The UI student, reigning Miss Iowa, and Miss America second runner-up shares her passion for learning.
As the reigning Miss Iowa for 2008, Olivia Myers is using her platform to promote the importance of education to others—all while furthering her own.
Myers, a University of Iowa student majoring in history and social studies education, was named second runner-up at the Miss America pageant in January 2009. Back home in Iowa, she’s dedicated the year to teaching tolerance.
“My mission is to work beside schools, communities, and organizations to nurture the sense of tolerance among young Iowans—a way of thinking, feeling, and acting that empowers our youth to discover peace in their individuality, respect for those who are different, the capacity to discern humane values, and the courage to act upon them,” she says.
Myers believes that learning to live in a diverse society is vitally important for today’s students, and that teachers can help advance this goal. “My hope is to create a culture in the classroom that is inclusive, caring, and fair—to nurture in students the attitudes and skills needed to thrive in diversity for a lifetime,” she says.
Myers, who grew up in the small town of Sperry, Iowa, says coming to the UI presented her first big encounter with diversity. “I’ve been able to meet people from around the world,” she says.
During her sophomore year, Myers lived with a student from Japan and cultivated connections with the University’s international community. Last year she organized a coffee group that met to talk about cultural and family traditions, social customs, and perceptions of America.
Since serving as Miss Iowa is a full-time job, Myers took the academic year off to fulfill pageant requirements. She’ll return to campus this fall to finish her degree and begin student teaching in spring 2010.
Her trip to the Miss America competition began with a reality television show called Countdown to the Crown. The show followed the 52 state title-holders as they lived together for three weeks and faced a series of team and individual competitions, all geared toward preparing them for the pageant itself.
“I loved the entire reality show experience. It was tiring and nerve-wracking, and it certainly kept us guessing,” Myers says. “I got to experience reality TV behind the scenes, learn a little bit about the entertainment industry, and try something different, to say the least.”
All told, Myers says her Miss America experience was exciting and rewarding.
“The best part about the entire experience was getting to know the 51 other women competing for Miss America and coming to view them not as competitors but as sisters and friends,” she says.
The Miss America Pageant finals were held live from Las Vegas on Jan. 24, 2009. The contestants arrived on Jan. 15, and preliminary competitions were held Jan. 20-22.
Myers went on to win second runner-up and a $20,000 scholarship, which she plans to use toward furthering her education. Her journey through the pageant world has provided plenty of lessons.
“I’ve gained interpersonal and public speaking skills, learned about marketing and business, and most important, the ability to grow as an individual,” she says.
With a 4.00 grade-point average, Myers is on the UI President’s List, and received the 2008 Miss America State Academic Award.
Her other accomplishments include the Iowa State Bar Association American Citizenship Award and the Sam Walton Community Scholarship. She has also traveled to Dumfries, Scotland, with the Mediapolis Community Youth Group for a mission trip to help restore an old church and build up the youth program.
She’s been showing off her tap-dancing shoes in competition since age 5, qualifying for the Iowa State Fair 15 times. But dancing at the Miss America Pageant was a unique experience. “They taped the microphones to my shoes, instead of having them on the ground or somewhere else,” she says.
Myers’s next goals include teaching middle or high school social studies, writing a book, going back to school, and becoming involved within her community.
She offers students—and people of all ages—one fundamental bit of advice.
“Truly dig deep within yourself and discover who you are, then strive to always be that person.”
Story by Megan McIntyre; photo by Tim Schoon.
May 25, 2009