Right now, I am standing on the stage, where, for the past week, the 53 contestants for this year's Miss America Competition have been rehearsing all week.
It is the beginning of awards season in Hollywood, but the special award I want to discuss goes to a young woman who has worked hardest, not just at school, but in all aspects of her life. While the Miss America contestants are also the most beautiful women in America, their lives aren't always perfect in every way. These women have grown into prime examples of what can make a Miss America: beauty, brains, poise, talent, and a heart for service.
Saturday night, live on ABC, we will mark the 92nd anniversary of an American icon as we continue our beloved tradition of crowning the next Miss America. Live in Las Vegas, one woman will be chosen from 53 national finalists who are the most beautiful, talented and intelligent young women this country has to offer. At the risk of sounding like a diplomat, all of our contestants are winners. Here's why:
Miss Washington D.C., Allyn Rose, stunned the nation this year when she announced that after the Miss America Pageant, she will undergo a double mastectomy after testing positive for a genetic predisposition of the same cancer that claimed her mother's life. It's still hard to accept that women as young as Allyn are getting this dreaded disease, but she chose to undergo the surgery after discussing it with her father.
Miss New Hampshire Megan Lyman spent her childhood in and out of hospitals with several stage 4 muscular cancers. She underwent treatment and received a gift from the Make-A-Wish Foundation: a dance studio in her own home. Ignoring the negativity of her disease, she fought through her illness and found a silver lining when many would fall into despair.
Miss Alaska Debbe Jo Ebben is sporting short hair not for vanity but for her cause. She raised more than $4,000 for St. Baldrick's Foundation, which supports children's cancer research, by shaving her head. She empathized with children who lost their hair as an effect from cancer treatment. Her hair is a symbol of removing vanity for children and educating them that
there is no set mold for their personal image.
Over the last 36 years, I've supported the Miss America Pageant -- my college sweetheart Mary, now my wife of 30 years, was Miss Mississippi in 1977. The last seven years, I have served as Chairman of the Miss America Organization Board; through the leadership of this incredible organization, I have witnessed firsthand that these outstanding young women provide insight and a reason why giving up is never an option. Their struggle and commitment are the cornerstones of what makes someone Miss America. That's why it's even more important that the Miss America Organization demonstrate leadership and commitment to the issue of education.
Following her crowning on Saturday night, the 2013 Miss America will spend her year touring the country to encourage all young women to pursue a college education, and will focus on driving interest in the arts, as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. The Miss America Organization will work with national and community partners to create an unconventional approach to driving young women's interest in STEM.
Our efforts coincide with the national momentum to teach STEM curricula outside traditional school settings, targeting female students who are currently under represented in STEM professions. Our hope is to help shift girls' attitudes about STEM and boost the percentage of women employed in STEM-related industries. It's not just the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do for America's future and our economy.
Across the country, millions of little girls have the dream of becoming Miss America. According to the Department of Labor, women made up 46.7 percent of the work labor force in the United States last year. Some of our young dreamers have won the crown and gone on to become media stars and moguls, missionaries and mothers, news anchors and news makers, singers and scientists, lawyers, doctors, teachers and preachers -- none of them started with a crown. The Miss America Organization is so much more than a beauty pageant. It's a dream machine that is empowered by hard work and results -- just step inside and take it to the stars!
Join us Saturday night when the lights go up and the stage is set for another world-defining moment. You can still choose your own finalist by voting at the Miss America website until midnight Thursday.
Sam Haskell is the former Head of Worldwide Television at the William Morris Agency and Chairman of the Board of the Miss America Organization. He was named in 2007 by TV Week as one of the 25 Most Innovative and Influential People in Television over the last quarter century.