One doesn’t need a crown in order to be a role model, Miss Tennessee 2015 told Truman High School students on Monday.
Hayley Lewis, a 2011 graduate of Truman, represented The Volunteer State in the 88th annual Miss America beauty pageant this past September where she placed sixth overall. The Belmont University student in Nashville was back home in Independence for Easter and visited her old Foundations of Leadership class at Truman to encourage the future student leaders how impactful they can be to their peers without having accolades or previous recognition; plus she dispelled some preconceived notions about beauty pageants in general.
“Many have a skewed perception on pageantry,” she told Angie Zarrillo’s fifth hour Leadership class. “Vanity and egotism maybe true to an extent, but it provides scholarships in exchange for (community) service and where you have the opportunity to give back to a charity.”
Lewis said that since being crowned Miss Tennessee last summer she has visited three schools daily talking to students about character building, plus a hospital or charity appearance every night throughout the state. Being the state beauty queen in Tennessee is the equivalent of having the official state spokeswoman title, she added.
The Truman alum got her start in beauty pageants just over two years ago when a friend of hers suggested she participate in a local beauty pageant with a $500 cash prize. Being responsible for her own tuition and housing, she decided “why not?” She eventually went on to win three more throughout Tennessee that ultimately led to the state crown.
“It’s really a full-time job,” said her father, former Truman football and track coach Craig Lewis, on his daughter’s title during Monday’s speaking engagement.
He also said that he has never seen someone so disciplined and dedicated as his daughter, along with the other women, competing in Miss America – and that's from someone who has coached athletes for many years. Three months prior to the Miss America pageant, Hayley was preparing for any type of question a judge might ask during the interview portion of the competition and exercising – all while subsisting only on carrots, kale and tilapia; a fish, she said, that she will never eat again.
“They even monitored my water intake!” Lewis said about the Miss America staff before the bikini portion of the pageant. It was also a part that was especially nerve-wracking considering your parents are watching you on stage in only a bikini and 5-inch heels, she added.
A “mental toughness” was crucial to be competing on a national stage, she recalled. “You prepare yourself so much for that moment (on Miss America).”
Despite being in front of millions of television viewers, one of Hayley’s fondest memories as Miss Tennessee was when she visited a terminally ill 8-month-old baby at a children’s hospital. The baby’s family and medical staff pressed her to sing a song from the Disney movie, “Frozen.” They said the soothing sounds could lower the baby’s frequently rapid heart rate.
“I was really insecure how I was going to make a difference,” she recalled.
But when she belted out a couple of lines from a song in “Frozen,” the baby’s heart monitor went down.
“Then I was kicking myself for being insecure,” she told the Leadership students.
Hayley credited her Leadership class for helping get to where she is at today. She stressed to students to never be reluctant to do something out of their comfort zone because the simplest act could make the biggest difference.
Although people simply listen to her because she is a real-life “princess,” Zarrillo’s class allowed her to form habits that has led to her success. Those habits of success start right in high school, she said.
“You’re already driven, successful and the cream of the crop,” she told the Leadership students. “You don’t need a crown to be a role model. Your peers will listen to you.”
Lewis described herself in high school as a “dork” and recalled a time when she was terrified of getting behind a microphone to speak to the entire student body during a pep rally. If it wasn’t for Zarrillo pushing her to confront her fear, she said, she probably would not have been able to sing “I Who Have Nothing” on national television during the pageant.
“You already have the tools and resources here at Truman to catapult you. There are teachers here who will invest in your future.”
The dork who later turned into a beauty queen found her clique in the Leadership class, which allowed her to gain confidence to participate in her high school’s musical productions, track and cross country teams.
Zarrillo said her Leadership Development course is designed for students to provide them the opportunity to unlock their leadership potential. Some skills that are learned include self-awareness/self-esteem, goal setting, problem solving, communication and networking. The classes, along with Truman’s Student Council, plan the majority of events held at the school, she added.
“I was so proud to have Hayley here to see her success and the beautiful person she has become, inside and out!” said Zarrillo. “She has grown on so many levels! She has so many wonderful things to say about her experiences from here and beyond that have shaped her and I love that she knows her roots and what is important...”
It’s already been full circle for Hayley in just the little over four years since she has been in high school. After she passes the crown to the next Miss Tennessee this summer, she will complete her degree in music business at Belmont and she hopes to work in the “professional side” of the music industry.