For the second year in a row, a woman affiliated with the UofA was awarded the title of Miss Arkansas and will compete in the 2018 Miss America pageant next month.
The 2017 Miss Arkansas pageant took place on June 17, and although this was her first time to win the pageant, UA alumna Maggie Benton began competing following her senior year of high school. Maggie Benton is a former member of the Associated Student Government executive team and graduated May of 2017.
As the title holder, she received a $30,000 educational scholarship, over $75,000 worth of awards, clothing, gifts and transportation, according to the Miss Arkansas website.
Overcoming internal struggles continues to be the largest obstacle for her, Maggie Benton said.
“I think it is all about perseverance and hard work,” Maggie Benton said. “Whenever you can overcome … those mental blocks, you are as ready as you possibly can be if you have worked as hard as you possibly could before you go.”
Maggie Benton plans on using the scholarship to fund her master’s degree in public service, she said. Following her year serving as Miss Arkansas, Maggie Benton plans to attend the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock in August 2018 to earn her degree.
Aside from the financial benefits and gifts, winning this crown signifies more than rewards because it gave her the capacity to promote her own social platform, Giving is a Gift, and its ideas, Maggie Benton said.
“I love getting the opportunity to mentor kids and travel the state of Arkansas,” Maggie Benton said. “So, I wanted to have this specific platform to be able to love on people, travel the state and talk to as many people as I can about my personal platform, which is called ‘Giving is a Gift.’ Between that, and the scholarship opportunities, I knew that winning would provide the highest level of opportunity for that.”
The primary agenda of “Giving is a Gift,” is to urge people to give back to the community and to devote both financial and social resources to those who may not have these things, according to the Miss America website.
Upon arrival to the pageant, contestants complete an initial interview with a panel of five judges from across the country in order to keep things impartial, Maggie Benton said. Their job is to judge contestants throughout the week as they undergo a series of events in the days following the interview, including a swimsuit, talent and evening gown competition as well as an onstage question.
Darynne Dahlem, a UA junior and the runner-up of the pageant, entered the contest due to a desire to make a difference in the community, serve as a role model to young women and improve certain skills of her own, she said.
Despite coming in second, Dahlem remained positive and will cheer on Maggie Benton throughout her journey, she said.
Maggie Benton’s mother, Nancy Benton, described the process as being both stressful and joyful, but she was surprised at the various benefits the competition brought her daughter.
Being allowed the opportunity to see Maggie’s self confidence and relationship skills improve has been worthwhile, and seeing so many people willing to invest in her life has been humbling, Nancy Benton said.
UA senior Savannah Skidmore, the outgoing Miss Arkansas, helped present the crown to Benton along with Savvy Shields, UA senior and current Miss America.
Skidmore said Miss Arkansas was everything that she hoped for it to be, primarily because it gave her plenty of opportunities and time to promote her personal platform, “Speak Up Now: Suicide Prevention and Awareness.”
Skidmore also advised Maggie Benton to make the most of her time as Miss Arkansas, she said.
“Like any job, some days are better than others,” Skidmore said. “The good days as Miss Arkansas are unforgettable, though.”
Shields and Maggie Benton have been friends since before they competed in Miss Arkansas. For that reason, knowing she will be at the national pageant is exciting to Benton, because she will be there as a source of guidance and encouragement for her throughout the process, she said.
Shields described the national pageant to be slightly more intimidating, she said in an email. Every contestant there had already surpassed a major obstacle by winning their respective state’s pageants.
“One you get to Atlantic City, have your goal be to tell your story,” Shields said. “Do not feel as if you have to prove or validate your place, or that you will only succeed if you win, for that is the farthest thing from the truth. If you use this process to grow and mold yourself into a closer version of who you are designed to be, that is far more valuable than a crown.”