Children often join the family business, and these days kids end up following in their parents' footsteps in variety of fields. Mitt Romney followed his father into politics. Ivanka and Don Jr. joined the Trump family business, appearing in the latest incarnation of Celebrity Apprentice. Superbowl MVP Eli Manning followed in his father's football footsteps so faithfully he even plays the same position.
And then there's Kelsey Beck. While you might not have heard of her yet, expect to hear more from this young woman. Kelsey, just crowned Miss Boston 2012, is a college sophomore vying for the title of Miss America 2013 -- 42 years after her mother, Barbara Beck, competed for the same title as Miss Florida.
Given that parents are more likely to have a son, like Eli, play in the Super Bowl than have a daughter compete in the Miss America Pageant it's not surprising that those with pageant roots in their family trees go far. This year for the first time the daughter of a former Miss America participated in the national pageant as a state queen; Diana Dreman competed at Miss Colorado, the same state her mother, Rebecca King, represented en route to becoming Miss America 1974. Mom Barbara Beck never forced Kelsey to participate in pageants, but she did watch the Pageant with her every year, planting the seed for a lifelong love of pageantry.
But Kelsey's accomplishments extend far beyond tiaras and swimsuits. Kelsey is an undergraduate at Harvard, where she has played on the varsity volleyball team. Beauty, brains, and athletic prowess make for a formidable combination.
In the past decade this impressive combination has appeared more and more often in the pageant world. Harvard graduates like Laura Lawless Robertson, Nancy Redd, Allison Rogers, Loren Galler-Rabinowitz, and more, have competed for the title of Miss America representing states including Arizona, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Kelsey draws inspiration from this group of women: "The fact that a lot of Harvard women have competed and have been successful really says good things about pageants in general in that they're not all about beauty, and they're about the well-rounded woman that is driven, motivated, smart, and intellectual. That Harvard women are becoming more of a force in the pageant world can dispel a lot of stereotypes about pageants."
Kelsey dispels another pageant stereotype -- that you need to be on the pageant circuit while still in diapers in order to be successful (which has gained more currency than ever thanks to TLC's child beauty pageant series Toddlers & Tiaras). Miss Boston was the first pageant in which she had ever participated. Kelsey explains, "I grew up as an athlete so I never really considered beauty pageants, and didn't have time for them."
So what motivated her to grab her bikini and high heels now? Money -- more precisely, scholarship money. The Miss America Pageant reports that it is the largest source of scholarship money for women in the world. According to Kelsey, "My mom would talk about how great of an experience she had and how the Miss America organization funded her entire undergraduate education. I thought that was amazing and I always had it in the back of my mind as a way that I could help my parents by getting some scholarship money."
As more and more families are affected by the economic downturn, pageantry has increasing appeal for some. While it does cost money to compete in a pageant, the financial rewards can be great (if you win). Kelsey used a bathing suit she already owned and drew from her experience packaging herself as a stellar collegiate student-athlete (Harvard, like all Ivy League schools, recruits for their sports teams, but they do not offer athletic scholarships) to prepare for the interview portion of the pageant. She did invest in an evening gown, but based on that investment she has now earned over $7000 in scholarship money to be used for her Harvard degree, and hopefully for a law degree as well.
Her mother, Barbara, is excited about Kelsey's chances, and is enjoying strengthening their mother-daughter pageant bond. But Barbara is also careful to add, "We don't want to call it a beauty pageant because it's [about] so much more than attractiveness. I never considered myself a beauty. I think the Miss USA Pageant is a beauty pageant -- those girls are drop dead gorgeous. But with the Miss America organization, if you can look attractive -- put on some make-up, walk in heels, and feel okay about your body in a swimsuit -- and have a talent, you can do it!"
Given that Harvard students who represent Miss Boston have been very successful at the Miss Massachusetts Pageant over the past 25 years, it's quite likely Kelsey Beck can do it. She could very well be hearing the strains of "There She Is," as her mother did four decades ago, in no time.
Follow Hilary Levey Friedman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hleveyfriedman