Though many believe pageantry is all makeup and jewelry, often times the women behind the mascara advocate for programs and organizations rooted in changing the world for the better. For one Ole Miss graduate, she is getting the opportunity to take her platform to a national stage.
Mary Margaret Hyer, an English major from Hattiesburg, stole the show and the crown Saturday, June 22 in Vicksburg at the annual Miss Mississippi 2019 pageant. Out of the pool of 45 other contestants from various parts of the state, Hyer went up against 10 of her peers who also represented her alma mater – the University of Mississippi.
This was Hyer’s third year competing in the Miss Mississippi pageant. Over the past three years, Hyer has represented the state in three other pageants: Miss Southern Magnolia 2017 (representing the Hattiesburg area), Miss Southern Grace 2018 (representing the Jones County area), and Miss Riverbend (representing the Mississippi Delta).
Hyer said through the other pageants she has gained so much experience.
“I have met fellow candidates who I am now fortunate to call my friends,” Hyer told Hottytoddy.com.
Through those pageants, she said she has the opportunity to advocate for the importance of Organ and Tissue Donation with the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency along with becoming more qualified as a public speaker, employee and future attorney.
Hyer said she hopes to serve in Mississippi’s public office in the future and that through her experience in pageants she has been able to travel throughout the state and meet other Mississippians. While meeting other residents of the state, Hyer was able to have fellowship and gain so many memories and experiences with them, which in return she hopes to use to better that state as a public official.
As an Ole Miss alumna, Hyer was able to gain even more experience as a student at the university. She said through various organizations, such as Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society and the University of Mississippi Concert Singers, she expanded her leadership skills, improved as a singer, and challenged her critical thinking skills by engaging in conversations with fellow classmates.
“In addition to the practical skills that the University provided me, Ole Miss gave me a family of fellow students and alumni who were endlessly supportive in this journey to accomplish my dream of being Miss Mississippi and an advocate for Organ and Tissue Donation,” Hyer said.
When Hyer was announced Miss Mississippi 2019, she said her overall reaction was joy.
“After I was crowned and before I took my first walk, I went and shook every one of the judges’ hands and told them that they had just changed my life, and they had,” she said.
Now that six days have passed since being crowned, Hyer said she still feels the same joy and privilege of calling herself Miss Mississippi 2019. Hyer said she will use her platform to continue sharing her message of “prioritizing Organ and Tissue Donation in the hearts and minds of Mississippians.”
“My heart is so grateful to have the opportunity to share this message, not only for this year but for the rest of my life,” she said.
An Emphasis on Inner Beauty
Kelly Bates, an engineering major from Meridian admits she’s new to pageant life. However, the third preliminary event she competed in punched her ticket to the state pageant as Miss Golden Triangle. She said every stereotype she could possibly think of filled her mind when it came to competing on a statewide level, but with the eradication of the swimsuit competition, her views had changed.
“I love and am completely comfortable with my body, but I never would have tried competing if I knew I may have to wear a swimsuit on television,” she said. “With the emphasis placed more on inner beauty than outer, I felt much more confident competing.”
As a student of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and School of Engineering at Ole Miss, Bates is required to put in countless hours of rigorous work toward her degree. But when it came time to perform on the Miss Mississippi stage, she said those two organizations dedicated their time in support of her.
The university isn’t simply a four-year experience for her. The people of Ole Miss molded Bates’ early childhood, she said.
“I grew up in Oxford with my father finishing his Ph.D. in history and my mother working as Associate Director of Student Housing. I got to grow up surrounded by beautiful, hard-working women and see their roles on the University of Mississippi campus fulfilled,” she said.
Bates’ training at Ole Miss helped her prepare for the Miss Mississippi experience more so than she thought. Education has held such power over her that she decided to implement it into her platform “We Have the Right To – Consent Education.” That fueled a desire to pursue becoming a lawyer in the future.
As a lawyer, she wants to become a prosecutor who specifically works with abuse and assault cases, she said.
“I want Mississippi to believe survivors. Consent is not a hard concept, but it is often difficult for people to grasp because they have never been taught it. I want to change that,” she said.
Teaching Me How to Be Lexie
Lexie Harper, an integrated marketing communications student also from Meridian, said the people she’s met along the way to becoming a Miss Mississippi contestant who helped her find the real Lexie and be “proud of the person God had created.”
Not only did perfecting her hair and makeup skills advance throughout the competition, but so did her knowledge of social justice issues.
“I am knowledgeable about what goes on in our country and state. I have an opinion on different issues, and I understand that my voice does matter. I have learned how to have a conversation with another person even when they do not have the same views as me. I am more open-minded. I have learned to be adaptable,” she said, giving credit to the pageant experience.
One of the ladies on the board for Miss Mississippi told Harper something that stuck with her, the Miss Northeast Mississippi representative.
“People have a better chance of being drafted in the NFL than being Miss Mississippi,” the board member said.
Though Harper recognized it as a slim percentage, her determination to become the next Miss Mississippi will never falter, she said. Yet during that time, she plans to focus on a deeper meaning and context to her situation.
“Instead of worrying about who the next Miss Mississippi would be, I tried to be a light in another person’s life the week of Miss Mississippi. I wanted to soak in each moment and invest in those relationships I made,” she said.
Being an Ole Miss Rebelette gave her the confidence to thrive in the talent portion of the competition, she said, which counts for 50% of overall scores. She gives some credit to her teachers and coaches, but the majority goes to God, she said.
“During the week of Miss Mississippi, I had no expectations,” she said. “I prayed that the whole week I would not stress about where I placed on the final night, but I would really get to know some of the other girls. I wanted God to allow me to be a light to people that week. I wanted to learn about the other contestants. I wanted to learn about their stories and what made them, them.”
Eleven women represented the University of Mississippi last weekend. Listed below are the other participants. To learn more about these women, please follow this link.
Blair Wortsmith – Little Rock, Arkansas
Major: Managerial Finance
Charley Ann Nix – Batesville, Mississippi
Dana Wesley – West Point, Mississippi
Major: Spanish Literature
Grace McClanahan – Oxford, Mississippi
Kelly Bates – Meridian, Mississippi
Major: Engineering with an emphasis in Law
Kimberley Gordon – Brooksville, Mississippi
Major: Psychology pre-med
Lexie Harper – Meridian, Mississippi
Major: IMC with minor in business
Lydia Myers – Laure, Mississippi
Major: Musical Theatre
Mary Randall Ivy – Oxford, Mississippi
Major: Communication Sciences and Disorders (graduate)
Mary Elizabeth Killian – Oxford, Mississippi