Washington Post Question: Last week, Caressa Cameron, a 22-year-old student from Virginia, was crowned Miss America, a pageant that once epitomized a certain kind of beauty, talent and promise. Is this kind of contest completely outdated, or does it offer a legitimate path to success for the young women who compete?

Stealing, lying, getting kicked out of school and fighting were all I knew to gain attention before I stumbled across sports as an eighth grader. Fortunately, my parents pulled us out of that school system and took us to a small town where the above was simply not tolerated and sports was the thing to do.

Having found a new, positive, way to gain attention, I poured all my effort into sports and became a three-time state champion in the shot put and discus before completing high school. Since a 2.5 grade point average and a 14 on my ACT`s was not enough to grant me acceptance into college, I was grateful my athletic abilities did.

Entering the University of Northern Colorado through a window program required that I prove my academic ability before playing sports or getting financial aid. My first semester was my chance to prove I was a good enough student to gain full acceptance. Athletics opened the door to my new love, academics.

After six years of school, I finished with two undergraduate degrees and honorees in my masters program. Soon after moving to D.C., I launched my company and a few years later wrote a book that made it to the Washington Post best-seller list. While in my younger years I never would have thought any of this would have been possible, I now understand the importance of having something positive to focus my attention.

Do athletics measure success? Do pageants measure success? No, but they do provide an avenue for us to focus our attention and build our self-esteem. Just as I took many small steps to get to where I am, Caressa, and other girls, have found a way to gain positive experiences while building their self-esteem through pageants.

Pageants, like sports, require a tremendous amount of physical, mental and emotional preparation. Regardless of the avenue, such preparation can transform lives across the world.

Link to article on Washington Post: https://views.washingtonpost.com/on-success/panelists/misti_burmeister/2010/02/fancy_title.html