Schoolbooks, tap shoes and a crown are the bare necessities for Miss America contestant, Miss Connecticut, Marla Prete.
Prete, a graduate student at Quinnipiac University, recently competed in the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, NJ. After being titled Miss Connecticut in 2003, she has worked hard in her reign and moved forward to the next level. She feels the University helped her during her time with the pageant, and although she was not named Miss America, she portrays a winning attitude that students can admire.
Quinnipiac was incredibly supportive of her by providing words of encouragement, Quinnipiac apparel for University day and an article in the daily Harold.
Prete said her classes also helped her learn valuable life skills.
“Quinnipiac’s physical therapy program definitely enhanced my time management skills,” she said. Prete also said that her experience as an orientation leader (OL) was beneficial.
“[It] gave me a unique ability to identify with different types of people and meet them on their own level,” Prete said.
Prete was also a cheerleader, community advisor, member of the PT club and a member of CICS, a community service scholarship organization.
Prete’s platform, “Know to say no to underage drinking,” is a very serious topic for her. “I commend Quinnipiac for their abilities to take a less than positive situation [and make the best of it], she said.
Prete knows, unfortunately, people learn from tragedy, and Quinnipiac dealt with many drunk-driving losses in a short period of time.
Prete said being an OL helped her inform incoming freshmen about the dangers of alcohol. She said young teens going into college do not always realize the effects of alcohol, but Quinnipiac does a good job offering alternatives to drinking and driving such as shuttles for safe transportation and campus events for the students to keep busy.
“Responsibility is so important,” she said.
Prete said she encourages students to be excited about education and getting involved on campus, and it is important to realize what school is really for.
Having already passed two laws, Prete plans to lobby for nationwide legislation banning open liquor containers in vehicles and lowering the legal blood alcohol content of drivers to 0.08.
Being a contestant and a student was not always easy, but Prete found prioritizing and staying organized helped.
“Always finish one project at a time before you move onto the next,” she said. Prete advises making lists to view the day’s responsibilities and feel accomplished as each activity is crossed off.
Her advice, “dare to be brave,” is about empowerment and believing in yourself. Prete said taking the first step is the hardest, but after she takes the initiative, she can accomplish anything. “[It] continually causes me to raise the bar. If I can help people take that first step, I’m more than willing to do that,” she said.
Prete is still trying to realize how much of a role model she is.
“I kind of chuckle,” she said, “I do possess a lot of qualities people would try to emulate. I’m very flattered.”
Prete said she tries to be the best person she can be, and she would love for others to be motivated by her passion in order to find their own and make a difference.
The day before the final results, Prete said, “I waited 22 years to get here and I just don’t want it to end.”
Prete said she was excited to return to Connecticut, although she will miss the glamour factor.
“Once this is over, it’s back to reality. The bills keep coming, even if you’re Miss Connecticut.”
Returning to school will be a new experience for Prete because of all she has experienced.
“I’m excited,” she said. ” I’m really enthusiastic to see people’s reactions. Although it will be sad to leave here, I really miss my roommate.”
She said although the final decision lies in the judge’s hands, she was surprisingly calm and remained positive.
“Some [of the girls] are very competitive but I want to do the best I can,” she said. “I want to walk away with no regrets.”
Prete also said although she is in competition with the other contestants, she is not afraid to compliment them.
“When someone is good at something I’m not afraid to let them know it.”
She said there is a strong comradery between all the contestants. “The saddest thing is that I will not wake up every day and see these girls,” Prete said.
Although the pageant was a very rewarding experience for Prete, she does not feel as though it has transformed her.
“I do not think it necessarily changed me, it just confirmed that I have a voice.”
The experience also gave Prete ideas from other states, in order to improve her goals.
In response to the stereotypes shown in movies such as Miss congeniality, Prete said, “Some of Miss congeniality is true. There’s always someone who trips. We’re all human. Sometimes people hold us to these standards, but we are not perfect.”
Prete had a very confident view of herself, which was helpful in remaining strong throughout the competition.
“I am just who I am. You can take it or leave it, but I’m not going to change,” she said. “If people are going to like you, you want them to like you for who you are and not who they think you are. You don’t have to play games. I’d rather lose Miss America being me instead of win being someone else.”
She said she has always given 110% of everything she has done, and never pulled out of a commitment.
“I give a lot of credit to my parents,” she said.
Prete said the highlights for her were the walk on the runway, and seeing her name on the signs and performing.
Prete went to Washington, D.C. and spoke with Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, as well as other officials, to present her ideas.
“I feel like I really laid down a strong foundation,” she said. Prete was invited back to pursue her proposals.
Even though Miss America is a scholarship program, there is also an emphasis on the beauty of pageant aspect of the competition.
The pageant began as a bathing beauty competition.
“It’s important to realize that Miss America is big on tradition,” Prete said. However, Prete did not feel the swimsuit portion was degrading to women and found it to be a vital part of the judging. “[Some people think] just because you’re intelligent, you can’t be beautiful. You can be both.”
According to Prete, there are plenty of opportunities to show off poise, confidence, intelligence, talent, and beauty for a well-rounded impression.
She said the swimsuit portion is not just bout appearance, but about how the women carry themselves. “When you truly enjoy what you’re doing, it emotes,” she said.
Prete said, “Miss America must not only be mentally in shape, but physically as well.”
She said the winner must be able to take care of herself in every realm.
“We all have very different body types, but we are fit for our body type,” Prete said. “It’s not you trying to emulate the body type you see. It’s not how skinny or how much you weigh, it’s ‘Do you take care of yourself to maintain stamina?'” she said.
Prete hoes to pursue a career in physical therapy and eventually own and operate her own practice incorporating both traditional and alternative medicine.
Her tap dancing talent has helped her in many ways. During the Miss Connecticut pageant, there was a glitch in the music, but Prete continued as though nothing was wrong. At the June press conference she said, “That’s what life is. Going on when you are faced with a challenge. The show must go on.”
Marge Dwyer, a family friend from her dance studio said, “She’s very dedicated. She was always a good team member.”
Approximately 250 of Prete’s fellow dancers, family members and friends attended the pageant to support her.
“I’ve known Marla since she was born and she’s always worked hard at what she’s done.” Said Stacey Eastman, teacher at Gloria Jeans dance studio. “She’s a really good role model and [she] sets a really good example for all the kids.
After the competition Prete remained positive.
“I’m feeling great,” she said. “I really wasn’t disappointed especially because Miss Florida was my best friend and Miss California and Miss Hawaii were also my best friends.”
Prete was genuinely excited for her fellow contestant to be crowned. “I cried so much when Erica won. I would have cried that much if I won,” Prete said.
Prete received a warm greeting when she returned to her apartment in Hamden. Her roommate decorated her door and her friends her friends relayed stories from the pageant.
“The people from Quinnipiac were amazing. I really had a great welcome when I came home,” she said.