Student Spotlight: Michelle Taylor

September 3, 2013

Michelle TaylorHospitality and Restaurant Management major
Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska
Fun Fact: Dreamed of being a gymnast growing up

This year’s 2013 Miss Alaska, Michelle Taylor, is the first to admit she never thought she’d be competing in beauty scholarship pageants, much less be a Miss America contestant in Atlantic City on Sept. 15.

Like many, Michelle believed the stereotypes surrounding beauty pageants. It wasn’t until she attended a competition and followed some of the most famous beauty queens on social media that she realized it was much more than beautiful women wearing tiaras and fancy dresses.

“These women are well-rounded, poised professionals. They have great communication skills and want to be role models for young people in our nation. It’s inspiring that they take such an active role in the community, promoting their platforms and raising awareness to hot topics and issues we face in our country,” she says.

“I wanted to be one of those women.”

From pageant fan to royalty

It’s safe to say Michelle has achieved her goal of becoming a powerful, well-spoken and educated woman. Before she set out to win the Miss Alaska title, Michelle was in the audience, supporting and watching at the 2012 Miss Alaska Pageant.

She witnessed Debbe Eben, a contestant who shaved her head to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for childhood cancer research, win last year’s Miss Alaska Pageant; Michelle couldn’t help but feel inspired.

After receiving some advice from a family friend who won Miss Alaska in 1987, Michelle was ready to dive into the world of beauty pageants for the first time.

To get her feet wet, she competed in the 2012 Miss Anchorage Scholarship Pageant. At her first pageant, she finished as first runner-up.

“I was disappointed. I really wanted to win. I wanted to know everything I did wrong so I could work and practice and get better before the Miss Alaska pageant,” she says.

With her eye on the prize, Michelle admits she didn’t enjoy the pageant experience at her first competition, so at the 2013 Miss Alaska Pageant she was going to relax, mingle more with her fellow contestants and focus on the experience rather than the crown.

Miss Alaska 2013 First Walk“When I was called up for the top five in the Miss Alaska competition, I was going to be happy whichever way it went because I was so grateful to share this experience with the other contestants. I wasn’t as worried about placing in the competition, just learning from the other women and relishing in it.”

Michelle’s plan worked—she wowed the judges and was crowned Miss Alaska in June.

“I was completely surprised and honored. I couldn’t believe it. It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Before the tiara

Before she filled her days with pageant rehearsals and interview practice, Michelle spent time with her family and four siblings, and always managed to find herself in the kitchen baking.

“With cooking I could witness the fruit of my labor. I could see how people enjoy food and how it makes them happy. Plus, it was a great way to get a cookie every now and then,” she laughs. “Though they didn’t last long around my house with all of my siblings.”

Baking and fighting over baked goods were just some of the things that happened in the Taylor household. Homeschooled, she and her siblings were constantly involved in activities like tennis, piano lessons and volunteering.

“Being homeschooled allowed us to really get involved more in the community. We were able to get jobs earlier in life which prepared us for high school and college,” she says. “We spent a lot of time volunteering and serving in various ways through organizations such as the Food Bank. Looking back, I can now see how it shaped my character.”

Soon after she graduated high school, Michelle had a huge decision on her hands: go to UAA or attend a school in the Lower 48.

“Like a lot of local high school graduates, I wanted to go Outside to college and experience life beyond Alaska,” she admits. “Thankfully, I didn’t. Looking back, it was a wise decision to go to UAA.”

What was it that made Michelle want to stay in Alaska and attend UAA? “Easy,” she answers. “Scholarship money.”

Michelle, a UA Scholar, was awarded $11,000 for graduating in the top ten percent of all Alaska high schools.

“I was offered scholarships from other colleges, but it didn’t touch the $40,000 a year I’d have to pay to go there. UAA is much more reasonably priced and the scholarship was way more than I would get any where else.”

She enrolled at UAA in 2011, majoring in culinary arts. “The culinary arts program is amazing, but I had this feeling I was missing something.”

Working in hospitality and tourism for four years, Michelle had an inkling managing and working more with people face-to-face would suit her better than culinary arts.

“As much as I enjoy cooking, it wasn’t something I wanted to do day-in and day-out. I worked during the summers at a hotel talking with tourists and sharing Alaska with them. That was what I wanted to do—share how amazing this place is and use a myriad of skills interacting with people and manage a catering service.”

Michelle shifted her focus to hospitality and restaurant management in 2013.

Once she completes her courses at UAA, she will spend one year at an apprenticeship in the Lower 48 as a part of the degree program. There she’ll experience first-hand what it takes to manage a hotel and catering operation.

“I’m excited to explore my options and see what the future holds.”

Miss America’s national stage

Now that she’s just days away from the Miss America competition, every spare moment she has is spent rehearsing and practicing for the pageant of pageants.

This 20-something beauty—who stands at a graceful six-feet tall—spends two hours each day practicing the piano and many hours immersing herself in worldwide current events, formulating her 30-second responses about events, preparing herself to field tough questions during the competition. She’s also wrapping up the final touches of her wardrobe, which she says has been the most stressful, and, of course, working out with her personal trainer to make sure she is in top shape for the famous swimsuit competition.

“This year’s pageant is going to be huge,” she says. “I’m so excited to arrive in Atlantic City. The pageant has taken place in Vegas the past few years, so this is the first time to perform back in Atlantic City, where it all began many years ago.”

Though she’ll be the one on stage representing Alaska at the nationally televised event, she wants Alaskans to know it’s about them.

“It’s not all about Michelle. It’s about Alaska and representing the great state where we live. I couldn’t feel more lucky or honored to represent Alaskans.”

Encouraging youth to take a political stand

Michelle’s platform is “Youth Involvement in the Political Process.” She strongly believes getting youth involved early and informing them how they can be influencers in the political realm, even before they can vote, is crucial in our nation’s future.

“My goal is to help the youth of America become more active members in the political arena. Even if you’re not old enough to vote, you still have a voice that can and should be heard. It’s all about being informed, participating locally and learning about the resources young people can take advantage of.”

She encourages young people to do three things: find out what the hot button issues are in your area, be informed and take part in local political and city meetings and make your opinion known.

“We are fortunate to live in a nation where we can influence the decision-making in our government and have a voice on how our nation is run. Young people need to start early and learn how to take action,” she says.

Keeping calm before the storm

Michelle’s nerves are kicking in as the competition nears—less than two weeks away. When she walks on the stage in Atlantic City, as nerve-wracking as it may be, she will be confident as she knows her family, UAA and Alaska are backing her all the way.

“My mom and coach will be there cheering me on, as well as some family members that are driving up from New York and Delaware,” Michelle says. “UAA and the entire city of Anchorage have also been extremely supportive. I’m so grateful to have such an amazing support system as I prepare for my journey to New Jersey.”

Though she’s hoping and pulling for a win (and so are we), she’s determined to be enraptured in the once-in-a-lifetime experience and eager to make the forever friendships with other contestants.

“It’s the amazing women who want to make our world a better place that are giving me strength. The support from my family, friends, coach and community are reminding me to take in this experience and cherish all of the memories I will make.”

Taking a semester off to compete, Michelle admits she’s already missing being a student. “I do miss the classroom environment and seeing my friends, but I’m focused on the journey ahead.”

We’re eager for Michelle to return to campus and see the great things that are in store in her future.

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