Elena Bird won this year's Alaska Jr. Miss title.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Ever since Kenai Central High School senior Elena Bird was a little girl, she dreamed of participating in the Junior Miss Scholarship Program. However, up until Saturday she didn't think she was going to win it.
"My folks emceed a Junior Miss program 20 years ago, and the whole time I was growing up, my dad would point out women in the community and let me know that they were past Junior Miss participants. So I knew from the time I was very young what the program could offer me, and I wanted to try for it," said Bird, who came home with the title.
Selected from a group of 17 other young women from all over Alaska, Bird said that midway into rehearsal week she knew just how tough the competition was and how unprepared she felt.
"Competition was tight, yet everyone was so amazing and friendly. We all wanted the same thing (the title) and by Wednesday, I just felt all the pressure. I felt like I wasn't graceful enough to even walk across the stage, let alone be there with so many other talented young women. So I just set down and prayed to God for grace because I don't have any," she said.
Bird said that the prayer gave her the peace and confidence she needed to accomplish her goal of competing and also to place first in the self-expression part of the program.
"OK, I was more shocked to win that part than the title, because I have two older brothers and I walk like a jock," Bird laughed.
Still walking around as if in a dream, Bird said she is proud to be part of a program such as Junior Miss, and that she is thrilled to be heading south to Mobile, Ala., for the national competition.
"I have never been to the south. I love history and am excited for a chance to explore it and learn new things. I think I will be able to enjoy it more, since I know what to expect from the competition perspective. I have set goals for myself and will do my best to make it to the preliminary rounds," she said. "I have already receive so much more than I thought possible."
Bird added that even after building up a lifetime of expectations about the competition, her experience with the program and state program organizers Mary Green and Reean Pitts far exceeded her dreams.
"This is a program with morals and a desire to help young women get an education and reach their goals," she said. "Mary and Reean made the program a joy to be a part of, it was well organized and I thank them for the opportunity they helped to provide."
Green was just as enthusiastic about the young women who participated in this year's program.
"It was fabulous. This group of young women was the most cohesive and supportive group we have had since it began in 1977," she said. "There was no heavy competition between each other. They wanted to win, but they embodied what the program is all about how to be better women, gain confidence, make new friends and learn from the experience."
First runner-up honors went to Holly Stebing of Anchorage; overall scholastic achievement awards went to Jessica Walters of Anchorage and Rachel McCartan of Soldotna; overall talent awards went to Bird and Danielle Severson of Soldotna; overall fitness awards went to Ella Fehrer and Katy Pankoski, both of Soldotna; and overall self-expression awards went to Bird and Severson.
The Marti Steckel Spirit of Junior Miss Award and the Be Your Best Self Essay Award were given to Severson.
As the 2005 Junior Miss, Bird receives a four-year, presidential tuition scholarship from the University of Alaska, a $3,000 cash scholarship, a trip to Mobile for the national finals in June, the state medallion and a professional photo session.
Bird said she hasn't had time to sort out what has happened to her, and won't anytime soon. She left today to audition for acceptance into St. Olaf College, a private liberal arts college in Minnesota, where she hopes to major in vocal performance.
"I want to sing with a small opera company and then settle into teaching and conducting ensembles at the college level."
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