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Student enriches mind, soul through Miss America pageants

Alisa Thorsen

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Caelin Nieto, a junior communication studies major, greets and talks with children at the Read Across America event this year in Gilroy. Photo courtesy of Caelin Nieto

After learning she wouldn’t be able to attend college because of financial restrictions, Caelin Nieto turned to Miss America competitions, something she thought she would never do.

However, after only a few years doing the pageants, her view on the contests completely shifted, she said.

“If your dreams aren’t scaring you, they aren’t big enough,” the junior communication studies and marketing major said.

While she currently holds the name of Miss Central California Regional, Nieto hopes to obtain the title of Miss America in the near future, she said.

Nieto is the only Miss America member to represent Chico State. She will be competing for Miss California next year and, if successful, will proceed to the national competition.

The Miss America Scholarship Organization is the No. 1 scholarship foundation for women in the world, Nieto said. All of the money that contestants earn is put into an account solely used for college funds.

“I knew if I didn’t do well in the competitions,” Nieto said, “I would no longer be able to go to pay for school.”

When Nieto was a senior in high school, her English teacher offered her extra credit to sign up for the Miss Merced County competition.

“I needed the extra credit so I signed up,” Nieto said. “I ended up winning the title and earning money toward the college of my choice.”

Nieto then realized that the Miss America organization was more than just a beauty pageant, she said.

“It has given me confidence, dedication and the most amazing friends,” Nieto said.

The Miss California competition is held annually in Fresno and can be a stressful but exhilarating time, Nieto said. The four different components of the competition include: swimsuit, talent, evening gown and onstage question.

The swimsuit portion of the competition has been surrounded by controversy, which Nieto recognizes.

“Honestly, I can see both sides,” Nieto said. “Many people see it as degrading, but I disagree with that. It is a way to prove how hard you have been training. It visually shows our discipline.”

The talent portion is something that the women really focus on and prepare for, she said. Fortunately for Nieto, her father was a musician, and she also found her talent within music.

“I sing,” she said. “My dad is a musician, so I grew up listening to him perform in little bars and clubs.”

Next year, Nieto plans on singing “Hallelujah,” during the talent competition. The song is close to her heart, she said.

“My mom was diagnosed with and beat breast cancer,” Nieto said. “This song got her through it. I wanted to sing it last year, but I couldn’t even make it through the song without breaking down. Now I’m ready to sing it for my mom.”

The onstage question portion of the competition is challenging, she said. Nieto has been questioned on topics such as her beliefs about gay marriage and her view on foreign policies.

Despite some of the hardships involved in the competitions, Nieto has found some of her best friends and “soul sisters.”

“It is so refreshing to be around other young women with similar dreams and aspirations,” she said. “I have met some of the kindest, smartest and funniest girls.”

Although these women are competing against one another, they find a way to support and encourage each other as well.

“There is no sense of jealousy when one of your friends wins,” Nieto said. “It is just an overwhelming sense of proudness because you understand how much work they put in.”

The Miss America organization has given Nieto more than just tuition funds, she said. It gives young women a positive role model to look up to.

“This is an organization that wants to show you that the girl next door has a brain,” Nieto said. “She can speak to you, she can teach you and she can be your friend. I think our generation needs that kind of woman role model.”

Alisa Thorsen can be reached at [email protected] or @alisathorsen on Twitter.

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Student enriches mind, soul through Miss America pageants