Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Here she is. This one's a head scratcher. My boss wants me to write an op-ed about it. Should I?

Pageantry takes a Crimson path: 2 Harvard grads vie to become Miss America as incumbent heads for campus

By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff, 7/8/2003

ancy Redd graduated from Harvard in June with honors in women's studies
and a resume that includes contributing to a new SAT guidebook. A
classmate, Laurie Gray, is a violinist who graduated summa cum laude and
is applying to medical school. The two have never met, but they will be on
the same stage in Atlantic City in September, competing to be the next
Miss America.

Redd is the reigning Miss Virginia, and Gray is Miss Rhode Island. Both
members of the Harvard Class of 2003 are vying to follow in the footsteps
of this year's Miss America, Erika Harold, who starts Harvard Law School
next year.

Elite universities have been represented in the Miss America pageant in
previous years, but two Harvard graduates vying for the crown of an
incoming Harvard student is almost certainly a first.

''Harvard students just set ridiculous goals for themselves,'' said Redd,
who in addition to her pageant victory has won a quarter-million dollars
on the television quiz show ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'' and was one
of Glamour magazine's ''Top Ten College Women'' in 2002. ''That's why they
do amazing things.''

The Harvard connection also illustrates how the Miss America organization
has updated its image over the years, a topic that both Gray and Redd
explored in academic papers before they began competing.

The comedy ''Legally Blonde'' made millions at the box office with its
premise of a runner-up in the ''Miss Hawaiian Tropic'' pageant going off
to Harvard Law School -- after her mother admonishes her, ''Law school is
for people who are boring and ugly and serious.''

But women like Redd and Gray say it makes perfect sense to be serious
about both school and Miss America.

First of all, winning a crown also can mean winning huge scholarships.
Harold, who graduated from the University of Illinois, earned $80,000 in
the course of competing -- $65,000 from the Miss America crown alone --
which she says will allow her to spurn high-paying corporate law to work
in the public sector. Gray took home $11,000 in scholarships for her state
win, and Redd won $17,000.

Then there is the ''platform.'' Since 1989, the pageant, which considers
itself a scholarship competition, has required contestants to develop an
advocacy platform on an issue of the day. Harold has spent the year
speaking out against youth violence, with occasional stops at rallies
promoting teen sexual abstinence. Gray is competing on a music education
platform, and Redd is promoting 4-H.

''I made it clear at the beginning of the year that I wanted to transform
what Miss America is about,'' Harold said in a phone interview. ''It
should be about a woman who is very interested in education and also in
using her visibility to put a spotlight on social issues that are not
getting enough attention.''

Gray's pageant career began in high school, when she found a scholarship
listed in her guidance office looking for a well-rounded young woman --
she didn't know it was a pageant. She ended up becoming Rhode Island's
Junior Miss.

She later contacted some pageant officials during her freshman year in
college -- not because she wanted to compete, she says, but because she
wanted to write a paper on the topic for an expository writing class. The
pageant officials urged her to enter, and she did, motivated by the chance
to win scholarship money. After several tries in Massachusetts, she won
Miss Rhode Island in April as a Harvard senior.

Redd says she had never participated in a pageant before this year, and
entered in part because being Miss Virginia -- a full-time yearlong job --
sounded better than an entry-level job after college. She pursued her win
vigorously, including losing 40 pounds off her 5-foot-5 frame. (She now
weighs 118 pounds.)

Redd said she received only positive feedback from Harvard's women's
studies faculty.

''This is what third-wave feminism is all about. Be a career woman, be a
stay-at-home mom, be Miss America,'' Redd said. ''You are in a swimsuit
and heels one time; the rest of the time you are out there representing
yourself as a sophisticated, intelligent person.''

Gray said she was glad that a classmate will be competing alongside her.
''I'm a little bit relieved I don't have to be `the Harvard one,' '' she

In Virginia, Redd has ascended to celebrity status. She has won such gifts
as an apartment, a laptop, cell phone, diamonds, and pearls. In Rhode
Island, Gray's gifts were along the lines of free dry cleaning.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/8/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.