Laura Lawless has a very busy schedule, but she graciously agreed to an interview. Here are the questions I posed and the answers she provided:
What made you get involved in pageants and what previous competitions did you participate in, if any?
Laura Lawless, Miss Arizona 2002: I initially became involved in pageants because I needed a way to subsidize my college education. As a child of a single parent, it was a daunting task to pay for tuition at a private university. In 1996 I competed in the New York State Junior Miss program and won my state title, then moving on to the National Program. From that experience I garnered over $4,000 in scholarships for college. In my junior year of college I entered and won the Miss Freetown pageant and competed at the Miss Massachusetts state pageant. In 2000 I competed in the Miss Queens pageant and won, earning a trip to the Miss NY pageant. In 2001 I competed in the Miss Manhattan pageant with a broken leg after surviving a serious car accident. In the summer of 2001 I decided to accept an offer of admission to Arizona State University College of Law and moved to Tempe, AZ. In February 2002 I entered and won the Miss Maricopa pageant and went on to compete at Miss Arizona in June of 2002 where I fulfilled my dream of winning a trip to the Miss America competition this coming September. In total I have been awarded over $25,000 in college scholarships through participation in the Miss America system.
J. Hedding: What is your platform and why did you pick it?
Laura Lawless, Miss Arizona 2002: I chose to serve as an advocate for mental health awareness during my four years of competition in the Miss America system. When I was 17 years old, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, a disorder that affects 16 million Americans each year and is a factor in the death of 29,000 Americans who take their own lives each year. As a teenager, it was extremely difficult to find health providers willing to openly address the issue of mental health because it was surrounded by such shame and stigma. The stereotypes surrounding the mentally ill are myriad and many are unwilling to label a child or adolescent with the term "mentally ill." In fact, appropriate diagnosis is the key to early invention and adequate treatment and is the very reason why I am alive today. I hope that as a public figure I can use my own experiences to educate the community about the signs and symptoms of mental illness and to generate awareness about this silent epidemic that threatens so many American lives each year.
J. Hedding: What was in your thoughts as they announced the first runner up and you knew you had won the title of Miss Arizona?
Laura Lawless, Miss Arizona 2002: I was honestly convinced that the first runner up would win the pageant. I had the opportunity to get to know Colette Beatty, Miss Anthem, quite well in the weeks and months preceding the pageant and thought she was one of the most poised and elegant women I had ever met. So in my mind I was simply celebrating making it as far as I had. I had a strange sense of calm over me the entire evening, knowing that whatever happened was simply a part of God's plan for my life. I stood there holding her hands and never even heard the emcee call my name! It took a few moments for reality to set in. While I was thrilled to earn this honor and reach the culmination of so many years of hard work, part of me was saddened because I knew that at least two of the young women would not be able to compete again. My wish for them is that they know in their hearts what enormous talent and internal beauty they have. I hope that all the contestants continue their community service because I truly believe they have so much to offer the people of Arizona.
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