Beautifully Grounded

by Madeleine Miller

Remember how exciting it was to be a teenager? You had your whole life ahead of you—an endless highway of possibilities. It was a time of self-discovery and new adventures—a story that was yours to write.

But being a teen can also be a time of angst and awkwardness. Very few 12-year-olds are fully prepared for that next birthday. The good news is that there are opportunities out there for young people to develop the skills necessary to navigate life’ s journey.

Taylor Andrews of Westmont, 16, is in the fast-lane of the highway of opportunity, and is embracing experiences that are helping her grow. The recently-crowned USA National Miss Illinois Teen is having the time of her young life—making new friends, giving speeches, modeling beautiful clothes on stage, and all the while, building her self-confidence.

But make no mistake—the USA National Miss Teen pageants are not just about looks. And Taylor is determined to get the word out that these are not “ glitzy” pageants, but scholarship pageants that offer a great way for young women to develop confidence, acquire important life skills, and promote the causes that are near and dear to them.

“The focus of this pageant is on inner beauty,” Andrews said. “ It’ s about kindness, self-expression and performing community service, as opposed to how you look in a swimsuit. You get points for poise and personality, but the most important thing is how you plan to make a difference in the world.”

Jacque Georgia is the pageant’ s Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois state director, and is dedicated to helping young girls find their voices and reach their full potential.

“I want to break the stigma of what a pageant girl is supposed to be,” Georgia said. “These girls become part of my family, and my job is to make sure that each one realizes how special she is. When these young women walk out of here, they will have acquired skills that they will continue to build upon their entire lives.”

As USA National Miss Illinois Teen, Andrews will receive approximately $100,000 in prizes, including a full-ride scholarship to Troy University.

Andrews said it was just a fluke how she got involved in the world of pageants. She received a letter in the mail when she was 12 years old encouraging her to enter the Miss Teen Chicago pageant. Up for the adventure, she competed, and was the second runner-up out of 121 girls in her age group. In the last four years, Andrews has been a contestant in five pageants, consistently placing near the top. In her quest for the crown, she continually “ tweaked little things,” and her perseverance finally paid off. Andrews’ national platform is raising awareness about ocean pollution.

“I am passionate about undoing the damage done by all the garbage that’ s been dumped in the ocean,” she said. “Everything is connected to the environment, and everyone is affected by it. In my role as USA National Miss Illinois Teen, I will encourage corporations, schools and government to make a difference through plastics recycling and reusable water bottles.”

Andrews is very involved in community service. She volunteers for three weeks each summer as a camp counselor, makes blankets for hospital patients, and participates in other worthy causes, such as Hinsdale Humane Society fundraisers and Make-A-Wish and March of Dimes events. She will also be speaking at area elementary schools about the Crown C.A.R.E.S. (Creating a Respectful Environment in Schools) anti-bullying program.

An honor-roll student and cheerleader at Hinsdale Central who is involved in the school ecology club, Andrews aspires to become a marine biologist and environmental lawyer, and to raise a happy family.

And no one is a bigger cheerleader for Andrews than her mom, Dr. Cindy Andrews.

“I am so proud of her seeking out challenges, and working toward something bigger than herself,” said Andrews, president of a trial consulting firm in Chicago.“ She will have such a positive impact on the world she lives in.”

Hannah (Smith) Bohn was Miss Illinois 2011, and placed in the top ten in the Miss America pageant.

“Competing in both of these scholarship pageants opened up a whole new world for me,” Bohn said, “ and I know it will do the same for Taylor. This magical experience will be the springboard for the next chapter in her life, just as it was for me.”

This July, Andrews will compete for the national title of USA National Miss Teen in Boca Raton, Fla.

“Participating in these pageants has been an amazing experience,” she said. “ I’ ve become more confident, and have developed so many skills. Even if a girl doesn’ t win a crown, she will benefit enormously from this experience.”

Andrews offered some words of encouragement for young women.

“Don’ t be afraid to fail, whether you’ re competing in pageants or pursuing other dreams,” she said. “Just be yourself, because you’ re special—there’ s no one else in the world like you.”

Visit www.usanationalmiss.com for more information.

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