Tomorrow night live on ABC, we will mark the 91st anniversary of an American icon as we continue our beloved tradition of crowning the next Miss America. At the Planet Hollywood Resort in spectacular 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:
Our young women have dreams of going to college. Last year, the Miss America Organization made available more than $45 million in scholarships to help turn those dreams into reality. I've watched lives change because of the scholarships from our pageant program.
Here are just two examples of the impact that Miss America can have in fulfilling American dreams -- 50 years apart from one another.
Crowned 50 years ago, Maria Beale Fletcher was told by her father that it wasn't his dream that she go to college. It needed to be hers to dream and to fund. Maria promptly entered the local pageant and won $250. She went on to win Miss North Carolina and the Miss America pageant in 1962. With her Miss America scholarships, Maria earned her B.A. in French and philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She went on to become a successful business woman and an advocate for education.
As we say goodbye to the 2011 Miss America Teresa Scanlan, we proudly watch her pursue an undergraduate degree in government at Patrick Henry College, followed by law school. Not only has Patrick Henry College offered her a full scholarship, she plans to use the more than $62,000 in scholarships from the Miss America Organization to attend Harvard Law School. We wish her the very best as she pursues her dream to be a lawyer, U.S. president and Supreme Court justice.
The Miss America brand is known and loved for helping to fulfill the dreams of our nation's young women. We are now entering a new era for our organization as we expand our mission to encourage more girls and young women to pursue their dreams of a higher education and to attain the goals that will take them into their future.
Following her crowning on Saturday night, the 2012 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 underrepresented 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, 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. Some of the young dreamers have won the crown and gone on to become media stars and moguls, missionaries and mothers, news anchors and newsmakers, singers and scientists, lawyers, doctors, teachers and preachers... and none of them started with a crown. They started with a dream.
The Miss America Organization is so much more than a beauty pageant. It's a dream machine.
So please join us tomorrow night on ABC. When the lights go up and the music begins, you will be a part of something bigger than crowning a new Miss America... you will be inspiring the next generation of little girls who will dare to dream.
Sam Haskell is the former chief of Worldwide Television at the William Morris Agency and the current 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.