By CASSIE SLANA
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — UCM alumnus Jenni Wahonick hopes to win the title of Miss Nebraska this summer.
Born into a military family in San Antonio, Texas, Wahonick grew up all over the world.
“We moved to Italy for a year, and then I went to Bellevue, Nebraska, San Diego and Los Angeles, and then Papillion, Nebraska, and then I came here to UCM because I’ve got some family in Higginsville,” she said.
Wahonick said she started competing in pageants because they looked fun and glamourous.
“My sophomore year of high school I did one, and my parents were like, ‘Please don’t,’ but I did it and I totally embarrassed them,” she said. “I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing. But, I really liked it.”
Following her first pageant experience, Wahonick began researching pageant culture on her own to prepare for competition the next year.
“I came back the next year and I did a lot better,” she said. “I didn’t walk away (from the pageant) with anything, but the director said, ‘I don’t know what happened this last year but what a transformation, I’ve never seen anything like that.’”
After the second pageant, Wahonick said she hired a pageant coach to help her polish her competition skills, like interviewing and talent.
“I used to dance for (my) talent,” she said. “There are some really incredible dancers, those girls who have done competition teams their entire lives, and it’s hard to compete with those girls as dancers, so I just wasn’t shining.”
Wahonick eventually found her talent through her oral interpretation class at UCM after performing a poem as an assignment. She said it went over really well in the class.
“I was like, ‘What if I just try this poem this one time at this one pageant? If I’m the weird poem girl, I never have to show my face again,’” Wahonick said. “And I did it and I got first runner-up and I got such great feedback from the audience and then I competed again and I won at a local competition last year.”
Although Wahonick found success at the local level last year as well as at the Miss Nebraska competition, she did not plan on competing this year.
“I had the money raised already for this year, we raise money for Children’s Miracle Network to compete, and I was like ‘OK, fine, I’ll just do this one,’ but I’m really happy I did,” she said. “And I’m going to compete with that same poem this year.”
Wahonick graduated from UCM in December 2016 with a degree in special education for severe developmental disabilities and a minor in dance.
Wahonick said her biggest influence while at UCM came from her sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha.
“There’s four points on the Miss America crown that stand for style, success, service and scholarship, and then there’s four pillars of Alpha Sigma Alpha and it’s intellectual, physical, spiritual and social. So, they really go hand in hand,” Wahonick said. “The sign of Alpha Sigma Alpha is a crown, and this idea of kind of seeking the highest and attaining it.”
She said it was interesting to see how the two organizations shared values, such as community service.
“Everyone in the Greek community has been super helpful and super supportive,” Wahonick said. “They’ve really been a driving force for my success.”
She said another reason she loved the Miss America organization so much was having the women in the organization as someone to look up to.
“It (is) this organization that really kind of pushes you to be better in a variety of ways,” Wahonick said. “The women are just kind, successful and confident, and they just have something special about them. I wanted to surround myself with people who I wanted to be like.”
Wahonick said it has been about a year since she got her last title as well as the responsibilities along with it.
Wahonick encourages anyone wanting to pursue pageantry to stay true to themselves.
“Don’t listen to what other people say about what you should wear, or what your talent should be. When you’re on stage about to present something, do that thing that you love to do, even if it’s not the popular choice,” she said. “Just be true to yourself.”