Florida Southern student Gracie Westerfield and alumna Meagan Price won the title of Miss Polk County and Miss Lakeland respectively at the Miss Lakeland pageant.
The pageant consisted of a question portion from which contestants could be asked anything from who inspires them to what they think the greatest issue this generation is facing. The contestants then went into the talent portion where a variety of talents were performed and then went into the evening gown portion where they discussed their platform they chose.
Both Price and Westerfield have previously competed in pageants. The ranking for the Miss Lakeland pageant starts with first place as Miss Lakeland, second is Miss Polk County, and third Miss Swan City.
Westerfield chose Domestic Violence Awareness (DVA) as her platform because she has already gotten to work closely with DVA philanthropies through her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega. It is something that affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men. She has gotten to work with organizations like Heather’s Hope and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
Westerfield said she wants to help bring light to a dark topic and wants to focus on volunteer work and public speaking as Miss Polk County.
“It seems like a really great balance to be able to take something that I’m already working on with an amazing group of women on campus and to bring more awareness to it with a crown and sash,” Westerfield said.
Price chose organ donations as her platform because it is something that affects everyone. Everyone has to check yes or no to whether they want to donate their organs on their driver’s license in case there is an accident.
During Price’s sophomore year of high school, her friend’s younger brother passed away at age 12 from a brain-eating amoeba. She recalled that his parents said that even though he can’t live through his own body, he can still live on through someone else. It was no question that organ would be her platform for her pageants.
“I think it’s still important that people realize the true difference and the true second chance at life they give someone if they decide to donate their organs when they’ve passed away,” Price said.
For the talent portion Westerfield sang Adele’s “When We Were Young” to showcase her vocal range. She chose this particular song as well to show that it is okay to recognize your past and know that you can grow from a toxic relationship or something else that may have held you back.
Price chose to dance for her talent and practiced every day leading up to the competition. She said it is important to balance eating right and taking care of yourself on top of work and school.
Both contestants will proceed to the Miss Florida pageant where they will compete with around 30 other girls. This will be Price’s fifth year competing at Miss Florida. Westerfield competed at Miss Florida in the teen division twice. The girls will earn scholarships from the Miss Lakeland pageant. Price said she has won over $16,000 in scholarship over the five years she has competed.
Before entering the pageant, the contestants must raise $100 for the Miss America’s national philanthropy, Children’s Miracle Network. Westerfield said aside from the paperwork and contracts that needed to be signed to compete, many people do not realize that contestants have to raise money for this organization.
Price said that for every local contest contestants compete in, they must raise $100 every time and $250 for the statewide Miss Florida Pageant. The contestants are also interviewed prior to competing and are asked a wide range of questions similar to the one question asked at the competition.
Price said pageants have helped her with her communication and networking skills and has met some of her best friends doing pageants. She said she used to be more shy in high school, but doing pageants has helped her become more outgoing.
“I think that the skills you acquire from competing, just the poise and communication skills and your ability to communicate with people one on one as well as communicating with large groups of people on a public speaking basis are things that I don’t think you can learn anywhere else,” Price said.
Both Westerfield and Price said that pageants are not what most people make them out to be as being all about appearances. They are more focused on intelligence and what the competitor’s platform is and how well rounded they are as people.
“I think it’s important to make a name for Polk County and maybe even change the public’s opinion that pageants are stereotypical,” Westerfield said. “A title holder can be involved and impactful.”
The 2020 Miss Florida pageant will be held in Lakeland at the RP Funding Center in June.