04/05/04 — Miss America tells students to follow dreams

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Miss America tells students to follow dreams

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 5, 2004 1:59 PM

DUDLEY -- Ericka Dunlap has the key to Wayne County and to the hearts of Brogden Middle School students.

Miss Dunlap is Miss America, a native of Florida, and today she spoke to the students at the school about pursuing their dreams.

Erica Dunlap

News-Argus/Dennis Hill

Miss America, Ericka Dunlap, speaks to students at Brogden Middle School this morning.

"You guys are so well-behaved," she told the group of fifth- and sixth-graders. An hour later, she spoke to the seventh- and eighth-graders and received the keys to Wayne County from Commissioners Chairman J.D. Evans.

"Miss America is a lot of fun," said Miss Dunlap, who is 22. This is her first time in North Carolina. She leaves Tuesday.

"First of all, you have to be a girl." She described the three levels of competition, beginning with the pageant for the city or the county, then the state. Forty girls competed in Florida, then 51 in Atlantic City for the Miss America crown.

The students were lively participants during their hour with Miss America. One of the sixth-grade girls wore her crown for a while. Many asked questions.

"I travel all the time," she said. "I'm always in an airplane or in a car. ... You have to be willing to talk a lot and shake hands a lot. It seems I'm taking a picture every two minutes."

Miss America's platform is diversity, helping people realize that although they're different, they also have a lot in common and can work together toward common goals.

Today she encouraged the students to think of themselves as leaders, to dream and to do what it takes to make their dreams come true.

"Even though you may not be the most outspoken one or the first to raise your hand, you may not be the number one in everything you do, but everybody has the ability to influence your other classmates," she said. "Allow your classmates to realize you all have something to contribute throughout your years here.

"You're probably some of the most well-behaved students I've been around," she added. "You've already started being good leaders. You use things you've been told to be a better person, a better leader."

She asked the students some of the things they would do to make sure they do well on the End of Grade Test, which is 25 days away. They said things like, "Study hard," "listen to the teacher," "have confidence in your self," and "pay attention."

"Those are all very important qualities you can bring together," she said. "I personally believe you can achieve anything you want to."

She told how she became Miss America. She knew when she was 6 years old that she wanted to become Miss America some day. "I thought she was the coolest person in the whole wide world."

She worked hard, studied hard and stayed focused on her goal. She never let anyone tell her what she could not do. She pretended, put on her best dress and smiled at the mirror. ... She advised the students not to try one of the things she did. She had heard the Miss America smile is enhanced by putting Vaseline on the teeth. "It's pretty gross," she said.

"It took me 16 years to get there," she added. "It took a lot of prayer and a lot of support from my family. ... When Miss Hawaii and I were standing together, it was really scary. It's like when you're on the last page of your end of grade test."