Miss UofA

Taryn Bewley crowns Starling Ledbetter as the 57th Miss UofA. Ledbetter was one of three titleholders that day who claimed a preliminary title to compete for the title of Miss Arkansas in June.


Red dresses and jumpsuits completely filled the Verizon Ballroom stage earlier this month, as over 20 young women proudly introduced themselves as they began the competition for various preliminary pageant titles.

Taryn Bewley, the 2022-23 Miss UofA, crowned her successor, along with the new Miss Dogwood and Miss Northwest Arkansas.

Starling Ledbetter, a junior apparel production and product development major, will serve as the 57th Miss UofA throughout the following year. Winning the title was a surreal feeling, she said.

"I always knew I wanted to compete for Miss UofA, but never knew that the dream would come true," Ledbetter said. "Being Miss UofA doesn't mean that I get to represent myself at Miss Arkansas, but I get to represent the university as a whole, which means a lot."

The three pageants were preliminary competitions to the Miss Arkansas state pageant. Miss Arkansas is a part of the Miss America Organization, a 101-year-old organization known for providing scholarship money to women pursuing higher education.

Although a new scoring system will be going into effect at the state pageant, the contestants currently compete in a private interview, on-stage question with social impact pitch, talent and evening gown.

Each preliminary pageant has a director to guide the women through their preparation for the state pageant. Toni Lindsey has been directing Miss UofA and its sister pageants since 2007. She was drawn to it because she was a former contestant herself, she said.

"I believe in this organization with my whole heart," Lindsey said. "I used scholarship money that I won when I was competing to pay for two years of college at the University of Arkansas. I just love watching the young women grow and develop into the best versions of themselves."

Lindsey said she is incredibly excited to work with Ledbetter, whom she has known for many years.

"She loves the university and bleeds Razorback red," she said. "I can't wait to see what a great ambassador she is for our campus. She's already super involved, and I know she's going to represent everyone really well."

Kennedy Holland and McKenzie Gomez are the new titleholders of the respective Miss Dogwood and Miss Northwest Arkansas pageants.

Holland, a freshman strategic communications major at Ouachita Baptist University, won the title of Miss Dogwood after serving as Miss Dogwood Teen last year. Holland competed for Miss Arkansas Teen for five years, earning first runner-up last summer.

At 18, Holland will be one of the youngest contestants at Miss Arkansas this year.

"The funny thing about being one of the youngest contestants is that this isn't my first rodeo," Holland said. "Most of the older girls competing for Miss Arkansas this year are the same girls I competed with and looked up to my first year in the teen portion. They all took me under their wing and showed me the ropes, so I'm looking forward to spending time with them this summer."

Holland's talent was a vocal performance to "Bridge Over Troubled Water," a song about being compassionate toward one another and lending a helping hand, she said.

Gomez, a senior criminology major, won Miss Northwest Arkansas in her first-ever pageant.  She went into the pageant with an open mind and was eager to experience something new, she said.

Gomez has been a baton twirler since she was 2 years old. She now serves as a feature twirler for the Razorback Marching Band and is excited to share her love for twirling when she performs her talent on the Miss Arkansas stage, she said.

Ledbetter sings for her talent, and at Miss UofA, she performed “Up to the Mountain,” a song about perseverance and supporting yourself, she said.

In addition to preparing for the phases of competition, each Miss Arkansas contestant develops and promotes a social impact initiative through the year.

Ledbetter's social impact initiative is “Aspire to Inspire: Understanding Cultural Competence.” She aims to educate others on understanding various cultural backgrounds better.

“There are so many people who are different, and I believe we should make an effort to understand our peers on another level,” Ledbetter said.

Holland's social impact initiative is the Compassion Legacy, a non-profit organization she founded to fundraise for and install inclusive and accessible playground equipment for children with disabilities.

Gomez said she based her platform on her experiences as a student-athlete and the stigma around athletes' mental health.

“It's okay not to be okay and ask for help,” she said. “Athletes are told to be strong and show no weakness, but in reality, we're all humans with valid feelings.”

The pageant also crowned two preliminary titleholders for Miss Arkansas Teen and four Diamond State Princesses — girls between the ages of 5 and 12 who will receive mentorship from the contestants and accompany them at Miss Arkansas as a way to learn about the system.

All the titleholders will take to the Robinson Auditorium stage in Little Rock for the Miss Arkansas competition from June 3-10.

“The UofA will always have a special place in my heart,” Ledbetter said. “The idea of being able to represent the school at a state level has been a dream of mine since I was a freshman. I’m beyond excited to have this title.”

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