Cooped up with her family in upstate New York and facing an interminable period of quarantine boredom, Mara Strich ’22 searched for a project she could focus her restless energy on. She decided to apply to the Miss Vermont competition on a whim in early September and was pleasantly surprised when she was notified of her acceptance a week later.
With the Miss Addison County title already claimed by another competitor, Strich decided to compete under the title of Miss Otter Creek, to represent her love for and connection to the Middlebury community and the meandering river that runs through it.
Strich describes herself as “adventurous” and a lover of learning new skills and frequently takes on passion-projects. Last winter, she learned how to hunt and obtained a license. During her two years at Middlebury, she has taught herself how to ski. In high school, she picked up the timpani and the saxophone on top of continuing to seriously practice the flute. In fact, she is a classically trained flautist and played in Carnegie Hall at the age of 17. Strich views her venture into the world of pageants as the latest in a long string of adventures.
The Miss Vermont competition attracted Strich because of its nonprofit status and emphasis on leadership, scholarship and public speaking, as opposed to beauty. Miss Vermont does not have a swimsuit portion, and Strich was not asked to include a photo of herself in her application.
“We help develop the next generation of Vermont women leaders. We are here to cultivate personal growth, develop professional skills, promote personal connections to community, encourage the pursuit of education and celebrate the unique talents of each individual,” the home page of Miss Vermont Scholarship Organizations’ website proudly states — all above a big gold button asking visitors to “become a candidate.”
While applications are still open, Strich is currently slated to compete against 11 other women between the ages of 17 and 25 in the pageant on May 29 and 30 in 2021.
The Miss Vermont competition is just one of the many pageants that fall under the Miss America Organization, which claims to be among the largest providers of scholarship assistance for young women in the world.
The winner of each of the competition’s segments receives scholarship prizes, with those who place in the overall competition receiving larger sums. Scholarships include both cash prizes and access to personal and professional development courses.
Miss America competitions, including Miss Vermont, are divided into four portions — social impact pitch and on-stage interview, red carpet, talent, and interview.
The Miss Vermont Organization hosts biweekly Zoom workshops to help contestants prepare for the competition in May. Strich views these workshops as learning opportunities to grow outside of pageant preparation, and she has already seen their benefits.
Shortly before interviewing for summer internships, she attended a public speaking and presentation workshop, which taught her how to talk about herself with confidence and gave her additional interpersonal skills that helped her interviews go smoothly.
Besides preparing contestants for the interview portion, workshop topics include crafting a social impact pitch, using social media as a marketing tool and practicing on-stage questions.
With so much time to develop her pitch, Strich has yet to finalize her social impact project. For now, she plans to focus on community mentoring, to which she has dedicated her time at Middlebury. She is involved in several on-campus mentoring groups, including Community Friends, Language in Motion and peer mentoring. She also served on Reslife last year and has led Middview trips.
Drawing from her previously acquired skills, Strich plans on playing the flute for her talent portion.
Should she win in May, Strich would spend the next year as Miss Vermont. Traditionally, Miss Vermont tours the state during her “year of service,” making appearances at events, promoting the Miss Vermont Scholarship Organization and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and conducting her social impact project. Miss Vermont is also obligated to participate in the competition for the Miss America title in December of 2021.
The Miss Vermont 2020 competition was canceled due to Covid-19 concerns, and it is unclear whether the 2021 competition will be able to proceed or, if it does, what the year of service would look like.
Strich, however, appears unperturbed. With her schedule full of classes, assignments, extracurriculars and pageant preparations, she doesn’t have time to worry about things she can’t control. For now, she’s just happy to be along for the ride.
Sophia McDermott-Hughes ’23 is an editor at large.
They previously served as a news editor and senior news writer.
McDermott-Hughes is a joint anthropology and Arabic major and Spanish minor.
Over the summer, they worked as a general assignment reporter at statewide digital newspaper VTDigger, focusing on issues relating to migrant workers and immigration.
In 2018 and 2019, McDermott-Hughes worked as a reporter on the Since Parkland Project, a partnership with the Trace and the Miami Herald, which chronicled the lives of the more than 1,200 children killed by gun violence in the United States in the year since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.