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Faith, Family, and Being Miss America: An Interview with Teresa Scanlan

August 19–23, 2013   |   Vol. 116, Programs 61–65

Teresa Scanlan never imagined that she could succeed in the pageant world, but in January 2011 17-year-old Teresa was crowned Miss America. What prepared Teresa for this tremendous opportunity? Tune into this week’s Home School Heartbeat with your host Mike Smith to hear that the secret behind the crown was homeschooling!

“Through homeschooling I was used to doing things on my own. I was used to really being responsible for my own education, my own accomplishments, and my own hard work.”—Teresa Scanlan

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Could homeschooling really provide your children with the necessary skills for whatever opportunities they have? This week on Home School Heartbeat , Teresa Scanlan tells host Mike Smith how homeschooling prepared her for an incredible adventure as Miss America 2011!

Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Teresa Scanlan, who was crowned Miss America in 2011. She was also homeschooled and is a student here at Patrick Henry College. Welcome to the program, Teresa!

Teresa Scanlan: Thank you for having me.

Mike: Teresa, I’m assuming that homeschooling actually helped you get ready for the Miss America pageant and all that leads up to that. Am I right about that?

Teresa: Absolutely; homeschooling really changed me completely as a person. I’m the middle of seven children and my mom homeschooled all of us and so I learned growing up to be very independent and to take on responsibility as well as taking initiative in my own life and what I was responsible for, so when it came to competing for Miss Nebraska and then later, Miss America, I was used to taking on that kind of responsibility. And my family was always very supportive, but it was something that I had to do on my own. And I think that really made a huge difference, that through homeschooling I was used to doing things on my own. I was used to really being responsible for my own education, my own accomplishments, and my own hard work.

Mike: Did your parents help you with this at all?

Teresa: Well, really, when I first said I wanted to compete, my parents said ok, go ahead, and they really let me do everything on my own. I was always responsible for my own paperwork, for everything.

Mike: Teresa, this is really outstanding. I think it’s a great example of how homeschooling can actually prepare a person for so many different opportunities. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan joins us again today. Teresa, what inspired you to actually participate in the Miss America pageant to begin with?

Teresa Scanlan: Well, believe it or not, when I was younger, Miss America was never something I was interested in. I had never even watched the pageant and then when I was in my first year of high school, I was looking for ways to earn scholarship money for college. I wanted to go to law school and be a criminal prosecutor, and so I decided I needed to find scholarship money to do that. And so I found our local county fair pageant that you won scholarship money if you won, and decided I’d give it a shot. I was thirteen years old at the time, and I certainly didn’t think I was going to win, but ended up winning and continued competing from there.

Mike: What did you find was the most challenging part of the pageant for you?

Teresa: For me, it was getting over my shyness, actually. I was extremely shy when I was younger, and it was something I really had to overcome and work on in order to be successful with this. I learned to be comfortable on stage, and also in person-to-person interactions.

Mike: Did your family help you with that?

Teresa: They did, certainly. I think that it was somewhat difficult to be with all of my other siblings; I felt sometimes pressure in that kind of thing, but overall they were very supportive and so I was able to overcome those different things that I was dealing with, as far as being a little more introverted and everything else, and my family was a huge part of that.

Mike: Well, Teresa, thank you for sharing with us today. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Teresa, did the other Miss America contestants and judges know that you are a Christian?

Teresa Scanlan: Yes, actually, the majority of contestants, believe it or not, are Christian conservatives, I found, in the competition. And then the judges, in my interview, they have my resume in front of them, and they saw a lot of church activities and things on there, so during my interviews, several of them actually asked me questions about my faith.

Mike : Were there any specific challenges in the pageant, or part of the competition, that you had because you are a Christian?

Teresa: Well, I think overall it can come from the public in general, that people do criticize you for that because I guess it’s kind of a stereotype that not only are pageant contestants brainless, but also a lot of people stereotype Christian conservatives as that way as well. And so when you win a pageant as a Christian conservative, a lot of people say, “Oh, it’s the ultimate stereotype, super brainless, of course she’s gonna win” kind of thing. And so you get a lot of that, and it’s just a matter of replying graciously.

Mike : Were you prepared for any particular questions that you were concerned about?

Teresa: Not necessarily; I think that I was comfortable with any questions that could come up. I think most common of course would be about competing in a pageant that many people think is all about exterior appearance and how on earth that correlates with my Christian faith, and that was something that I was prepared to defend, because I had thought about it in my own life quite extensively.

Mike: Well, Teresa, you’re a tremendous inspiration to all of us. I want you to know that. And so until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Teresa, I’m curious to hear if you have been ever criticized by other Christians for being Miss America. Has that really been an issue for you?

Teresa Scanlan: Somewhat surprisingly, yes. When I first won, I thought, of course, that I would get criticism from the public in general about being a Christian, but it was kind of surprising to me that probably the most criticism I received was actually from conservative Christians that competing in the competition like Miss America did not line up with their morals and values. And so I always said that I would never in a million years say, “Every young person should compete in Miss America no matter what,” but only if it’s going to be something you will never have to compromise your morals and convictions on. And that was certainly my case, where, if there was ever a situation that came up that I felt that I was compromising in any way or questioned, whether this correlated with my Christian faith, I would never have done it. God put this in my life at a particular time and place for a reason. And so while criticism will always be there, I think that this is one of those issues that may be slightly different for every Christian and where they are in their walk with God. And it’s certainly not for everybody, but God calls each of us to a particular calling to serve in a particular realm of society.

Mike: That’s a tremendous answer, and the thing that I’m impressed with is, your opportunity now. You have a real stage because you’ve won Miss America to give a testimony about your Christian faith. And thank you for being with us again today! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Today we’re joined again by Teresa Scanlan, who won the Miss America title in 2011. Teresa, what are some of your life goals going forward?

Teresa Scanlan: Well, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, probably, people would ask me, “So, little girl, what do you want to do when you grow up?” And I’d say, “I’m going to Patrick Henry College, then I’m going to Harvard for law school; I want to be a lawyer, judge, president, and a Supreme Court justice.” And that was my plan. All the way to the end, I was going to be president for 4–8 years, and then nominate myself to the Supreme Court and be there till I died. So I had my life planned out till the day I died and that hasn’t changed too much, quite honestly. But through Miss America I’ve also had a lot more opportunities open up and I’m starting to see maybe Plan B, Plan C, seeing where God calls me in my life because, He knows that it’s already so different from what I had seen for myself; I had not seen Miss America happening, so, we’ll see what happens in the future.

Mike: How long did you compete in Miss America pageants?

Teresa: Just through high school. I graduated high school a year early, so for three years, from 13 to 16 competed, and then at 17 competed at Miss Nebraska and Miss America.

Mike: Well, Teresa, based on what we already know about you and what you’ve accomplished, I have a feeling that we’re gonna hear more about you in the future, and I’m looking forward to it. And thank you for being with us this week. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Teresa Scanlan

When Teresa Scanlan was crowned Miss America 2011 at 17 years old, she became the youngest woman to wear the crown in over 70 years and the very first Miss Nebraska to become Miss America. Teresa was homeschooled most of her life, is the middle of seven children, and calls Gering, Nebraska home.

Just two weeks after high school graduation, Teresa became Miss Nebraska 2010 and six months later, was crowned Miss America 2011. Throughout her year of service as Miss America, Teresa traveled over 150,000 miles, visiting 40 states and four countries as a performer, host, and speaker. After giving up her title in 2012, Teresa released her first album of vocal and piano music and continued to travel as a speaker and advocate for many causes.

She now lives in Purcellville, Virginia with her fish, Sharkbait, and her two rescued dogs, Doogie and Benz. Teresa is finishing her degree in government at Patrick Henry College, where she is a member of the Moot Court Team and Student Senate. She also attends and volunteers at Cornerstone Chapel, and helps lead the Loudon County Teen Community Bible Study for high school students. Teresa continues to work as a performer and speaker, as a pageant coach, and as an independent representative with the Body by Vi 90 Day Challenge.

Teresa is the official spokesperson for the humanitarian non-profit The World Around You in Haiti. She also serves on the board of Imani Community Development in Kenya.

Following graduation, her plans include attending Harvard Law to become a criminal prosecutor. Hoping to become a judge and eventually be involved in the political arena, her highest career goals are to run for president in 2028 or to be nominated to the Supreme Court.

In her spare time, she enjoys playing piano and guitar, trying to cook, hiking, learning more about health and nutrition, and making clothes out of colored duct tape, among many other hobbies.

You can follow her travels and current projects at www.teresascanlan.com as well as @TeresaScanlan on Twitter and facebook.com/TeresaMScanlan.

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