Miss Missouri kicked off celebrations for the pageant’s 50th year in Mexico with business supporters at an after-hours event Tuesday at the Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce.
Reigning Miss Missouri Katelyn Lewis and Miss Audrain Christina Beard mingled with area business leaders as Lewis' crown and sash stood on display.
This year’s Missouri Missouri competition is scheduled for June 12-15.
Beard hails from Eldon, a community much like those in Audrain County, she said. "I'm just really excited to represent such a tight-knit community. You all (in Audrain County) are really supportive, and I appreciate that. It feels like home when I'm here."
Beard prepares for the pageant every day by practicing her fiddle and doing mock interviews with Miss Missouri board members. "[The fiddle] is my favorite instrument," she said. "A lot of the practice is really mental more than physical."
Each contestant develops a social-impact initiative. Beard's is known as "See the able not the label," which is about autism awareness, education and acceptance, which she undertook because her brother was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder at the age of three.
"He's been my inspiration for the past 19 years and has continued to inspire me to educate what autism is and how we should see everyone's abilities, rather than their disabilities," Beard said.
The past year has been a journey for Lewis, who put 43,000 miles on her car as she traveled around the state to conduct speaking engagements at schools and other events. "I've been really blessed and honored to get to spend the year serving Missouri," she said.
Lewis said there are four points to being Miss Missouri, which is why the crown has four points. They are style, service, scholarship and success, and Lewis said she puts a focus on service. Her initiative was about how youth use and present themselves on the internet.
She often tells students story of a man she met named Andrew. He had aspirations of attending Princeton University but ended up at St. Louis University because of things he wrote on his Twitter account.
"His acceptance (to Princeton) was essentially revoked because his Twitter wasn't Princeton-worthy,” Lewis said. “So because he made mistakes online, this wonderful opportunity was taken away from him."
Millennials and Generation Z don't always see the consequences of social media until it is too late, she said, and so she decided to create an education platform aimed especially at high schoolers, so “they can protect themselves and build a positive online brand, rather than hurting their future," she said.
Lewis recently graduated from Missouri Baptist University in Creve Coeur with a bachelor's degree in accounting after taking online classes to complete her senior year. She plans to move to the Kansas City area and is interviewing for jobs.