The Miss Hartford High Beauty Pageant offers more than a tiara
By Robert Cooper
June 19, 2008
At first glance, the 2008 Miss Hartford High Beauty Pageant looked like a typical beauty pageant. You know the formula: a group of beautiful girls, put them in some evening gowns, give them a talent, let them answer a question, and then— Boom!—a winner is chosen. But peel away that superficial outer casing, and this pageant was much more than that, showcasing eight beautiful, ambitious and intelligent young women from different countries.
The event was made possible by Catholic Charities and was coordinated by Esther Thomas, who helped the young ladies with posture, presentation, and confidence for the show.
"These young ladies were wonderful to work with," said Thomas, who is also the host of the public access TV show Island Riddims. "Some we had to start from scratch, but in the end it worked out great."
Etiquette is not the only thing the young ladies learned. They also learned how to put together a resume and how to conduct themselves in an interview. That lesson was put to the test when all of the contestants were interviewed by American Airlines, with one being chosen by the interviewer based on their performance. Afterward they had a luncheon with the AA's managing director Kip Hamilton.
"What I wanted these girls to take away from this experience was self-respect, perseverance, manners, etiquette, and, most importantly, life-skills," said Thomas who also served as the pageant's host.
All eight of the girls got the chance to show their family and friends all they learned from their months with Thomas at the pageant, which was held at the high school on June 6, with first prize being a round ticket trip to any Caribbean island. The multi-cultural contestants were Nikita Kisstoo of Guyana, Ashley Vargas, Barbara Moret, Xiomara Colon, and Keysa Mateo, all of Puerto Rican descent, along with Onika Dawson from St. Thomas, and Lindsey Owens.
After culturally rich dance performances, each of the contestants introduced themselves while relaying their future career plans. The contestants hope to become lawyers, pediatricians, psychologists, and judges.
Each of the young ladies wore unique traditional outfits for the creative casual wear portion of the show. Kistoo sported a black and gold ensemble that accented her Eastern Indian background by way of Guyana; Mateo wore a dress perfectly fitted for a representative of Puerto Rico, and Dawson's umbrella made a perfect companion for her Virgin Island-inspired plaid skirt and matching head scarf.
Although the show's main focus was on the ladies' vying for Miss Hartford High, a memorable section was dedicated to paying tribute to the mothers of the contestants.
In the end, the Judges chose Onika Dawson as Miss Hartford High 2008. Dawson said she plans to use the ticket for a vacation to St. Croix, but, more importantly, she plans to use what she learned from Thomas and the pageant in her life.
"I learned to have confidence in myself," said Dawson. "I learned to be a fighter, and to never give up."