Standing on a stage with four other young women, now dear friends of mine, with only a handful of Exeter residents in the audience was certainly not the traditional means of celebrating the coronation of Miss Exeter 2020. Yet, when my name was announced, the excitement and gratitude sensed for being selected to hold the title was just as previous Miss Exeters had felt.
Organized and funded by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, the Miss Exeter Scholarship Program is an opportunity for young women of Exeter who are seniors in high school to participate in community activities and serve as ambassadors for the town. It is also an opportunity to earn a scholarship to be used following high school graduation.
The 2020 Court is composed of Brooklyn Blackmon, Solmia Moreno, Samantha Reeder, Allison Paregien, and myself. Chamber executives Sandy Blankenship and Sarah Tyler and their fellow board members felt the need to continue the program in 2020 in spite of the challenges. “With COVID-19 restrictions making most of the Fall Festival activities impossible, everyone wanted to see the Miss Exeter program continue. Many young ladies look forward to participating in this personal development and scholarship program during their senior year, so with the help of the Advisory Committee, we worked to convert the program to a virtual format,” Blankenship said.
By tradition, high school seniors look forward to participating in the program because they are able to get an in-depth understanding of the needs of the town. “My encouragement to participate in the Miss Exeter program this year came from my knowledge of the program and what Miss Exeter is about,” Blackmon shared.
The candidates and I began attending meetings via Zoom in September, where we learned about the history of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, the town and its values. We were tasked with selling raffle tickets through an online platform to fund future events to be put on by the chamber. It was critical that we share the value of the chamber with community members, and the need to support the organization through this taxing time.
As the annual Fall Festival week with its parade and festivities were ultimately canceled in October, the Miss Exeter Coronation event was postponed until December 1. “Some things I’ve learned through Miss Exeter is how to persevere through difficult times and when things get tough,” Reeder said. The candidates did not falter despite several setbacks.
The members of the court learned how to present themselves to community members when selling raffle tickets on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, and were encouraged to interact with businesses around town while sporting custom-made Miss Exeter masks. We documented the Annual Scarecrow Contest by creating videos and taking pictures which were shared on social media, and had the opportunity to meet the business owners who hosted the scarecrows.
In November, the candidates learned how to go through a professional job interview, and were asked by the judges what we hoped for the future of the town, and how we might bring a new light to it during our tenure on the 2020 court. Moreno explained that this was a highlight of her Miss Exeter experience because “I thought that it was going to be all tense but it wasn’t, we laughed and had fun.”
On the evening of coronation, she and I recalled how long it felt to wait until the day of the coronation event, yet, when we put things into perspective, every moment spent via Zoom seemed to pass so quickly!
Although traditional town activities are in limbo, Paregien, who was named runner-up, says she has high hopes for the future of Exeter. “I am also very excited to be able to learn and grow with all the girls on the court this year through the program. It’s a blessing we were all able to participate despite the setbacks we have had from the pandemic.”
Ultimately, the Court and I are humbled to serve as ambassadors for the town. Reeder encapsulates our achievement perfectly: “I learned how to know in my heart, despite the outcome, that I am more than capable of conquering anything that comes my way,” she said.