"Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. For what the world needs is more people who have come alive."
-Howard Thurman

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Keep Your Eyes On The Stars And Your Feet On The Ground." ~Theodore Roosevelt

Hello Virginia!                                                                                                                     10/22/10

     I must admit that I have been putting off writing this newsletter, not because I wasn't beyond excited to share some of my thoughts and experiences as I embark on this crazy wonderful adventure, but because I knew there was no way to do justice to my experiences over the past three months translating them into words, and trying truly seemed like a daunting task. How do I even begin to describe what it feels like to have a dream come true? To have an entire year to do what I love most in this world: serve and connect with others; to travel a commonwealth I am so proud to call home, meet people who I would have never had the opportunity to meet, hear their stories and be blessed by their smiles and hospitality; have experiences that will forever change me and my perspective on life? How do I even begin to encapsulate this adventure in a newsletter? Well, I hope you will all bear with me as I try. It is amazing that my first quarter as Miss Virginia has already come and gone, and it has been quite the ride.
     My first month being Miss Virginia was a whirlwind of change and excitement. After being crowned, I felt like I was in a bubble the rest of the night. It was so overwhelming and surreal: so many hugs and congratulations, tears, kind words, camera flashes everywhere. Someone pinch me- no don't...if this is a dream, I'm not ready to wake up. The first time I had a moment to myself was for a bathroom break, and there I was for the first time, able to soak it all in a bit: sitting in a bathroom stall in an evening gown with a crown on my head (quite the mental picture, I know). I emerged from the stall, staring at my reflection in the mirror over the sink. Yes, that was really me wearing the Miss Virginia crown. I stared and stared. I had always had Miss Virginia up on a pedestal-she seemed untouchable and invincible, able to spread light by simply walking in to a room. Now, I was this person, this person who I had built up so much beyond myself the last few years. It was confusing to try to reconcile the two in my mind, but my reflections would have to wait. “Caitlin?” Yes, there was a security guard waiting outside the ladies room for me (who's life is this?!), “Are you alright in there?” “Yes” I replied, “I'm just staring in the mirror.” He chuckled, “That's normal” he said, with a little smile on his face as I walked back out into the hall. It was time to rejoin the crowd in the ballroom. It was time to celebrate with those who had given so much of themselves to support me, who had become my sisters, my friends, and my family. It was time to rise to the challenge, to spread my own light- to be the Miss Virginia I knew I could...the one I knew I was.
     No, I didn't sleep with the crown on my first night. However, I did place it on the pillow next to me, where it slept my whole first week so I could make sure it was still real when I opened my eyes in the morning. That first night, though, it didn't get to stay there for long. After an hour and half of sleep, it was time for my first television interview, after which I returned to the Hotel Roanoke for a brunch and reception in the Governor's suite (and another rooftop interview!), followed by a business meeting, and introduction to my new Miss Virginia apartment in Roanoke. And so it began: media interviews, sponsor visits, Miss America paperwork, business meetings, and appearances. I am often asked what my favorite appearance has been, and I learned quickly that this was a hard question to answer, because often they are meaningful for very different reasons, and so, although I have a million stories and could probably write an entire newsletter about each appearance I have done (if you haven't noticed yet, I'm rarely at a loss for words), I have chosen to share a bit about a few of these different types of appearances.
     Some appearances are meaningful because I feel very connected with our commonwealth. While in the greater Richmond area for my “homecoming tour” in July, I had one such day, when I received a personal tour of historic Polegreen Church from Delegate Chris Peace. It was a very memorable day and a touching experience to be so close to a very important piece of both Virginia and American history. As Virginians, we should be very proud of our first governor, Patrick Henry, for standing up for religious freedom and playing an essential role in the right to exercise one of the most quintessential liberties that all Americans enjoy today. To read more about my visit to Polegreen, please visit: http://www.mechlocal.com/index.php/news/article/miss_virginia_visits_hanover_county/4821/
     Other experiences make me feel very patriotic and connected to American history and tradition. I have found myself dancing with children on a warm evening, listening to a country music band or watching a fireworks display in small town, Virginia, and just feeling a nostalgic sense of pure Americana. Working with Honor Flight and the USO have offered days where I am both overwhelmingly proud to be American, and to be Miss Virginia, representing the home of so much American history, remembrance and honor of our heroes, and venerable tradition. I have had the opportunity to look our past and present servicemen and women in the eyes, offering hugs, and most importantly a heartfelt “thank you.” I have experienced so many special moments on these days, including one with 5-year-old Olivia at a wounded warriors luncheon at the Pentagon as she showed me her father's medal.
"Do you know what that means?"I asked her. "No,” she replied. "It means your father is a real hero” I told her. Thank you to all those who share their heroes with America!
I am very passionate about my work with Honor Flight, a program I have worked with for a few years, that flies World War II veterans from across the nation to visit their World War II memorial in Washington, DC, free of charge. One of the most touching moments I have had as Miss Virginia was during an Honor Flight appearance. I was greeting World War II veterans as they disembarked their plane at Reagan National Airport, and watched as a little girl who couldn't have been older than five, spontaneously ran up and hugged one of the lady veterans in her wheel chair. It brought tears to my eyes, and I asked the little girl if she wanted to join me greeting. I gave her my flag to wave and she said "thank you service" to one of the veteran heroes as he came off the plane. I'm sure it is a moment he will never forget: a thank you from an American of our youngest generation to one of our oldest. It is certainly one I will never forget. Moments like these capture what it means to be American more than any words ever can.
     There are days where I am rocked to my core, so deeply inspired. Working with CMN (look out for another entry I have written about that to pop up soon!), wounded warriors and veterans, recently speaking at a domestic violence event in downtown Roanoke and the “true love waits” youth rally in Thaxton, school visits, kicking off YADAPP (Virginia ABC's Youth Leadership Conference), and presenting at the Virginia General Assembly's Commission on Youth meeting, are a few of the experiences that have left me reflecting far after I leave.
     Then there are those days that are just an adventure! I have tried my first bite of crab meat, ridden a mechanical bull, gotten lost on a back dirt road where I simultaneously almost went over a cliff and hit a wild turkey, found myself without a towel my first night in my new apartment and dried off after my shower with a dishtowel (thank you for leaving that Chinah!), gotten stuck behind the longest train of life trying to save myself probably $0.50 by avoiding a toll road, walked up a million stairs to slide down the super slide at the fair on a burlap sack in a dress and heels, rode the Griffon at Busch Gardens (and I am petrified of roller coasters!) three times in a row on a roller coaster car filled with sailors and marines, danced the “iggle wiggle” at a youth conference, been proposed to by a world war II veteran, met Mickey and Minnie at Disney World with my Miss America sisters, turned on the bath at a hotel in full crown and sash to quickly shave my legs only to get soaked (it was still in shower mode- oops!) and so many more little moments that make me laugh to think about.
Being Miss Virginia is an adventure, and at the end of the day, no matter what kind of experience I had, it's about having a passion for people and a passion for inspiring and mobilizing those around you towards positive change. Its about being present, making people feel valued, and leaving every person you meet feeling like you cared about being there and meeting them. It's about not only using your strengths and talents for good, but helping others to see and utilize their strengths. It's about believing your voice matters and using it to advocate for causes that are important to you. It's about realizing how small you are in this world, but knowing that you can still make your mark- acting as if what you do matters, and knowing it can It's about being driven. It's about living, learning, growing, and developing as a more well-rounded and deeper person poised to be an engaged citizen and servant leader.
Being Miss Virginia is indescribably amazing. It's a job. I knew that coming in. And it's work. I knew it would be. It's tiring and it can be overwhelming, but it's worth it.
     Everywhere I go, people get excited to see me. Of course I know it has something to do with the crown on my head, but it is such an amazing feeling to have the ability to make people happy and excited everywhere I go, to brighten up their day, and make them feel special. What an incredible gift it is for my job to be centered around bringing light and hope to people's lives; to be able to dedicate an entire year to reaching out to people and advocating for positive change.
     Moving forward, I will try to write more regularly so that I can share more in depth some of incredible experiences I have, and some of the funny ones too. I'd also like to use this space to share some of my reflections and inspirations as I travel. I want everyone reading this to know that I am grateful everyday for your love and support. I understand that in my work, I represent you all, and I am proud to have such an amazing support system behind me. I also know that I continue to have “high heels” to fill, if you will, as I follow some amazing young women in this job, and although I will never walk the same path that they have, I am paving my own, and I am ready to strut.
     This coming week, I am excited to present ten school assemblies, speak at the Family Self Sufficiency Meeting in Fairfax, interview with Cable 12 in Glade Hill, ride in the Boydton Day parade, and end the week surrounded by family and friends as I pass on the Miss Greater Richmond crown. If anyone is in the Richmond area, I would love to see you at the pageant! Well, it looks like it is time to hit the road again as I head to Richmond for “Humanity Helping Sudan”! I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful fall weather and getting your costumes all set for Halloween! I'm not sure exactly what mine will be yet...but I have a feeling it may involve a crown.

Love Always,