Friday, December 20, 2013

Lydia: Pageantry and Hope

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

I’ll be honest.  My knowledge of beauty pageants mostly comes from Miss Congeniality, which I’m fairly certain is not an accurate portrayal of what goes on in the pageant world. I had friends growing up who loved to watch the Miss America Pageant, and I just couldn’t understand why.  However, I began to take notice when Lydia started competing in local pageants and did quite well.

I remember Lydia as a sweet and friendly girl who generally could achieve anything she put her mind to. Born in Georgia, she moved to Kentucky just in time to have my wife as her 5th grade teacher. (Lydia confessed to me in her questionnaire that “Mrs. D.” is still her favorite teacher ever… Makes me feel wonderful. At least I married well.) She carried with her a Southern belle character and a fierce love of the South (and a general lack of fondness for our winters). While Lydia was in my class, my wife and I had the privilege of attending one of Lydia’s dance recitals.  

Lydia’s talents of dance, singing, acting, and academics have opened up many doors for her.  Dancing from the age of 3 and getting serious about pageants when she was 12, she became very involved in the high school she attended: symphonic band, speech team, colorguard, National Honor Society, French club, and a slew of other extra-curriculars… oh, and five AP classes.  It’s a wonder she had time for pageants.  

Speaking of pageants, I was always under the impression that there was really only one pageant organization: the one that leads to Miss Kentucky, then Miss America, then Miss Universe (or whatever her title may be).  It turns out that I’m quite mistaken. Listen to the titles Lydia has held since she turned 14: Miss Kentucky American Coed Junior Teen 2009, National American Miss Kentucky Junior Teen 2010, Miss Heart of the Parks Outstanding Teen 2010, Miss Commonwealth’s Outstanding Teen 2011, and Miss Southern Madison’s Outstanding Teen 2012, and Distinguished Young Woman of Kenton County 2013.  (Disclaimer: I didn’t name various competitions she won within some of the pageants she competed in...not enough pixel space.)

In Lydia’s questionnaire, she repeatedly deflected credit from herself, realizing that her talents, her support system, and her work ethic come from other sources.

I do not take full credit for any of I said before it is because of my support system. My mom and dad have helped me do everything possible! I wouldn’t have been able to do it if it wasn’t for them. But above anything else, if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ saving my life and leading me in the direction He has intended for me I would not have done any of this. He gets all of the glory and honor for every single accomplishment I have attained. It really is Him...I am simply the vessel.

Lydia just wrapped up her freshman year at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky, where -- surprise! -- she is very busy with extracurricular activities, including the dance team.  She is working on a double major (communications and psychology) and doing quite well academically.  Of course, she continues to sing, dance, play the piano, and compete in pageants.  She is currently developing a program called Generation H.O.P.E. -- Helping our Peers Excel in which high school students mentor and tutor elementary students, not just focusing on academics but relationships, self-confidence, self-motivation, and personal success.

Like most college freshmen, Lydia isn’t exactly sure what her career path will look like, though she is wants to be involved in something revolving around personal relationships. Speaking of relationships, she is very much interested in falling in love with her Prince Charming and having a family of her own (3 kids, if you’re wondering) and living what she calls a "magical reality."

Due to her age, there are only six years left in her pageantry career.  (See! I’m fairly certain that Sandra Bullock was over the maximum age limit!) She has begun competing in preliminary rounds of the Miss Kentucky organization and would love to one day win that pageant and go on to win the Miss America crown. She sees this as her opportunity to build her platform of mentoring and hopefully make that successful in the entire state of Kentucky.

Lydia looks back fondly on her sixth grade year.  I love it when former students tell me, “I loved sixth grade! It was the best year of school… but I have no idea what we learned!” That tells me that the learning sunk in, but we also enjoyed being together.  Works for me.  She did remember studying A Father’s Promise, a book about a young Jewish boy who survives the Holocaust in Poland by living in the woods. It was during that unit that she learned about the evils of the Holocaust and her eyes were opened to the fact that there is some significant evil out there. More importantly, she saw that even in the darkest of times there is always hope to lean on.

I never realized what this was going to lay out for my life. This simple idea of hope being present in our lowest moments, it has really shaped my heart. I’ve lived a very good life and I have never gone without any necessity, but I know that people have. I know that there are people my own age who struggle with their lives in various ways each and every day and sometimes they forget about the hope. I try to look past current circumstances, situations, perceptions, and expectations that others feel is all they can amount to and see what their ultimate potential entails: I look for hope. I want otherse to see the hope in life, and I want others to know that there is more to them than what they can see. I love people. It is what life is about. I never want to see them treated unfairly or to be hurt in such an inhumane manner as the Holocaust. Reading that novel was the first time I can remember getting a glimpse of the horrors of the world...and it is the first time I felt compelled to fight them and bring  in the light and joy life has to offer.

She also talked about sixth grade being her last year as an elementary student and being sad that life would cease to be fun...till she realized that getting older continues to be a blast.  However, the end of sixth grade marked the end of a chapter in her life, a life that seems to be quite successful.

I have this sneaking suspicion that one day I'll wind up watching that Miss America Pageant with my wife, and when Miss Kentucky walks across the stage we'll be cheering, not for pride in the bluegrass, but for pride in one special young lady that we had the joy of teaching. And maybe this young lady of hope will become a role model for my little girl. Now that would be cool!

I love this blog series. I love connecting with these "kids" and getting to know them anew. I love to see the divergent directions their lives go.  And I love the pictures. Enjoy these pics of Lydia then and now.  (And, yes, I do look GREAT in a kilt!)

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