The Star-News - July 26, 2002

Crowning glory is a beautiful mind

Pageant queens might be an anachronism in these politically correct times. The whole pageant scene seems to encourage young women to place undue importance on such superficial virtues as beauty and deportment. Certainly it feeds into the career ladder of Miss California and Miss America titles that have the whiff of a meat market.

Nevertheless, pageants such as Miss Bonita have retained their relevance in their communities. Its participants undergo a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood as important in its own way as a bar mitzvah or a high school prom, as arcane to non-Americans as the cheerleading team or the high school prom.

And kudos must be given to Miss Bonita's director Lorraine Johnson for building up the educational aspect of her pageant. She continues to pull the pageant in a direction more worthy of 21st century womanhood. All the prizes donated by local businesses take the form of academic scholarships.

So, it's not just about looking good in a ball gown. And there's no bathing suit competition. The young hopefuls have to write an essay and give a speech.

This year's essay subject was a dry quotation from Benjamin Franklin about genius without education being like silver in the mine. Nevertheless, the entrants managed to grind out a few hundred words. The best essay was by Rebecca Pulido, who overcame attention deficit disorder to write prose to a professional standard.

Each had to name the person they'd most like to meet. Their selection ran from the sublime to the ridiculous: God, Jesus, Gandhi, Princess Diana, Hillary Clinton, MadonnaŠ Pulido wants to meet Cameron Macintosh because her ambition is to be an actress in Broadway musicals.

It can't be easy for a 17-year-old to address an audience in Southwestern College's Mayan Hall. And it was a privilege to witness the competing wannabes overcome their stage fright in front of their friends and families last Saturday.

One young woman spoke inspirationally of her recovery from leukemia. Another broke down in tears as she spoke of the person she'd most like to meet: her mother who had died from breast cancer only a few years ago.

There was a long show-stopping moment while this heart-broken young woman disintegrated under the spotlight. Her father and her brother shouted encouragement from the back of the auditorium while her tears flowed and she paused to find her composure. She took a breath. Dramatic tension built as she reconstructed herself in front of everybody. She remembered her speech. Then she explained how she was so sad that her mother missed this opportunity to see her develop from teenager to grown woman.

The honest emotion and the gutsy come back got no recognition from the judges. They went ahead and selected the hottest babe of the bunch to be Bonita's ambassador, possibly with a realistic eye for the community's chances in next year's Fairest of the Fair.

Maybe it's time there was a prize for what's traditionally seen as a male virtue — courage under fire.