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  • Diana

There she is!

I have been involved with pageantry for about six years and it feels like this was supposed to be my destiny all along. Competing on the Miss America stage is a dream that didn't take too long to form.

When I first decided to compete in MAO, I did one local in 2016. The following year, I think I competed in about six locals. I walked away with a few placements as a runner up, new friends, memories, a stronger platform, a clear vision and personal growth. Finally, when 2018 rolled around, I was blessed with the job of Miss Finger Lakes and the opportunity to compete at Miss NY. I knew I was ready for the job of Miss NY and I was so excited to show what I could offer in Buffalo, NY at Shea's Performing Arts Center.

In my eyes, Miss New York week began when I heard my name called on the Miss Finger Lakes stage. I hit the ground running immediately because I wanted to put everything I could offer into my year of service. I worked with my platform 'Memories Through Music: Alzheimer's Awareness', which gave me the opportunity to raise funds and awareness with the Alzheimer's Association by speaking in front of NY state Legislatures and share the gift of music in memory care homes across NY state. I embarked on a school tour across central NY to market the MAO, encourage young adults to find their passion, show them the importance of being kind to others, being well rounded and what it takes to accomplish goals. I volunteered at science fairs, galas and local events. I proudly represented MAO at parades and I championed the MAO national platform, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. I raised over $1,000 by planning and hosting A Fashion Miracle, a charity fashion show for CMNH. I shared the importance of scholarship by succeeding as a graduating senior at St. John Fisher College. I am passionate about MAO because I believe in what it offers America and those who participate in the competitions. I will continue to live out my year of service as Miss Finger Lakes to encourage others to be passionate about MAO too.

Preparation for Miss NY began instantly. But it all became real at the Miss NY workshop in April as my sisters and I cheered on our outstanding teens at Miss NY's Outstanding Teen. We served for Miss America Serves Day, we thanked a forever Miss NY for our Kandice Pelletier swimsuits and we put our sparkly crowns to work.

Miss NY week quickly approached. After three suitcases, five garment bags and a spray tan later, my family and I shuffled off to Buffalo at the end of June! It was a much anticipated event because I studied, I trained, I listened and I grew. Our week began on Tuesday with a press conference in front of Niagara Falls. We were treated with a tour on the maid of the mist and lunch at Hard Rock Cafe. For those of you who were wondering, you will get wet on the maid of the mist...from head to toe. Pro tip: purchase water proof shoe covers from Amazon. Your spray tan and shoes will thank you later. The night began with rehearsals and it ended with a dinner and tour at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. You guessed it, we had more rehearsals after dinner too.

On Wednesday, our feet began to scream by the end of the night because we were bombarded with rehearsals and more rehearsals. I must admit, the producers were amazing and the venue was breathtaking. Shea's is surrounded by hand painted walls, intriquite detail and diamond chandeliers that I wish were hanging in my bedroom.

I woke up at 3 a.m. on Thursday to plug in my rollers and went back to bed for an hour and then woke back up to get ready for interview. After interview, we had more rehearsals and the show began that night. Hair and makeup needed to be complete in an hour if contestants had professional help. One thing I liked about the event was that everything remained fair and constant. I was in the blue group and performed my talent and answered an onstage question related to my platform on Thursday. Visitation followed at the hotel and I loved being surrounded by my friends and family. That night, my roommate and Emily and I stayed up to chat. I am not sure if going to bed early and sleeping in is possible during Miss NY :)

Friday was finally here and I was so excited to compete on stage. But first, our day started by touring Oishei Children's Hospital. My group visited newborns and their families. Most stay over night or spend the majority of the day with their children at the hospital. This may seem emotionally and physically draining, but this hospital opened in November and although it is unfortunate that people must utilize its services, the amenities are pristine. We visited a chapel, a play room (which smelled so clean), football themed floor units, a peaceful garden room and kitchen areas for families. The resilience and bright light that shines from the children help to light up a building that so many call home. I can't help but thank the nurses, volunteers, staff and doctors who help to make their stay comfortable. After our visit to a CMNH and more rehearsals, the final night of competition began. We were the last Miss NY class to compete in lifestyle and fitness at a state competition. And I also enjoyed gracing the stage in a white gown that sparkled under the lights. Visitation followed and I was so happy to see my cousins from Ohio that night.

Saturday was finally here and it didn't seem real. Everything I worked for over the last three years was finally coming to an end. We spent time with our star princesses and you guessed it, we had more rehearsals. Finally, the show began. I danced my heart out onstage and held my princesses hand as I introduced myself to the judges for the last time. As I stood with my sister's on stage, I heard, the next top ten finalist is from the Finger Lakes, Diana Marie Russo. I couldn't contain my excitement and I was so thankful. I couldn't wait to show the judges, one more time, all of my hard work. After competing in lifestyle and fitness, talent and gown one last time, I prayed that I would have the opportunity to speak in front of the judges as a contestant in the top five. My name was not called into the top five, but I was thankful and proud to walk away as Miss Finger Lakes. I am happy to empower my sisters and our new Miss NY.

Miss NY is the real deal and a blog post doesn't do the feeling of being at Miss NY justice. I was ready to be Miss NY and I knew I could do the job so well. Being a part of the class of 2018 is truly a dream, privilege and experience that I am lucky to have. The service, style, scholarship and success that I put in prior to Miss NY will not end just because Miss NY ended. I represent the 20 other women who vied for the title of Miss Finger Lakes, the children who view me as a role model, CMNH, the Alzheimer's Association, the children I spoke to at schools, MAO and the Finger Lakes region. It is my duty and responsibility to honor this job and privilege. Thank you to my family, friends, stylists, sponsors, tailors, clothing stores, advisors, MAO volunteers, MAO and the Miss Finger Lakes Organization for this opportunity and support. I hope to continue to make you all proud.

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