When one thinks of a beauty pageant, ballgowns, perfectly styled hair and makeup probably come to mind. While that is an aspect of Mississippi State University's Miss Maroon and White Pageant, the event has transformed to showcase contestants with exceptional character and pride for MSU.
In the late 1960s, Miss Reveille Beauty, now known as the Miss Maroon and White Pageant, started as a section of MSU's yearbook The Reveille. The ideas of what represented Miss Reveille were more focused on traditional styles of beauty, like elegant dresses, glamorous hair and makeup and high heels.
The contestants were women who were no stranger to beauty pageants. In the earliest records of Miss Reveille Beauty, winners were often participants in the Miss MSU pageant and other beauty reviews.
According to Jackie Mullen, Assistant Dean and Director of the Student Union and Center for Student Activities, there was no interview portion in the pageant's early days. Winners were chosen based on who was the most beautiful and graceful woman on stage.
In 2003, the pageant's name was changed from Miss Reveille Beauty to Miss Maroon and White. The event's sponsorship that year shifted from the Reveille Yearbook to the MSU Campus Activities Board in the Office of Student Life, according to an article in MSU's Newsroom by Sammy McDavid.
Today, Miss Maroon and White is a symbol for the university as a whole. She helps recruit prospective students to campus, attends various events and speaks in classes. The honor of being Miss Maroon and White does not expire in 24 hours, rather it is something the winner carries with her everywhere she goes.
The idea of having Miss Maroon and White be a well-rounded woman is something the pageant directors feel strongly about. Mullen said they want the winner to be someone who can confidently represent MSU to the best of her ability.
"It's been really important that when we judge and when we look at who we want to qualify, that it's somebody we're all proud of representing our student body, not just in regard to the look of them on the outside but also the look on the inside of them," Mullen said.
At the interest meeting for the pageant, Yasmine Davis, assistant director of the Miss Maroon and White Pageant, advised the contestants to be authentic and unique, support their fellow contestants and practice their interview skills. She said these qualities are what sets apart the winner from the other contestants.
Gracie Anello, Miss Maroon and White 2020, gave similar advice and said judges were looking for contestants who had a graceful stage presence and were confident in themselves.
"Judges focus on the way you interact on stage," Anello said. "Some of the feedback I got was about poise and grace and being refined and dignified on stage."
Along the way, the pageant has evolved into more of an event than a mere beauty contest by incorporating a theme. This year's theme is a Midsummer Night's Dream, which will bring in a whimsical element to the night.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pageant is undergoing a few changes. The number of contestants allowed will either be 21 or 24 ladies due to social-distancing guidelines. Contestants must wear masks at all times, even on stage, and the interviews will be conducted separately via a videoconference. Lastly, there will not be an opening dance.
Julia Pratt, director of the Miss Maroon and White Pageant, said while these changes may be inconvenient, a few good things have come from them.
"One thing that I've heard a lot from the contestants about the interviews is that they kind of like the idea of the interviews being a more low-key introduction to the pageant," Pratt said.
Over the years, Miss Maroon and White has come to represent Mississippi State University distinctively. Miss Reveille represented a more traditional style of beauty, and Miss Maroon and White exemplifies a more unique and personal style of beauty. Thus, the recognition has come to mean more for winners each year, as they represent the university more holistically.