I can't believe it's been almost a year since I was crowned Miss America 2012. I arrived in Las Vegas a week early to gear up for the competition with the other contestants, but no amount of preparation could have truly prepared me for what would become the most defining year of my life. And what a year it has been: from meeting President Obama with the Children's Miracle Network at the White House to singing the national anthem for my beloved Green Bay Packers (Go, Pack, Go!). Since last January, I have been on the road almost every day visiting all corners of the country and meeting the most inspiring people. On Saturday, January 12, live on ABC, I will hand off the crown to Miss America 2013, who will embody the four pillars of the Miss America organization: style, service, scholarship and success. I'm so excited to pass along the crown and the incredible experience that will follow to the next deserving woman. Most of all, I look forward to the next phase of my life, which will hopefully include continuing the pursuit of my law degree and continuing my work mentoring children of incarcerated parents. But no matter what lies ahead, I will never forget that moment when I was crowned Miss America.
Here are my favorite things of 2012 and a few of the things I learned along the way...
Favorite book: Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly -- like so many Americans, I'm fascinated by the Kennedys. This book really brings history to life and offers a unique perspective on JFK's assassination.
Favorite movie: Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II -- I can't help it, I'm a Twilight fan! I've followed the whole series, so I've been counting down to the release of the last movie. Team Edward!
Favorite TV show: Dancing With The Stars -- I'm always amazed at how quickly the contestants pick up those difficult steps. I'd love the opportunity to dance for the mirror ball trophy!
Health and fitness: Being on the road as Miss America, I'd often wake up tired with aches and pains due to the amount of traveling. Nutrition and exercise have been crucial to maintaining my health and sanity on the road.
Politics: After watching the debates and campaign attack ads, I wish political candidates weren't so negative towards each other. It sounds simple, but if ads and debate arguments were based on each candidate bringing solid facts to the table, the focus could remain on solving the problems we all face rather than criticizing one another.
Philanthropy: I truly believe giving back is the best way to feed your own soul. Throughout my year as Miss America, I have had the amazing privilege to give back to communities across the country, as well as devote my time to my personal platform: mentoring children of incarcerated parents. Whether I'm visiting Children's Miracle Network Hospitals to raise funds and awareness for children's hospitals, spending time at Project AVARY, a camp for children with parents in prison, or partnering with Big Brothers, Big Sisters to promote the importance of mentoring in children's lives, I've had the opportunity to share my personal story and platform, and give back in so many ways.
Financial advice: It's good to have an accountant -- taxes are best left to the experts.
Pop culture: It was totally surreal to be able to attend the Style Awards in New York during Fashion Week, as well as the CMAs in Nashville. It's amazing to be surrounded by people at the very top of their game being recognized for their talents.