I absolutely love getting to share Sisterhood Spotlight features with all of you. Whether you’re involved with the Miss America Organization and know some of these incredibly young women or are skeptical about the program, the purpose of these posts is to shed light on the positive aspects and benefits the scholarship program creates.
This past year I had the honor to get to know Mekenzie Lund, Miss Oshkosh (and her fabulous parents Kay and Gary). I know I’ve probably said it before, but she is the epitome of what this program is all about. She’s extremely passionate about community service, puts others’ needs before her own, and constantly strives to grow as a person. I am so lucky to have met her and am grateful to have her friendship in my life! Name: MeKenzie Lund
Hometown: Oshkosh, WI
Education: Double Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Studies and French from the
University of Wisconsin-Madison. Graduating this May, 2016!
Dream job: International Humanitarian/Aid Work
Favorite color: Purple 1. What inspired you to get involved with the Miss America Organization? Truthfully, the scholarship dollars appealed to me most at first. It wasn’t until preparation and rehearsals were underway that I began to see the true values and skills I could gain while competing within the Miss America Organization.
2. Tell us about your first MAO pageant. My first MAO pageant was with the Miss Oshkosh Scholarship Pageant in 2012. The amazing people I worked with during the preparation process and the friendships that I continued after the pageant definitely inspired me to continue competing. I won a $950 scholarship plus a $100 ticket award for placing 4th runner-up that year. After all was said and done, I saw the many values in continuing to compete. It took me seven tries to finally win a title- I think that says a lot about the Miss America Organization and the ways that it promotes perseverance and goal-setting.
3. What is/was your platform and why did you choose it? From the first year I competed until the year I won Miss Oshkosh in 2015, my platform kept changing and evolving. In the last two years I competed, my platform was Finish the Fight:Supporting the American Cancer Society. I finally settled on the last one because of my heavy involvement with the American Cancer Society. I became involved with the Society when my mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2006. My grandma was diagnosed just a few years later. They both won their battles, thankfully. But then in 2011, my great grandfather was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Colon Cancer and passed away shortly thereafter. In late 2014 my young cousin, Isaiah, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia at age nine. It is through that last connection that my fire and passion to finish the fight against cancer has been constantly re-ignited. As of June 2015 he is also cancer free! At UW I became involved with the Society’s collegiate affiliate, Colleges Against Cancer. I found success in climbing the leadership ladder-becoming a committee chair, Vice President, and then President, respectively, during my first three years at UW. I have served on Divisional and Regional teams, am an advocate for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and have attended and facilitated state and national conferences for ACS. I love everything the Society stands for, from their focus on all cancers, to their volunteer-based model, to the amazing people I have met through my involvement with the American Cancer Society. 4. What is your favorite phase of competition, why? Interview. If you asked me four years ago or even one year ago, interview would have been last on my list. But it is through my experiences as a titleholder that I have gained the confidence to speak with all demographics of people on any subject thrown my way. I’ve learned that as long as I am informed, intelligent, and confident in defending an argument or telling a story, then a 10-minute interview with five (or more) complete strangers is not as intimidating as I once thought. Interview also allows the judges to get to know a contestant face-to-face, which makes the connection more personal.
5. Style, Service, Scholarship, or Success? All four. Style is important not only in presence on the outside, but on the inside as well. How a titleholder carries herself as a personable human being is just as important as the way she presents herself on the outside. Service is my favorite point to carry out because it’s about giving back to something much greater than ourselves. Being a titleholder isn’t all about the crown, it’s about the people and the communities that we serve. Scholarship is important because it is crucial that a titleholder is well-informed and educated. Continuing to reach for higher education is an admirable trait in anyone, showing that there is always more to learn and higher dreams to reach. I think that Style, Service, and Scholarship all point toward Success. 6. What titles have you held and what were some of your biggest accomplishments or most cherished memories during each of them?
- Miss Oshkosh 2015
- I visited my High School, Oshkosh West, as a guest speaker in the Leadership classes. I spoke about many topics and points of being a leader, and one that really resonated with the students was my talk about “The Art of Failure”. It is from that failure that we can either stop trying or stand up, brush ourselves off and continue work toward achieving our goals. I spoke about the many times I tried to compete for a local title within the Miss America Organization, how many times I had failed to win the crown, and how devastated I was each time. But when I talked about perseverance and keeping goals in mind, these kids really listened. Many of them stayed after class to talk to me, thank me, and tell me that I had made an impact or shaped their negative thinking into something positive.
- It is the tiny moments at different appearances where I would give a lecture or have a conversation with someone, and somewhere in the midst of the discussion, a light bulb would click in their minds. While I talked about my platform, about kindness and leadership, perseverance and goal-setting, I learned more than I taught. When people realize a titleholder is more than a pretty face wearing a crown, it’s magical. Being a decent human being doesn’t require someone to wear a crown- and vice versa. The crown doesn’t mean the person wearing it is empty-headed or unintelligent. MAO teaches us that we have the power to break stereotypes and break through the glass ceiling. It is moments where I was able to break those stereotypes in front of people in my community that I felt most accomplished and fulfilled.
7. What is/was your talent and what do/did you enjoy most about performing it? My talent is tap dance. What I love most about tap dancing is the way that I am creating and adding onto an existing beat or rhythm. The energy from a tap dance is contagious, and I love getting the crowd involved!
8. Who is your biggest role model within the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Program? Choosing just one role model is difficult. One thing I’ve learned as a titleholder is that we don’t need crowns to make a difference. The crown gives us a larger platform and the ability to build relationships we may not have otherwise had, but isn’t the only way to make an impact on our communities. My best friend, Susan Fochs, is one of my role models in this organization. She has competed 15 times for a local title. Her perseverance and drive are truly inspiring. Earlier this year The Miss America Organization awarded her a national award- The Jean Bartel Scholarship for Military Awareness. This was a result of all of her hard work and dedication in supporting our troops and military personnel through her non-profit, Operation Not Alone. She makes a difference in someone’s life each and every day. For this, she is a role model not only to me, but to many others around our community and state.
9. Favorite comfort food outside of competition mode? I am a sucker for thick, creamy, buttery mashed potatoes!
10. Who is your favorite Miss America? Why? Mallory Hytes Hagan. I followed her journey as Miss New York, Miss America, and have followed her journey afterward as well. I would love to have coffee with her to actually solidify my opinion, but she is real, she is committed, and she is personable. Mallory is a strong, no-nonsense, respectable woman and I admire her for that. She is also an amazing tap dancer, and I look up to her for my talent inspiration.
11. How would you describe the feelings you had when you won your first local? What goes through your mind when you are standing on stage and you hear your name called? At first, I was in shock. Then I had an overwhelming feeling of reassurance. Reassurance that my hard work had paid off, that three years of competing and persevering was worth it. A flood of emotions followed- I was in such a flurry of surprise, gratitude, excitement, and disbelief that I hadn’t even realized that my crown was on crooked and my sash was backward. I didn’t care about that too much though- I was focused on thanking my judges, thanking my family, and addressing the audience as their newest Miss Oshkosh.
12. If someone says, “You’re a beauty queen, what’s the relevancy of a pageant in today’s society,” what would you say to them? I’ve gotten this several times before, and my response is always the same. Beauty is more than external- it’s also internal. The Miss America Organization and its titleholders strive to show that inner beauty. The relevancy of this pageant specifically is that it has allowed me to develop many skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise had without participating in MAO. Skills that will help me in my personal life and in the professional world.
13. What is the most memorable moment you’ve experienced as a contestant/titleholder? I made over 100 appearances during my reign, so choosing just one is very difficult! I visited an elementary school in Oshkosh and had a “girl talk” with the fourth and fifth grade girls. We chatted about boys, what we like to do outside of school, about confidence, and about bullying. I had gotten wind of bullying as a big problem in this school, and was called in by a teacher to be a positive role model to these young ladies. The way that they were each engaged and listened to every word I spoke made me feel that my message resonated with each of them, and that’s all I had asked for. As someone that many girls look up to, it is my job to be a role model, spread positivity, and be someone that they can look up to and come to for help. It was one of the most rewarding appearances I made all year.
14. How has your involvement influenced your life? I am much more confident after my involvement within the Miss America Organization. I have grown tremendously as an individual. I know that this was just a stepping stone into my development as an individual and productive member of today’s society.
15. What advice would you give to fellow sisters, contestants, and young girls looking to one day compete for a title? The best thing to do is be yourself. Be goofy- laugh, cry, have passion, and set goals. I found that the moment I let my guard down and realized that being unique is an advantage is when I felt most confident. Have fun, relax, and be a positive member of society. Find your strengths, passions, and dreams, and follow them at all costs.