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Miss Illinois Marisa Buchheit discusses her upcoming Miss America run. 

Chicago native Marisa Buchheit took time out of her busy pageant-prepping schedule to sit down with WomensForum.com and talk about her passions, interests, and what she hopes to gain from winning the Miss America title.

WF: What have you been doing to prepare for the Miss America competition?

Buchheit: Well, it’s been a lot of getting all of my outfits, jewelry, accessories, and shoes together. Appearance is a big part of a beauty pageant, but this is also a scholarship pageant. Outside of the aesthetic portion, we also have to do a lot of work with our community service platforms. My platform is arts education, and its called from STEM to STEAM. It is science technology, engineering and math, plus the arts.

I’ve been having a dialogue with national arts organizations; there’s one in DC, one in New York and there’s several here in Chicago. I’m with top education officials and politicians to try to see what can we do, especially if I become Miss America. What can we do to partner to make some serious things happen, and just build the ground work for arts education in the country!

WF: What was your draw to making arts education your specific platform?

Buchheit: Well, for one thing I am a teacher. I teach choir and art at a high school, so I know the impact it has on young people. Plus, throughout my life, I’ve always been devoted to music. I am also pursuing music and arts as a career and I know that’s not for everyone, but I see the beauty and the power of music in a person’s life just by listening to music or taking a music appreciation class.

It changes things. It empowers you. Its confidence building. For young kids in school, it changes the game for them, it makes them more prepared for anything their going to do later on in life. That’s why I’m so passionate about it.

WF: What would you say has been the biggest highlight and the toughest experience about the whole pageant process?

Buchheit: Well, the biggest highlight is that fact that I’ve been competing is this organization for six years and then finally on my last year of eligibility, I won the title. I achieved my dream of going to Miss America. It’s really gratifying. I had worked for so long, and so many people have been with me on this journey. I feel very blessed.

The most difficult thing, other than getting ready for the swimsuit portion, (its tough-hours at the gym and then trying to eat right. I have the biggest sweet tooth in the world.) The most challenging part of being Miss Illinois so far is having to deal and interact and work with so many different people... It’s such a balancing act, trying to keep a clear head of my mission, but also show them enough love because they’re showing me so much support in this process. I’ve learned that you have to say thank you a lot. It goes a long way.

WF: Who is your major inspiration?

Buchheit: I draw inspiration from so many different areas of my life, including my mom and my grandma. They are both immigrants from a different country. My mom came from Bangkok, Thailand and moved here when she was my age, 24, and she hardly any money in her pocket. She didn’t know anybody here, but she established a life for herself. She ended up having a family and I think that is the definition of the American dream. Coming over, and building something from nothing and so that totally inspires me.

My grandma had a similar situation. She was born into wealth in China. She escaped and eloped with my grandpa in communist China, and she became very poor in Thailand. It’s just an interesting story and they really inspire but my students also inspire me. Just seeing them blossom and seeing how much I’ve learned from them and becoming Miss Illinois. It’s so cute to see them being inspired and them feeling like maybe they can do what I’m doing one day.

WF: What would you say to other young women who either want to take this route, or achieve their dreams, but are having doubts? Any tips? Advice?

Buchheit: I would say the moment that you tell yourself that you can’t do it, is the moment that you fail to achieve what you set out to do. I believe in persistence. I believe if you fall down seven times, you get up that eighth time. I competed previously for five years at the state level for the Miss America system and at first, I couldn’t even win a local preliminary.

I didn’t have confidence in myself, and I fell down in the interview. I just didn’t feel like I could do it at that point, but I didn’t give up. I had a lot of support and assistance from my family. They’re really my rock. I just kept on going for it. I think that is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. Hard work maybe doesn’t always pay off but it sure as heck can. If it’s something you really want to do, why would you give up?

To vote for Miss Illinois as the People’s Choice, go to missamerica.org/vote

Photo Credit: Facebook

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