Small neighborhoods, small towns, small state. The lists for the odds of opportunity go on and on for many Mississippians.
Many are forced to go beyond the state borders for inspiration. But what if there were role models, people who have reached unimaginable milestones, right under our noses?
Although they may have traveled far, they managed to carry their southern hospitality with them. They could reassure what some may consider a cliché quote; “It doesn’t matter where you come from. All that matters is where you’re going”.
You can be from Mississippi and still be recognized nationally perhaps for being runner-up for Miss America, named the first and youngest Masterchef and performing on national television. At least that is the case for former USM students Whitney Miller, Hannah Roberts and myself.
After multiple rounds of auditioning and traveling for months, I finally landed a blind audition on The Voice. The experience was surreal. Making it to the top 20 felt like I had truly made my family and hometown proud: Not only by being a small town girl that made it to national television, but by having the opportunity to highlight the community who shaped my talent.
Since appearing on the show, I have had the opportunity to sing at multiple venues and be recognized by both Mississippi and National representatives, experienced substantial iTunes sales and released my first EP entitled “The Enlightenment.”
Since the show, I have been focusing more on being creative with songwriting and getting people to understand my music and myself as an artist.
I will be releasing a sophomore EP titled March Badness in which I am partnering with USM Enactus’s president, Terrance Horton and recording production student Will Pope. The EP will be combination of Electronica hip-hop with 80’s influence. As an electronica artist, I hope to inspire those around me while learning from the best.
Hannah Roberts is no stranger to inspiring those around her using her platform to be a role model to many young girls. One can say that the earlier part of her success began here at USM where Roberts was a biochemistry major and later crowned Miss University of Southern Mississippi 2015.
After debut of gaining the title of Miss Mississippi, the Mount Olive native went on to represent Mississippi in the Miss America 2016 Pageant placing first runner up.
With constant feedback and interactions with social media fans, Hannah continues to serve and represent Mississippi well. She continues to tour the state, with appearances at chamber of commerce meetings, children’s hospitals and more in effort to spread hospitality.
Roberts also continues good will through Pages of Love, a charity she began in 2005.
“Through Pages of Love, I was able to donate 1,500 books to the Eudora Welty Library in Jackson for distribution to children in need,” Roberts said on a recent Instagram post.
Roberts looks forward attending medical school this fall at The University of Mississippi Medical Center located in Jackson.
“Being #MissMississippi is a dream come true, but it’s a dream that only lasts one year. My ultimate goal is to become a plastic surgeon, and today I’m taking my badge photo and getting fingerprinted for UMMC! August is just around the corner! #afterthecrown” Roberts said last month on Instagram.
Clearly, a little southern hospitality goes a long way. Whitney Miller said that it was her 97-year- old great-grandmother that inspired her to begin cooking at an early age.
At 22, Miller won the title of Fox’s first U.S. Masterchef, gaining numerous fans worldwide. Even after winning on national television, Miller went on to obtain her nutrition degree from USM. Miller has worked with celebrity chefs like Guy Fieri and Curtis Stone and has been featured in Southern cuisine cooking promotions in Tianjin. However, she describes the road to stardom to be quite intimidating.
“Auditioning for Masterchef was one of the scariest things I’ve done. I was a 22-year-old senior in college competing against people twice my age and with twice the experience in the kitchen,” she said.
She said that the judges worried about how well she would perform in the challenges, but her hard work proved her to be the best competitor despite all odds.
Miller’s career skyrocketed after the show, with some recent accomplishments including the release of her cookbook “Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes with Southern Charm.” Miller worked with Panera Bread as the featured food expert and frequently acts as a guest host for ABC’s Birmingham Talk of Alabama’s TV cooking segment.
Currently living in Plant City, Florida, she has donated her services to nonprofit organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the Mississippi Muscular Sclerosis Society. Miller cites the ability to inspire children and young adults through cooking and culinary endeavors as her top priority.
Facing the world with humble beginnings can be a scary experience. What makes it all worthwhile is becoming a role model for someone with big dreams. Before the show, I did not identify as a risk-taker. My new philosophy is to do what you feel and not let the fear hold you back. After all, you can only get older. The success stories of these ladies could only take place by taking advantage of time. They, as well as myself, hope to inspire others to do the same.