• Eryn LaLonde

From Playgrounds to Pageants

Senior holds title of Miss Manatee County’s Outstanding Teen 2015

One year ago, senior Eryn LaLonde competed alongside seven other girls for the title of Miss Manatee County’s Outstanding Teen (OT) 2015. Nov. 21, she passed down the crown to Amelia Joy. The pageant consists of a private 6-minute interview with a panel of judges, an onstage question in an evening gown, fitness, and talent.

Miss Manatee County is a component of the Miss America Organization, which seeks to recognize “style, service, scholarship, and success” by awarding tuition grants to the most promising young ladies of this generation. When LaLonde first began competing three years ago, she was overwhelmed by the amount of experience that her counterparts possessed. “I was coming into this like a deer in headlights because I did not know what to I just talked to other girls and hoped they were giving me accurate information,” LaLonde said.

LaLonde’s journey began at the Manatee County Fairgrounds, where the Miss Manatee pageant is held every year. Her first competition yielded the prize of second-runner-up, and the following year she became first-runner-up. This past year, LaLonde was the first place winner. As part of the competition, applicants are expected to have a platform. For LaLonde, volunteerism has been the driving force in her life.

In October, she chaired the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Rossi Park. Her vision to “get more youth involved in the community” has produced incredible opportunities for her to meet leaders at the local, state, and even national levels, including members of the School Board, various Senators, and even the President of the United States.

Preparing for a pageant is no easy task. Hours by Emily Wunderlich BUSINESS MANAGER upon hours of time and effort go into planning for the interview, but for LaLonde, it has all paid off. She has noticed a considerable improvement in her communication skills as well as her ability to think on her feet. She also recognizes the importance of being socially aware, which has helped her form educated opinions on issues affecting today’s world.

“You have to be able to answer any question that someone or the judges can throw at you in that six minutes that you are in there – not saying ‘I don’t know’ because ‘I don’t know’ is not an answer,” LaLonde said.

Being a titleholder entails many responsibilities, one of which is a mentoring program called the Sunshine Princess program. As part of the program, a child of 12 years or younger is selected to “shadow” Miss Manatee County’s OT for the year, challenging her to be a positive role model for her Sunshine Princess. LaLonde says this program has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her victory so far, and she hopes that Kaylah, her own Sunshine Princess, will want to compete for the title herself when she comes of age. “She has been to all 35 events with me, and she was shy at the beginning and now she is very outgoing and talkative,” LaLonde said. While pageantry is often a competitive and stressful affair, it is most importantly a journey of self-discovery.

Not only has LaLonde learned how to perform under pressure and conduct herself accordingly, but she has also taken away invaluable lessons about self-confidence that can be applied to almost any aspect of life, not just competing. “The one thing I tell girls is, ‘Do not let other girls get into your head, and do not compare yourself to them because you can not change how they are, you can only change how you are,’” LaLonde said.

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