An American Inspiration, Nina Davuluri

It’s almost that time of year again.

Yesterday fifty-three Miss America hopefuls released their introduction videos explaining why they should be the next to wear the crown.  Yours truly has reviewed each video and has narrowed the field down to the true contenders.

The timing just doesn’t feel right.  I am used to the pageant being a winter spectacle.  The one thing to look forward to after the holidays are over.  Now, it’s smack dab in the middle of baseball’s pennant races (not like my Texas teams are going anywhere), the second week of NFL football season, the first week of conference play in college football, and great weather for camping, boating, golfing, you name it.  Americans are not exactly starving for entertainment in the middle of September.

Meanwhile, what do we have to look forward to in the month of January?  A few football games between teams most people can only pretend to care about?  The Victoria Secret Pageant?  No offense, but . . . if I wanted to see models prancing around in next to nothing I would buy a TV and subscribe to Cinemax.

I would much rather spend those bleary winter days appreciating the most driven and well-rounded young women our country has to offer.  Instead, I now have to appreciate them during the summer.

Look, I understand the history and tradition revived by last year’s return to Atlantic City — but it still doesn’t feel right to me.

Timing aside, I will say that in the five years I have been handicapping the pageant, this is the strongest field I have ever seen at first glance.  Many of these girls come off as extremely polished, focused, and mature.  At this stage, all I am looking for is potential, and there is plenty to go around.

But before we get to this year’s class, I want to recognize our current Miss America, Nina Davuluri.

 

Nina is a future MBA student of Indian-American descent.  She comes from from a family of wealthy New York physicians.  At 25 years old, she is the most mature Miss America to serve in the last 15 years.

As you may recall, Nina did not make it into my top 20 projected finalists last year.  On the night she was crowned, I acknowledged that she would not have been my choice, but conceded that she was “a deserving winner.”  Admittedly, this was at best a half-hearted congratulations.

Oh, how a year can change one’s opinion.

In the aftermath of her victory, Nina was the target of blatant racism on social media.  Rather than lash out at her attackers, Nina used the controversy as fuel for her platform, promoting diversity and cultural dialogue.  She continued to be positive and push forward with her message of bringing people together.  Nina offered concrete ideas for achieving this goal — such as involving children in hands-on activities that allow them to experience other cultures — and used her title to promote such programs.  In her many interviews across the country (most of which focused on the social media backlash), she always stayed positive.  Even when she was asked questions like, “shouldn’t Miss America be American?”

Her words had a profound impact on those who listened.  One Yale student had this impression:

“In addition to being all-around well spoken, graceful and sassy, she thoughtfully explained her platform of cultural competence and stressed that patiently answering people’s questions is one of the strongest ways to combat ignorance [….] Responding to offensive questions with tolerance and patience might be more effective than harsh words. As we can see from Davuluri’s response to her critics, tolerance begets tolerance.”  — Lorraine James, February 2014

In every regard, Nina is an embodiment of compassion, poise, intelligence, and professionalism.  She is a symbol of diversity of our country and the persevering spirit of our people.  She inspired us.  She challenged our perceptions of our country.  She showed us what it means to handle adversity.  And she did it all with a smile.  We all should be proud to have her as our national representative.

Add it all up, and you’re looking at one of the most heralded Miss Americas in recent memory.  Looking back, I shudder to think that her exceptional reign could have been derailed by a trivial dance.

You see, in America, we don’t just want the substance; we want the show, too.  The Miss America pageant brings both to the table.  It’s not just an contest to see who would be the best spokesperson.  By the same token, it’s not just a competition to see who the best stage performer is, either.  Like most things in life, it’s a combination of both.

Last year, the judges saw what we at home could not — the substance.  A transcendent young woman with every quality you could want in a Miss America.  That’s why her Bollywood dance was good enough.  That’s why the fact that last year’s winner was also from New York didn’t matter.  That’s why no one cared that she might been have been outperformed by others on stage.  The reason she won is now obvious to all.

So tonight, rather than post a list of contenders, I wanted to first recognize our current Miss America for all that she has accomplished and become.  Truly a job well done.  (And if there is any doubt about her legacy, I would point out that her Wikipedia page is already much longer than her predecessors.)

Now our task is to choose a new Miss America.  We can only hope she will live up to the high standard set by her predecessor, the remarkable Nina Davuluri.

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