The UI alumna, reigning Miss Iowa, and Miss America hopeful shares a proven formula for success.
Diana Reed remembers the first time she took the field as The University of Iowa’s Golden Girl. A baton twirler since age four, she declared early on that someday she’d make it to Kinnick Stadium. But a crowd of 70,000 can give even the most confident performer pause.
“Deep down, I was thinking, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing,’” she says. “I told myself to hold my head high, smile big, and have a great time. When you look like you’re loving it, the crowd loves it, too.”
On Jan. 26, the Norwalk, Iowa, native and UI alumna aims to win over an audience many times larger. She’s one of 52 contestants vying for the Miss America crown.
Reed knows she faces tough competition, but her can-do spirit has already carried her far. For nearly a year, she’s traveled the state as the reigning Miss Iowa, encouraging kids to follow a winning formula.
“Hard work plus opportunity equals success,” says Reed, who’s made character education her Miss Iowa platform. She’s proof that her model works in everything from performance to academics to business.
In 2005, Reed won a national contest that took her to Broadway to dance in the musical Sweet Charity. In 2007, she completed Iowa degrees in business and performing arts entrepreneurship with highest honors and a 4.0 GPA.
She’s also racked up state and national championships in baton twirling and dance, opened her own twirling studio, and been featured by Fortune Small Business magazine as an innovative college entrepreneur.
Reed’s talent and drive emerged early. “I was that little girl who was always begging her parents to get her into classes,” she recalls. She happened into twirling by chance—a local woman offered a free month of lessons in the church basement with every baton purchase.
By high school, Reed was juggling a full slate of activities—cheerleading, dance, show choir, softball, and student council, for starters—plus academics. She graduated as class valedictorian and headed to The University of Iowa, her one and only choice for college.
“I’m lucky,” Reed says. “I never even had to think of plan B. The truth is, I didn’t apply anywhere else.” She’d beat out rivals from across the country for the coveted Golden Girl spot, a rare opportunity that offered both a Big Ten stage and a full-tuition scholarship.
During her first year of college, Reed entered the Miss Iowa competition on a lark, donning her prom dress and the swimsuit she wore to the pool. To her surprise, she took first runner up. Winning the title would have meant a break from her studies and Golden Girl role, so she put additional pageant plans on hold.
The Sweet Charity contest came about by a similar fluke. One of Reed’s students at Diana’s Golden Twirlers—the studio she’d started—was selling magazines. Reed took a subscription to Marie Claire and ran across the contest while flipping through an issue.
Within a couple of days, she’d choreographed a dance routine and submitted a 30-second tape. She ended up a finalist on the magazine’s web site and went on to win after a grassroots campaign by Hawkeye fans.
Reed was already harboring Broadway dreams, but the ensuing experience crystallized her goals. “It made me open my eyes and realize, ‘This is completely possible—you can do this and you belong here,’” she says.
Her winning return trip to the Miss Iowa pageant, however, sent Reed on a welcome detour that has her zigzagging the state and the country.
In the last few months, she’s gone on a Miss American cruise, shot a reality TV show with fellow contestants in Los Angeles, and returned home for nonstop public appearances and preparation, including interview sessions at Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, which is sponsoring her Miss American bid.
Reed points out that she’s up against women whose accomplishments mirror her own. “I’m struck by how well-rounded and wonderful they all are,” she says. “They’re terrific role models for kids everywhere.”
Whoever wins the competition will earn not just scholarship money, but the opportunity to inspire, and Reed is eager to keep sharing her message.
“If you’re prepared when your time comes, you’re going to succeed,” she says. “It’s happened for me with the Golden Girl auditions, with the chance to perform on Broadway, and with Miss Iowa. Hopefully, it’ll happen with Miss America, too.”
Story by Lin Larson; Photos by Tim Schoon
Jan. 21, 2008