“Ladies and gentlemen, the 90th anniversary Miss America; your Miss America 2011 is… Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan!” The newly-crowned Miss America, 17-year-old Teresa Scanlan of Gering, Nebraska, is a mostly homeschooled Christian who lifted her eyes and hands heavenward in thanksgiving when she was announced as the winner on January 15, 2011. The pageant judges were awed by her confidence, saying she was quite poised for a person so young.
That came as no surprise to Miss Nebraska co-executive director Jay Engel. “Teresa is very, very well-spoken,” Engel observed. “She’s very intelligent and talented, so we knew that she had all the capabilities and characteristics that a Miss America would have.” In fact, Teresa didn’t place in the Teen Pageant two years ago because of the judges’ reservations that she didn’t act enough like a normal teen. “She…was too mature,” Engel admitted.
Teresa Scanlan was born on February 6, 1993. Although she is the youngest Miss America to be crowned in 74 years, she is actually two years older than the very youngest winner. Marian Bergeron was the youngest Miss America in history, winning the title at age 15 in 1933. Others younger than Scanlan were Margaret Gorman in 1921 (the first Miss America) and Mary Campbell in 1922, both 16. Rules now mandate that a winner must be at least 17. The most recent teenager to claim the tiara was Kirsten Haglund, 19, who won the pageant in 2008.
Teresa is of Croatian ancestry. Her maternal grandparents are Frank and Nives Jelich, who immigrated to the United States from the island of Ilovik in Croatia, formerly Yugoslavia. Her parents are Mark and Janie Scanlan. “They really sacrificed a lot to do what they did,” she says of her parents’ decision to homeschool. Teresa is the middle of seven children. Janie Scanlan recalled that when Teresa was a homeschooled third-grader, she always tried to keep up with the schoolwork of her fifth-grade sister.
Already advanced for her age, Scanlan decided as a freshman that she wanted to graduate early. She began attending Gering High School part-time for half of her junior year. She graduated early from Scottsbluff High School in the spring of 2010 after taking a double load of classes throughout high school. While at Scottsbluff High School, she played the lead role in Disney’s High School Musical Onstage. She also participated in choir, show choir, speech, and was named a Salutatorian for the Scottsbluff class of 2010.
Scanlan first started competing in pageants at age 13. A small-town girl (Gering’s population is about 8,000), she beat incredible odds to make it into the Miss America pageant. More than 1,000 pageants lead to Miss America, and over 13,000 contestants compete for the title. Teresa won the title of Miss Nebraska on June 5, 2010, and got to travel around the Cornhusker State participating in various events as part of her duties.
Teresa is a politically minded student who plans to attend Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, a Christian college popular with homeschoolers. Although she will have to defer enrollment until after her reign as Miss America is over, Teresa will be able to utilize the $50,000 Miss America scholarship to pay for her college education. She wants to study American government and eventually pursue a career in law and politics. “I am very interested in the political process,” Teresa affirms. “I plan to register as an Independent,” she declared, saying that partisanship in Washington is a lingering problem among our elected officials. Her dream goal is to one day become president of the United States.
Perhaps Teresa Scanlan is following in the footsteps of Sarah Palin, a Christian female politician from a small town who was formerly a pageant contestant as well. At age 20, Palin (then Sarah Heath) took second runner-up honors in the 1984 Miss Alaska pageant after winning the Miss Wasilla contest earlier that year. Palin was the youngest person and the first woman to be elected Governor of Alaska. From pageants to politics doesn’t seem like too far a leap. The competitions are certainly as cutthroat as politics – and at times, just as dirty.
Scanlan’s platform as Miss America is “Eating disorders: A generation at risk.” She now has twelve months to educate children and adults about the signs and risks of eating disorders, as well as how and where to get help for themselves or a loved one. Her passion to combat eating disorders stems from a friend who struggled with bulimia. “Because I was home schooled, I didn’t see the pressures,” Teresa said. But after doing some research about eating disorders for her friend, she discovered how rampant the problem is among young women across the nation.
For the Miss America talent competition, Teresa impressed the judges and the audience with her piano performance of Calvin Jones’ fast-paced “Whitewater Chopped Sticks.” Although she was the only contestant who didn’t dance or sing in the Miss America pageant, in her spare time she does enjoy singing and dancing as well as acting, playing the piano and guitar, composing songs, baking, participating in activities with her local church, and making clothes out of duct tape.
Scanlan didn’t hide her dedication to religion during the pageant, and notes that she wasn’t the only Christian contestant. “Many of the girls who made it very high [in the competition] had a strong faith because that shows…the substance and purpose behind what we’re doing – and that’s why we’re driven,” she shared. “We knew that whatever happened is His plan,” Teresa acknowledged, “and now I’m just so excited to see what He has in store.” Scanlan concludes, “And so every person that I meet I know God has a reason why I’m meeting them. I just want to embrace that as much as I can this year.”
Many people think the new Miss America is too young. But when you hear her speak, she sounds so well-grounded and older than her 17 years. She has a sense of humor, too. When asked if she was dating anyone, Teresa pinched her face into a grimace and quipped, “17-year-old boys? … Enough said.”
Scanlan wrote on her blog, “I am so looking forward to sharing my experiences and travels with you as I begin this wonderful journey and represent this incredible organization during our special anniversary year. I hope to make not only Nebraska, but all of America proud, and will do my utmost to represent the amazing young women of this nation. Thank you for your support and for believing in the young people of our country. Love and Prayers, Teresa.”
You can send Teresa Scanlan a note of congratulations or share your personal story about facing or overcoming an eating disorder by writing to her at: 2720 Applewood Road, Gering, Nebraska 69341. Follow Miss America 2011 on Facebook at www.facebook.com/missamericaorganization and follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MAOTravels
P.S. Teresa Scanlan wasn’t the only homeschooled contestant in this year’s Miss America pageant. Miss Oklahoma, Emoly West, was also homeschooled.