Chat with Miss Kentucky

The moment they called my name was like a chronotope in time. I could see and feel moments leading up to this – those late-night rehearsals, the laughter shared with women throughout the week, the faces of my students, and that moment came back to reality when Haley Wheeler placed the sash around my waist and crown on my head.

When I was in high school, I competed in the Distinguished Young Women Program for my county and was very fortunate to win that title and go on to state. It was at that program that I had my first interaction with Reuben Harness, who was a judge. It was also at that program that Reuben shared with me how my “power story” of growing up in a low-income family with many challenges could be a great example of determination and grit for other people.

Reuben and I met again years later when I was in my undergraduate program at Northern Kentucky University. I was speaking on a FAFSA panel regarding my experiences as a first- generation student. It was at that panel that Reuben gave me a note with his name and number on it. He asked me to contact him when I was ready to compete in Miss Kentucky.

Years went by and when I had the financial means to do so, I decided then I would reach out to Reuben and take a chance on myself in the Miss Kentucky Scholarship Organization.

Each day is different and that is what is so special about the job of Miss Kentucky. I could start my day at a Farmer’s market, head to an advocacy luncheon, then make my way to a county fair judging a mullet contest. Or I could be visiting students, encouraging them and sharing with them the power of reading.

I have been intentionally crafting goals that will support my mental and physical wellbeing, as well as thinking deeply about my goals on the national stage. Those goals include preparing my wardrobe, perfecting my clogging talent, as well as meaningfully taking time to think about the job of Miss America.

Kentucky Proud is Kentucky’s official marketing program that promotes Kentucky’s farmers, farm families and farm impact products. Farmers play an essential role in ensuring that Kentuckians near and far have food on their table. By helping young people understand where their food comes from, I believe we can have a meaningful impact on educating informed connections between the food they consume and the agricultural processes involved in producing it. I have some unique and innovative ways to impart this meaningful impact and I am excited to share more with you regarding those initiatives in the near future.

Read Ready America’s goal is to equip young people with the tools to change the world through reading. As an author and an educator, I know just how much reading plays a role in long-term outcomes for students. I hope to spark interest and excitement around reading and service.

I grew up on a farm in central Kentucky and had many animals – horses, cattle, chickens, goats and others. I grew a deep love and appreciation for animal life and the hard work of a farmer.

Hank is my first book character in “Hank the Horse and the Case of the Missing Eggs,” which is a tale about information literacy that inspires kids to question information and dig deeper into the information they consume. I was inspired to write this book years ago during the 2016 Election as sharing misinformation seemed to be the norm on Facebook. I grew concerned about individuals and their ability to decipher information. This book is an attempt to cultivate the early development of information literacy. I used a farm context as a way to relate the story to Kentuckians, but also as a way to honor my childhood environment.

Honey is the second character that will be in “Honey the Horse and Kentucky Proud,” which is a tale about my two nieces, Maddie and Taylor, who go on a journey to learn about the unbridled spirit of Kentucky Proud – our state’s official marketing program for Kentucky’s farmers, farm families and farm impact products. I began writing this book in 2021 after sharing with the Commissioner of Agriculture, Ryan Quarles, my passion for reading and writing. I shared with him that I had a book idea for Kentucky Proud. He encouraged me to reach out once that idea was ready for a potential collaboration. This past May, I had the opportunity of meeting with the Kentucky Proud team, sharing with them my idea for the book and moving forward towards publication.

I remember vividly watching Thunder Over Louisville as a child amazed by the fireworks, crowd and air show. Little did I ever imagine that I would have the opportunity to represent and be part of such an amazing organization.

I started becoming more interested in the program after taking a History of Kentucky course at Northern Kentucky University. It was in that course that we were able to choose a facet of Kentucky of interest and research it more intimately. I chose the Kentucky Derby Festival as I love festivals, because in many ways they show the culture and values of a community. Through my research, I became fascinated and impressed by how a community has created such a staple in our Commonwealth. With such rich tradition, I knew it was something special – something I knew I wanted to be part of.

It was following the term of that class that I had the opportunity to apply to be a Derby Festival Princess, and the rest they say is history!

For me, it is truly hard to think about the memories and experiences without thinking about the people who made those memories so special. Melanie Miller, Kimberley Gant, Officer Tim, and my sister queens – Molly, Gia, Hannah and Leah were truly unforgettable in my experience. They made the experiences – whether we were at the Hole-In-One Golf Contest, Royal Court Ceremony or the Derby worthwhile.

  1. There is room for everyone. There are five Derby Princesses that have the special opportunity to represent something so much bigger than any of us individually. As a collective, we are stronger together.
  2. Be present. We have so many distractions in our world – our own personal challenges, social media, perfectionism. Take time when you are with people to be truly present in their company. There is so much beauty when we take a moment to engage meaningfully.
  3. Learn every day. As a Derby Princess, I was constantly learning something new. As a teacher, I hold true to this value and find joy in discovering something new.
  • This is a great opportunity to put yourself in a position to grow. I always say I am in the business of “getting better” in areas where I can grow as a person. This opportunity will challenge you, open new doors to you and shape you as an individual.
  • This is a great learning experience. The Kentucky Derby Festival is rich in tradition – what better way than to immerse yourself in a rich Kentucky tradition where you can learn so much about our state and meet the amazing people in it.
  • Lastly, this is a great scholarship opportunity. As the first in my family to go to college, I know firsthand just how expensive college can be. This is a great way to gain a scholarship while partaking in a fabulous experience.

My favorite Derby Festival event is JusticeFest. I was inspired to see kids across Louisville come together and share their solutions to issues that face their communities. I believe students should have more opportunities to lead in community events and I was proud to see students at the center of this event.

In many ways, my experiences as a Derby Festival Princess furthered my own skills and provided me with what I call a “stamina toolkit.” As a teacher, and as a Derby Princess, you are often interacting with folks for a longer period of time. Being a Derby Princess gave me insight on what an ambassador is and what their job may look like. As Miss Kentucky, I am on the road traveling from event to event and I have the toolkit to remain poised as I make appearances in this new capacity.

Prior to becoming Miss Kentucky, I had plans of teaching while pursuing my doctorate at the University of Kentucky. Given this new opportunity, I have time to pause and reflect on what’s next…which may be your next Miss America!