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It's not just a crown

it's lessons for life

August 05, 2011|By LAURA BELL | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Maria Jones of Hagerstown competed in America's Homecoming Queen Pageant in California, representing Maryland. She said preparing for the pageant was just like a summer job.
Submitted photo


Some teens spend their summers relaxing by the pool or working at summer jobs.

Maria Jones used this summer to prepare to represent the state of Maryland in America's Homecoming Queen Pageant, a scholarship competition that was held at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif., in July.

"It was amazing —  being there in Disneyland to represent the state of Maryland," Maria said of her recent trip.

Maria, the 2011 Maryland State Homecoming Queen, placed in the Top 10 in the July national competition.

"Just getting top 10 was an honor," she said.

Maria, 17, a 2011 graduate of St. Maria Goretti High School, originally heard about the organization and the competition after being crowned homecoming queen during her senior year of high school.

After being crowned at St. Maria Goretti during half-time of the homecoming soccer game, organizers with America's Homecoming Queen Pageant mailed an application to her, Maria explained.

She said when she heard that she had been selected to compete at the state level, she was "really excited."

The Maryland State Homecoming Queen competition involved an interview and an evening wear portion during which the judges evaluated contestants' poise.

For her, this was all part of a new and exciting opportunity. Maria had never competed in a pageant or a competition like this before.

"This was a first-time experience," Maria said.

America's Homecoming Queen was organized in 1981 with the goal of helping young women further their education, according to its website, AmericasHomecomingQueen.com.

Before applying for the state competition, Patti Jones, Maria's mother, said she and Maria learned the organization aimed to "promote leadership, community service, and travel."

"It was academic — not a beauty pageant," Patti Jones said.

After being crowned in March as the 2011 Maryland State Homecoming Queen, Maria was then invited to participate as a finalist in the national competition. Maria's summer revolved around preparation for the national pageant in July.

"This was my summer job," she said.

Maria explained that unlike the state pageant, the national level competition required each contestant to be interviewed, to participate in an evening wear portion, to prepare a one-minute speech that explains why someone should visit their home state, to prepare a two-minute video about the community service activities each contestant had completed, and to bring something to represent their state.

Patti Jones explained that Maria also had to study government, United States history and Maryland history in preparation for the pageant.

"She did it all on her own," Patti Jones said.

 Patti Jones helped Maria to videotape representations of her community service activities. Friends helped the effort, but Maria put everything together, she explained.

Maria prepared a unique item to represent Maryland — a reusable water bottle filled with things that represent the state, such as things like blue crab shaped soap, pens that had "Hagerstown" on them, a small packet of Old Bay, a postcard, and other mementos that came from Maryland. She also used Maryland state colors.

She preppared 60 water bottles so that she could take one to each of the judges and other contestants, Maria said.

"It was something I'd never really done before, so it was a different experience," Maria said

 As a contestant, Maria had the opportunity to meet other girls from all over the country.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Maria said. "It was really neat to hear all of the different accents and cultures from across the country."

Although Maria didn't walk away with the title, she said she still enjoyed her experience.

"If I would've won, that would have been wonderful. But I didn't, which is just as wonderful," she said.

The national finalists received a scholarship; their placement in the competition determined the amount. Maria said she plans to use her scholarship at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., where she will be a freshman in the fall.

Maria, who was student council president and a member of the National Honor Society during her senior year at St. Maria Goretti High School, plans to study biochemistry in preparation for a medical career. She is planning to be a neonatologist.

Maria said she first heard about neonatologists when she saw a television advertisement as a fourth-grade student.

"I've always loved little children and always known I wanted to be a doctor," she said.

Maria said lessons she learned from planning for and competing in the America's Homecoming Queen pageant would help her in her academic career.

"This whole experience is going to help me a lot in college," she said.

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