Not having grown up in Nebraska, this year took me to so many new places!” said Alyssa.  “Just being able to reach Nebraskans across the state was such a wonderful experience.  Whether it was a Pumpkin Chuckin’ in a cornfield in northeastern Nebraska, a small town elementary school with a total of 42 students, or a large scale fundraising Gala in downtown Omaha, I was able to reach out to the people of Nebraska on so many levels.  If anything, this year reminded me just how much I love being a part of the Cornhusker State.”

Alyssa visited dozens of schools across Nebraska, and four Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in several states.  THAT has been Alyssa’s passion for years now, connecting with sick children through her Miracle Bags program.

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Alyssa recruiting 2016 Miss Nebraska contestants to put together and deliver bags of goodies, ‘Miracle Bags’ to kids at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital & Medical Center

CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s story about Alyssa & her Miracle Bags!

“As soon as I won Miss Nebraska, one of my priorities for the year was to impact as many children as I could with my Miracle Bags program,” said Alyssa.  “And with that goal in mind I was able to visit the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in Omaha, Denver, Milwaukee, and Washington DC, and deliver over 180 Miracle Bags!  Many people ask me how I am able to visit children who are in such dire situations, and not be completely depressed after the fact.  I always tell them that the feeling of seeing a child who is going through the most difficult time in their life light up at the sight of my crown and Miracle Bag is indescribable.  And I will never forget the parents who tell me that this is the first time they have seen their child smile in days.  Children’s Miracle Network will forever be a passion of mine.”

To countless families and children, Alyssa made a profound impact.  She also made a huge mark on the pageant world, when in September, she travelled to Atlantic City to represent Nebraska in the 2016 Miss America Pageant.

“I have watched the Miss America Pageant every year on TV since I can remember, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would one day be on that stage!” said Alyssa.  “Even after winning Miss Nebraska, my goal for Miss America was to have a blast, meet some amazing girls, and represent Nebraska well.”

Check, check, CHECK.  And when 7-million Americans tuned in to see who would make the Top 15..

Left photo courtesy Getty Images

..they heard Miss Nebraska, Alyssa Howell.  I screamed and jumped in my living room.. Alysa’s family and friends were EXUBERANT in the crowd in Atlantic City.  With the confidence women dream of and the swagger of Bruno Mars, Alyssa strutted her stuff on that stage in Lifestyle and Fitness.. and sauntered right into the Top 12.

Photos courtesy Getty Images

“Being called into the Top 15 was a complete and total shock,” said Alyssa.  “Standing on that stage with 51 other talented, beautiful, intelligent women, I never thought that I would hear NEBRASKA called! I still get goosebumps when I watch the video.  When I made the Top 12, I was just so excited and honored to move on!  I was surrounded by some of my best friends in the competition and it was such a surreal moment.”

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Photo courtesy Getty Images

That is where Alyssa’s journey ended, sadly, before she could play her INCREDIBLE piano solo for America.  But when I spoke to her just a few weeks later at the Miss Omaha Pageant, Alyssa didn’t have ONE negative thing to say about her experience;  no trash talk on her fellow contestants, no coulda woulda shoulda’s.. simply a completely EXCITED outlook on what she could accomplish next in her home state as Miss Nebraska.  And holy cow.. has that been a lot.  After Miss America, Alyssa was featured in US Weekly and Pageantry magazines.  She was a high profile model in Omaha Fashion Week.  She secured and strengthened partnerships and sponsor connections with Omaha’s world renowned Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Sun Tan City, Kontempo. and nationally known stylist Kirby Keomysay among others.

Alyssa also became a frequent muse for photographers, taking part in numerous photo shoots with Deyo’s Photography in Nebraska and Jenn Cady Photography based in South Carolina.

Alyssa accepted every interview request that came her way, including the nationally recognized Pageant Junkies (CLICK HERE to listen!), Omaha’s KFAB and KETV (CLICK HERE to watch!)the North Platte Telegraph (CLICK HERE to read!), and ME!

“This year was definitely more challenging than I expected,” said Alyssa.  “Seeing all of the work Miss Nebraska does from Facebook and Instagram posts pales in comparison to the actual job.  What people don’t see is the full hair and makeup 4+ days a week, the early mornings, the days when I drive 8+ hours for an appearance, the days that I was sick, the days that I had three appearances and events.  Truly, this is a 24/7 job.  But what I also didn’t expect is how rewarding this whole experience would be! By going through everything this job requires, I have not only learned so many life skills, I have also learned so much about myself.  I know that if I can be Miss Nebraska, I can do anything.  This job has given me a strong sense of confidence about what I am capable of, as well as so many amazing memories and friendships!”

***

June 4, 2016.

I have the humbling honor of writing this blog post, chronicling Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell and her year of service.  Initially, I wanted to title this article Humble and Kind, inspired by the Tim McGraw song that to me, so reflects who this incredible young woman is.  Despite her jaw-dropping beauty, smile and grace, she doesn’t radiate a shred of arrogance.  She is giving, real, and most of all KIND.

Alyssa Howell is fire and gold.  She has a huge heart that she has opened to countless children over the last year and more, with the aura of a woman who can only be called QUEEN.  As this journey ends, she’ll pick up where she left off one year ago.. pursuing her Elementary Education degree at Creighton University, intending to impact even more children through her career, now with a big boost from her life experiences and financial awards from being Miss Nebraska.

“I have won over $20,000 in cash scholarships for school,” said Alyssa.  “This has made all the difference in my future!  I started at Creighton University with a total of $27,000 in student loans over four years.  Graduating to become an elementary school teacher with that debt was going to be difficult to say the least.  This program is first and foremost a scholarship organization, and I cannot say enough about the impact that Miss Nebraska and Miss America makes on young women who are getting a college education.”

As I close out.. I must share a ‘shout out’ to part of  Alyssa’s dream team.. her boyfriend, Grady, and her directors, Kayla and Rachel.

These three are superstars in their own right; people who have been in Alyssa’s corner since the moment that crown was placed on her head.  They have also become near and dear to my heart with their humor, loyalty and dedication to helping Alyssa become the absolute best she could be.  Each of this year’s 36 women I’ve profiled have set out to make the world a better place, supported emotionally and otherwise by their own #TeamAlyssa’s.  To ALL of you, THANK YOU for helping these fires burn so brightly, for allowing these gems to sparkle.  They’re about to embark on one of the craziest, exhausting, yet exhilarating weeks of their lives.. and they’ll need you.

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“To this year’s contestants, whether you win or not, Miss Nebraska week is the most fun you will ever have!” said Alyssa.  “Don’t let the stress get to you, and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Just have fun and enjoy that time that you get with your Miss Nebraska sisters!  To Miss Nebraska 2016, I am so incredibly excited to see everything that this year has in store for you!  Remember to make this year your own, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and find those small moments that make every challenge worth it.  Most importantly, remember that this is a year of service.  Never underestimate what an impact a crown and a sash can make.”

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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CLICK HERE to watch Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Farewell Video

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell

on Facebook and on Instagram.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALYSSA?

2015 * ROAR

2015 * Miracle Worker

2014 * The Kid Whisperer

***

CLICK HERE to meet the 2016 Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants!

The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska Pageant 2016 Recap: The Year of the Phoenix

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Glass Half Full

I’d like you to meet my friend, Chinh.

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Chinh is one of our lead reporters here at KETV.  She is tenacious, driven, she runs at 100% non-stop to use every waking moment to her advantage.  She is also bubbly, kind, and one of the most caring people I have ever met.  A few days before Mother’s Day, Chinh gave me M&M’s (have I mentioned how much I love treats!?!?) and a card with the sweetest message EVER.  No matter what terrible story she’s covered that day or what she’s facing, she is always upbeat and POSITIVE.  That’s terrific; factor in Chinh’s childhood and it’s hands down INSPIRING.

Chinh Doan’s father fought for the South Vietnamese Army during the war.  So did her mother’s first husband.  Both faced persecution by North Vietnames soldiers once the war ended, ripping their marriages and families apart.  They survived poverty,  POW camps, oppression, and hoped to start over when they found each other.  They married, and Chinh was born on Christmas Day 1989.  Chinh treasures early memories like riding on the front of her father’s bicycle in urban Vietnam as a toddler, but life was hard, very hard.  When the United States offered an opportunity for POW’s like Chinh’s father to move, the family was thrilled, until they learned only Chinh and her father would be allowed to move.  Once again, a family was torn apart, this time, so their little girl would have a chance at the American Dream.

Chinh’s father found a job as a janitor at an Oklahoma City newspaper; Chinh poured over every article her father brought home, and learned English by watching local news every night.  17 years later, just 6 days before she received her journalism degree as “Outstanding Senior” from the University of Oklahoma, Chinh’s mom moved to the United States.

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CLICK HERE to read more of Chinh’s story in her own words, published by the Asian American News last year.

Chinh and Tu are two of the happiest, most grateful people I have ever met.  They emit sheer joy.. and after every event in their presence, you leave feeling more optimistic about.. well, EVERYTHING!  PROOF of the power of positivity.  Or as teenager Emma Young likes to call it, ‘Positivity In The Face Of Negativity.”

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I was born with a condition called Strabismus, which is where the eyes cross,” Emma told me recently.  “I have had issues off and on with being bullied for years.  I had also had close firends who have gone through depression and at times, have contemplated suicide.  My platform encourages being kind to everyone, because you never know what people are really going through.”

Emma, a North Platte, Nebraska native, had two constants in her life as a young child.. eye surgeries to fix her condition, and the Miss Nebraska Pageant, which Emma’s family has been involved for years.

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“I had the opportunity to be in the Little Sisters program,” said Emma, shown above in the 2009 pageant with her Big Sister, titleholder Jessica Brock.  “I think I was hooked then!  I love being on stage, and the whole week was glamorous and exciting!”

But at a very early age, Emma also recognized the responsibilities of a crown and sash off stage, through volunteering and service to others.

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When she became Miss Platte River’s Outstanding Teen 2016, Emma completely devoted herself to community.

“I was able to help girls select prom dresses and formals through a Lincoln County Child Abuse Prevention Council event, Dresses for a Cause.  In turn, I was invited to serve on their Youth Council Board,” said Emma.  “Also, through this organization, I met a great 5th grade boy who is alsot trying to spread kindness by purchasing Buddy Benches for schools in our community.  I have been able to speak to civic groups for him, to help him raise money to purchase them.  This is an ongoing project!”

Emma also delivered meals on Christmas Day, and volunteered for a recent fundraiser for her school district.  She’s a certified Kiwanis Key Leader, and now serves on the Junior Ambassador Leadership Committee, helping to choose future youth volunteers and projects for the group.  She’s a frequent visitor to schools to talk about positivity in both words and action.

“Something fun I have been able to do is crete ‘Kindness Jars’ and have students make these when I speak to them,” said Emma.  “Each jar is decorated by the student and inside they put actions they can do to show kindness to others.  Then later, they can pull an act of kindness from their jar and do it!”

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One of Emma’s favorite places to volunteer is her local hospital, where she’s been giving back ever since those surgeries as a small child.

“I am a Junior Volunteer at Great Plains Health (our local hospital), 5 hours each week in the Emergency Room,”  I love being able to help people feel more comfortable about being in a stressful situation.  I have always watned to be a doctor.  When I was 3 years old, I asked my parents for a toy crash cart for Christmas!  Being a volunteer at the hospital has allowed me to experience many aspects of the medical field.  The only way I will miss going to the hospital to volunteer is if I am sick!”

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Emma’s efforts have not gone unnotice, featured by the North Platte Telegraph in March for all of her hard work.  (Click here to read Kamie Stephen’s article!)

All of that time volunteering comes in addition to school and North Platte High activities, including National Honor Society (Emma’s the Publicity Chairman), Key Club (she’s Editor), Speech and Debate, Orchestra, Concert Choir and Drama.  Emma also spends several hours a week dancing, taking lessons since the age of 7.

Emma Ballet

A true testament that Emma is living what she preaches come in her own answer, when asked WHY she does all this??

“Competing in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant has given me the opportunity to make connections that I may not have had, if I had not been competing,” said Emma.  “In setting up appearances and speaking about my platform, I had had to contact promiment leaders in my community.  Every one of them has been gracious and kind.  I have also made some great friends in the other contestants.  We encourage each other to be the best we can be.  I think competing has also taught me to be resilient and to never give up.  I am so grateful that I have this opportunity and have chosen to follow this path.  It is not easy, but the rewards, both big and small, are worth every ounce of effort I have put into it.”

How often do we hear from people who feel entitled to what they believe BELONGS to them?  Things they think they should just HAVE, that it’s their RIGHT?  And how often do we witness, in others and in ourselves, instant and toxic negativity when we don’t get what we feel should just happen?

Not from Chinh.  No entitlement.  No complaining.  Never even a frown or a negative word.  In addition to her full-time career at KETV, Chinh is also a CONSTANT presence in the Omaha area, a member of Junior League and the Omaha Press Club, even recognized as one of 10 Outstanding Young Omahans in 2015.

They are separated by age, distance and backgrounds, but much of the same holds true for Emma.  No talk of what she deserves, no complaining about the hand life dealt her.  Just hard work, a focus on others, and a CONSTANT smile.  To people like Emma and Chinh it’s a no brainer–the glass is ALWAYS half full.  And Emma Young is ready to take that optimistic attitude and message across the state as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“The Nebraska Tourism Board has a new slogan, Nebraska Nice,” said Emma.  “I feel that should describe every Miss Nebraska contestant, Miss or Teen.  I know there were, and still are, many times I wished that someone would say something nice to me, just to make me feel better.  I try to be that person now, because I know how much it means.”

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Platte River’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Young

on Facebookon Instagram, and on Twitter.  You can also email Emma for appearances and events at missplatteriversot@gmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Carsyn Long!

NEXT.. Miss Western Nebraska 2016 Marie Allison

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

When I Grow Up

I’ve written quite a bit lately about young women inspired by strong, beautiful, talented women who came before them.  Over and over again, I’ve heard of these teenagers and college students volunteering, working hard to better themselves, trying to make a difference for others, all because of someone who they saw doing the same thing when they were a little girl.  How often did these girls watch acts of kindness or moments of greatness and think ‘I want to be just like her when I grow up!’

Ladies and gentlemen, THAT is the power of the Miss America Organization.

It’s an endless cycle of GOOD that I’ll share proof of yet again through the story of Cherokee Purviance, an outstanding young woman representing a place she calls ‘the best hometown in America’: Alliance, Nebraska.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I chose to compete because when I was a little girl, I looked up to Megan Dimmitt, a Miss Nebraska contestant many times in the past, and also my first ever piano teacher,” Cherokee recently told me.  “Role models like Megan drove me to compete and start teaching piano students of my own.”

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Click here to learn more about Megan Dimmitt, Miss High Plains 2014!

With her role model’s complete support, Cherokee pursued Miss America’s partner program, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, in 2015.  Using the skills Megan taught her, she took the same stage her mentor had for so many years, and competed for one of our state’s top honors.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph

Cherokee didn’t take the title, but she went home to Alliance with even more zest for the program she’d heard about for so many years, and everything each titleholder is entrusted to carry out.

“I wrote an essay last year about breaking pageant stereotypes,” said Cherokee.  “One thing that I wrote in that paper was that people who say that pageants are all about the beauty, clearly have never experienced the MAO Teen organization.  This organization has taught me to grow in my passion for my platform.”

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Yes, despite an extensive piano background and a self-described knack for music, art and history, this program fueled Cherokee’s desire to serve and help others.  When she was crowned Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2016, Cherokee was determined to increase her efforts to spread awareness of dyslexia

“I chose this as my platform because it is something I struggle with everyday that doesn’t get enough attention from parents and teachers,” said Cherokee.  “I have strengths other students don’t because I am dyslexic.  I am more artistic and musically inclined than students without dyslexia.  Dyslexia is my greatest struggle and my greatest strength.  I am passionate about teaching this to other teens, possibly preventing drastic measures such as suicide due to thinking they are not smart or are ‘stupid’.”

Cherokee has also volunteered to help children in need shop for Christmas paresents, she’s taken part in local Girl Scout events, and helped with community activities across Alliance.  She is wrapping up her sophomore year at Alliance High School, where she’s in show choir and the school musical and she accompanies her choir on piano.  In addition, Cherokee plays tennis, dances and paints (her work was recently recognized by Nebraska 4H!)

At all of these events.. someone small is watching Cherokee.  In Alliance and perhaps elsewhere, there are undoubtedly little girls looking up to her, just as she looked up to Megan years ago.  And just as her mentor stood under the bright lights at Miss Nebraska stage and inspired someone else.. Cherokee hopes to now hear those same words, ‘when I grow up’.. as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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Photo courtesy Just Shoot Me Photographics

“I would be a great role model for children and teens of all ages,” said Cherokee.  I would be able to spread word of my platform to parents, teachers and [those] close to my heart, teens and children whose self esteem has been brought down because they no longer think they’re smart.  I would be give me the chance to promote my platform on a wider spectrum and to be an advocate for those suffering children and teens.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CHEROKEE?

2015 * Girls And Dolls

For more information about the Miss Alliance’s OT/Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s OT/Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Melinda Cullan by phone at 308-710-5593, or by email at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kearney 2016 Stacy Pospisil!

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days 2016 Alex O’Connor!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!