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by Adele Williams, student contributor

Tawny 2Alice Lloyd College senior Tawny Aguayo recently traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, to compete in the Miss Kentucky Pageant. Tawny, from Garner, Kentucky, is working on a degree in biology.

Tawny says it all began when she was chosen to represent Alice Lloyd College at the Mountain Laurel Festival in 2013. Since that was Tawny’s first introduction to the pageant world, she remembers thinking “everyone off stage could hear and see [her] nerves.” She now reflects on the event as being “a blast” and a great confidence booster. She quickly decided that one taste of that world was simply not enough. Tawny decided to force herself out of her comfort zone in order to build her confidence and self-assurance. She knew that these pageants would not only improve her self-image, but also help her prepare for future medical school interviews and allow her to be a voice for her community in Eastern Kentucky.

Tawny’s first pageant was held by the Miss Central Kentucky Scholarship Organization in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, in October of 2013. She says, “I was completely new to this and needless to say, it showed! I tripped over my dress on stage and wasn’t prepared at all, but it was a learning experience and helped me to improve.” Even though her first pageant wasn’t a hit, she wouldn’t give up on what she had set out to do.

In order to better prepare herself for her next pageant entry, Tawny decided to first conquer her fear of public speaking.. Tawny has been an avid volunteer at the local animal shelter for over a year. This has been her most demanding, yet rewarding, volunteer effort to date. Tawny decided to use her volunteer work for her advantage by speaking on a widely broadcasted television network to every week. This helped her overcome her fear while raising awareness for the animal shelter. With her help, volunteers were able to increase adoption rates and successfully drop the euthanization rate by over fifty percent.

After months of improvement upon her public speaking skills, she decided to try a pageant again. She chose to compete in The Miss Cumberland Falls pageant, which took place on March 2nd, 2014. “I remember telling my mom about halfway through the pageant, ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this. I’m not going to win today.’” There were about fourteen girls competing in events such as talent, lifestyle and fitness, on-stage questions, private interviews, and evening wear. Tawny says she felt like everything was going wrong, from a snowstorm brewing outside to her hair refusing to be styled. However, at the end of the day she walked away with the crown and a title that would give her the chance of a lifetime! She says, “After the initial shock, I was so grateful and humbled to be given the opportunity to represent not just the Cumberland Falls area, but my hometown, too!”

Winning the title of Miss Cumberland Falls qualified Tawny to compete in the Miss Kentucky Pageant, and so the preparation began. “It took a lot of work. I spent anywhere from two to three hours working out every day to prepare for the Lifestyle and Fitness competition. After I would get done with that, I would practice my talent for an hour or two. On top of practicing and working out, I had to stay up to date on current news and events for the Interview and On-Stage Question portions so I spent a lot of time watching the news and researching topics related to my platform. I would make my mom ask me interview questions every single day. It was time consuming, but an absolute blast.” In addition to preparing for Miss Kentucky, Tawny held a part-time job and studied for the MCAT. Tawny says, “For two months, I would literally wake up, go to work, head to the gym, go practice my talent, go home, and study until I fell asleep. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but it was completely worth it because it taught me the importance of perseverance and that if you really want something, you will push yourself to limits you never thought you could achieve. I tested myself, and I’m pleased with the outcome.” She didn’t forget to mention that her time management skills “are through the roof now!”

1531912_10203008298032393_2050589575_nThrough everything, Tawny continued to volunteer at the animal shelter although not as much because of time constraints. She takes pride in working at the animal shelter, and says that it provided her with more than she could have ever imagined. “It helped me realize how pets benefit special needs children, and I hope to start an organization someday that will pair up families of special needs children with pets. I also hope to extend that to veterans suffering from PTSD as well.”

This tied in perfectly with Tawny’s platform for Miss Kentucky, which was “A Negative Attitude – The Only Real Disability.” “My platform is very special to me because I became hearing-impaired due to an accident when I was sixteen. High school is hard enough without adding a new disability to that, and my self-esteem and confidence plummeted.” Tawny says that the emotional impact of becoming hearing-impaired was harder for her to overcome than the physical impact was. “I felt like being hearing-impaired somehow made me less capable of achieving my goals.” Tawny found inspiration for her platform after reading a book titled Listening with my Heart by Heather Whitestone, who was the first deaf competitor to be named Miss America in 1995. She used her platform to reach out to others, disabled and not, to tell them that no matter their circumstances, they have the power to overcome it and achieve anything they want. “The only thing holding us back is ourselves and our outlooks on life.”

As a member of both the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary and the Kentucky Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Tawny was better able to reach those that she could relate to. She spent plenty of time with disabled veterans and visited many local elementary schools. “I had the opportunity to spend time with the special education department at Hindman Elementary, and it was just amazing to see how hard both the students and teachers work to improve the lives of those children.” Tawny also took her Yorkie, Benji, to schools to promote the benefits of pets for children with special needs, such as improving social skills in autistic children and reinforcing the concept of responsibility. She says, “I loved seeing their faces light up around Benji!” All of Tawny’s experience with volunteer work only prepared her more for the pageant. “It gave me more of a voice and a purpose at Miss Kentucky because everything I had been doing went hand-in-hand with what I wanted to accomplish with my platform. Regardless of whether I compete again or not, I will continue to carry on with my platform because it truly is a part of me and my life.”988870_10203694044895636_758997804433446283_n

Tawny also made sure that her talent was close to her heart. She performed a Spanish Fusion Belly Dance to the song “Ojos Asi.” “The current Miss America, Nina Davuluri, is of Indian descent and chose to do a Bollywood fusion dance, so I thought why can’t I do the same? Some of my favorite memories are in Puerto Rico dancing with my aunts and uncles, so I was inspired by that to draw on my Spanish roots. It was so much fun choreographing it and putting it all together!”

Leading up to Miss Kentucky week (July 6th – July 12th), Tawny says she felt very calm. “Regardless of whether or not I came home with another crown, I knew that I was accomplishing what I had set out to do. I had wanted to push myself into new things, gain confidence, and grow as a person. Most of all, I wanted to make sure I represented southeastern Kentucky to the best of my ability, and I felt very successful in accomplishing all of this.”

Tawny says the week she spent in Lexington for the pageant will forever be one of her most memorable. On the first day, Dillard’s, one of the Miss Kentucky sponsors, hosted a fashion show in the Fayette Mall. Miss Kentucky contestants modeled Dillard’s outfits and had their makeup done by the makeup consultants. On the second day, the contestants visited the Kentucky Children’s Hospital. Tawny says that that was one of her favorite experiences. “The little girl I got to spend time with was from Pikeville and she loved animals, so we bonded really quickly!” The third day, the women visited the Veterans Affair Hospital, which Tawny noted was also a lot of fun. She was excited to be able to spend time with and personally thank veterans for their service. The rest of the week was spent practicing and competing. The crowning took place on Saturday, July 12th.

Although Tawny didn’t win the crown, she was presented with the Spirit of Kentucky Award, which is selected by the Hostess Committee and is presented to a competitor who embodies what Miss Kentucky should be. In addition to this, the award comes with a $500 scholarship. Tawny says, “It was a huge honor! It is so important to me to be kind and gracious to everyone because you never know what they are facing. I was nothing but myself at Miss Kentucky, so it was really nice to know that my attitude was appreciated by the hostesses. I feel very blessed!”

While reflecting on the experience, Tawny says, “It has truly been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. A lot of people tend to disagree with pageants, and I was one of them at one point. Seeing how much I’ve grown throughout my experience with this organization is unreal.” Tawny says she has grown into a more capable woman and has no doubt that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to now. “The women who compete in this program have so much more to offer than just a pretty face. They are your future doctors, lawyers, teachers, and leaders. They are intelligent, well-spoken women with a desire to serve their communities.

To young women with a dream, Tawny’s advice is to just go get it. “The only thing standing in your way is you. I was 1 in 32 women in the entire state and 1 in 1,048 in the entire nation who had the opportunity to stand on a state-level stage and represent their area. If a hearing-impaired girl from a blue collar family in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky can do it, so can you! It’s all about how hard you’re willing to work for it.”

Tawny says that after it all, she has developed a new sense of pride for her community. “I want to say thank you again to everyone who helped me throughout all of this. I would have never made it as far as I did without all of the sponsors, donors, and people who encouraged me along the way. I also want to thank Mr. Bowers for allowing me to use CAC to practice my talent and ALC for being one of my program book sponsors. The ALC community was one of my biggest supporters and I am so grateful for them!”

With such a positive outlook on life, we are sure that Tawny will achieve everything she dreams of. From the sound of it, we may even see her back on the stage. “I would do it again in a heartbeat, and there’s a chance you could see me back on the pageantry circuit one last time. We’ll see what the future holds!”