Out of six contestants, senior communications major Kaelyn Wolfe from Petal, took the pageant crown as Miss University of Southern Mississippi 2017 Oct. 16, on the Hattiesburg campus.
Caitlin Olson, a senior merchandising major from Gulfport finished first runner up.
The Student Government Association and Dean of Students Office at Southern Miss coordinated the event. Macey Mitchell, Miss University of Southern Mississippi 2016, crowned the winner of the pageant Saturday night.
“My initial reaction was ‘don’t cry,’ and my second reaction was ‘let’s hurry and put the crown on so my legs can quit shaking’,” Wolfe said.
The Miss USM Pageant takes place every year and awards winners monetary prizes. Contestants compete in portions of the pageant, which involve interview, swimsuit, evening wear and onstage question.
SGA President Caroline Bradley said the pageant is more than just prize.
“The biggest benefit the winner gets is getting to be a representative for the university,” she said. “They know that going into the pageant, which is one of the reasons they all decided to do it is that they know they’re all going to have this opportunity to wear the University of Southern Miss across their chest and go to these events and represent us well.”
Wolfe’s platform focused on mental health awareness. She won a $1,500 scholarship and qualifies to compete in next summer’s Miss Mississippi Pageant in Vicksburg.
Bradley said the pageant has a great effect on the community.
“Whomever gets selected [as Miss USM] becomes a representative of [USM] both on the Miss Mississippi stage, and hopefully she’ll be able to represent us on the Miss America stage,” she said. “It’s a really cool way to have a student representative show who Southern Miss is and show the Southern Miss spirit in the community at Southern Miss events, and eventually at Miss Mississippi, and hopefully at Miss America.”
Bradley was pleased with the outcome of the event.
“All the girls that competed, I know they all worked extremely hard,” she said. “I could not do half the stuff they did. I think it went well.”
Miss University of Southern Mississippi 2016 Macy Mitchell opened the event by singing for the audience, and the Spirit of Southern performed twice throughout the event. Former Miss Mississippi Chalie Ray and WDAM-TV’s Mike McDaniel served as co-hosts for the event.
The remaining Miss University of Southern Mississippi Pageant contestants included Brooke Bullock, a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Petal; Ashley Clarke, a junior public health and administration major from Mobile; Breanna Magee, a senior political science and legal studies major from Pearl, Miss. and Erin Broadus, a freshman communications major from Hurley, Miss.
Wolfe said the event was a success.
“I think it went really well,” she said. “A lot of preparation went into tonight and this is just simply the execution of months of preparation.”
Wolfe said the most challenging component to the pageant was the on-stage question portion.
“There are many facets to the competition,” she said. “On-stage question is the one I worry about the most. I know that I have the knowledge in my head sometimes, and I know that I know the facts, but when somebody’s asking you questions that you don’t know what it’s going to be, you’re like ‘oh no, what do I say?’ So that’s definitely the most nerve-wracking.”
Wolfe graduates in December and hopes to start graduate school, where she plans to study student affairs administration.
The Miss USM Student Director Victoria Robertson said making the event happen required months of planning and preparation.
“My team and I started meeting over the summer, picking songs, planning rehearsal dates, planning informational dates and once we got back into school, we started hitting the ground running,” she said. “We had meetings every week just getting the little things together, making sure we had our informational meetings so the girls knew. Once registration was due, all this past week, we’ve been having rehearsals every night. The night before, we had a huge dress rehearsal.”
Robertson and her team’s efforts did not conclude Saturday night, however. They will be following and supporting Wolfe to her next competition in Vicksburg as she competes for Miss Mississippi.
“I am very relieved, but also very sad,” Robertson said. “Planning this pageant has been the most fun thing ever. My team is awesome and these girls are awesome. While I am relieved that it’s over because it feels good and I won’t have as much to do, I am still sad. I am so happy for Kaeylin and all the other contestants.”