Story by Gisselle Hernandez, Assistant Features Editor
When Rachel Ross heard those anticipated words uttered over the microphone, a childhood dream came true. Ross, junior from Murray, took the reigns from the former champion Tanelle Smith on Saturday night as she was crowned Ms. Murray State University 2016 in Lovett Auditorium.
Ross, who had sat in the auditorium as a 5-year-old fantasizing about that very moment, strut her first walk as Ms. MSU down the catwalk, the crowd cheering and applauding.
“I sat here for as long as I can remember, looking at these women,” she said. “I knew one day, when I went to Murray State, I wanted to be somebody that made that big of an impact. So getting this was a dream.”
The 15 Ms. MSU contestants had to go through two previous rounds before the actual pageant on Saturday. On Saturday morning, the ladies had a four-minute interview with the judges and then presented a one-minute speech. For the pageant, the last round was the Evening Gown modeling.
Karlie Nattier, executive director for Ms. MSU, said the pageant does a good job in highlighting women that are not only star students, but actively involved at Murray State.
“I think often society sees pageants are pretty girls who walk on stage and talk about world peace, but in reality, pageants are much more than that,” she said. “This program instills confidence and communication skills in young women.”
When the doors opened at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, the crowd saw 15 ladies, who had been training and practicing for weeks before, model in their evening gowns for the judges to score. During the individual modeling, dresses from all styles and colors captivated the audience’s eyes, from bride-esque gowns to lacy mermaid bodycons. As each contestant walked across the stage and runway, smiling widely at the judges and audience, masters of ceremony Evan Ditty and Clint Combs read their biographies.
After the grand parade of contestants, Emily Duff, senior from Mayfield, Kentucky, received a standing ovation for her cover of Adele’s “Hello,” serving as entertainment while the judges rounded up scores for the Top 5 Finalists.
The finalists had a chance to give the speech they had presented to the judges earlier, and topics ranged from passions for creative writing to the common experience of life’s awkward moments.
At the end of the night, when Smith crowned Ross and bestowed upon her the coveted sash of Ms. MSU, Ross said winning is all about knowing “you’re special and standing out with that special quality.”
Smith, whose reign as Ms. MSU is up, said she will miss being able to attend all the events and visits to elementary schools she used to do as Ms. MSU the most. She said being a natural-born leader helped in being a role model to others, something she had always strived to do.
“The kids line up when they see the crown on your head and I think that’s what I’ll miss the most – engaging with the community,” she said.
Smith was the first African-American to win Ms. MSU, and with almost seven decades since the first year of desegregation at Murray State, Smith said she found it fitting that she made history last year when she won.
“At first it didn’t hit me, but once people started coming up to me and saying how proud they are, I thought it was really empowering,” she said. “Especially with all the barriers African-Americans have had to face.”
The winner of Ms. MSU receives an $850 scholarship and the pageant is a long-standing tradition at Murray State, a tradition Ross said she cannot wait to dive into.
“I really look forward to being able to advocate for the university and getting in touch with more women about being successful in college,” she said.
Ross said it was difficult trying not to let the nerves get to her. She said “being yourself” is the most important part, and as long as the contestants were true to themselves during the pageant, nothing else mattered.
The challenges do not end after being crowned; great tiaras come with great responsibility. Smith said one of the most challenging aspects was having to maintain a reputation and an image that represented Murray State as a whole, an ordeal she called a “blessing and a curse.”
Smith may be moving on to better things in the future, such as her study abroad in South Korea, but she shared some parting words to encourage the new Ms. MSU.
“I would tell her to take every day in strides. Wake up every day and think of something new to do with your title,” she said. “It’s only a year, but use it to open new avenues for you to do more things at Murray State.”