MISSISSIPPI, OLE MISS
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More of the story: Miss Mississippi Marie Wicks talks about giving up the crown

marieIt took five attempts before Ocean Springs native Marie Wicks was crowned Miss Mississippi last year, proving that persistence pays off.

It’s funny how time flies.

“It feels like yesterday,” said Wicks, recalling that victorious moment in Vicksburg. “It’s been such an incredible year, and it’s really surpassed what my wildest dreams are of what it would be to be Miss Mississippi. I’ve gotten to travel to different cities and meet people I never dreamed I’d meet.”

One recent experience was visiting Camp Shelby. She met military members, received a combat uniform, drove a tank and learned how the National Guard trains for missions.

Wicks, 24, has also spent the last year promoting the Children’s Miracle Network and her platform eyeSTAR, an acronym for EyeSight to All Regions, raising awareness about visual impairments.

“I’ve done a lot of work with the Lion’s Club, organized free vision screenings and collected donated glasses,” she said, excited about the response.

She also wrote a children’s book called Myope about a lion who needs glasses that she’s selling to raise money for the Miss America Network, and she became the first Miss Mississippi spokesperson for the Better Safer Roads campaign in Mississippi, promoting highway development.

“I’m so humbled by seeing all the great work that people do in Mississippi in different areas,” she said.

Karen Jones, Miss Mississippi business manager, describes Wicks as a genuine person who has been organized, flexible and handled her year with class.

“She has made every event scheduled for her, and has always been on time and prepared, which is important,” she said.

David Blackledge, executive director of the Miss Mississippi Pageant, said Wicks is “caring and compassionate.”

“She has been an outstanding ambassador for our state,” he said.

Last January, Wicks competed in the Miss America Pageant in Los Angeles. Coincidentally, her roommate was Miss New York, the contestant who walked away with the crown.

The next Miss Mississippi will compete in September in Atlantic City, the original location of the pageant founded in 1921 as a Bathing Beauty Contest.

“Now, it’s the world’s largest scholarship provider for women,” she said.

Wicks said she’s learned a lot about herself over the year, and her faith has grown.

“It’s such a blessing to have been given this opportunity, and I just want to glorify God in everything that I do,” she said. “It has really strengthened my faith and my sense of purpose.”

Of her five years in the Miss Mississippi circuit, Wicks said the “greatest take-away is to not let disappointments and obstacles get in the way of your dreams.”

“I look back on each year I competed, and I think I might not have been quite as prepared to win at that point,” she said, “because each year I competed, I grew so much more as a person. I think that God’s timing is perfect.

“Competing five years really enriched my experience as Miss Mississippi. I got to know the people working for the program, and they became like family to me. I also realized how precious an opportunity it is to be able to do this.”

The new Miss Mississippi should realize she will be in a “unique position to be an ambassador, spokesperson and change-maker,” Wicks said. “I would encourage girls to keep trying and not give up,” she said. “Every time they get out there and speak their minds in an interview, they are improving themselves, and it’s going to pay off in some shape or form.

“I would also commend them for trying because this is one of the most transformational experiences I’ve had in my life, and I know every girl in this program competing this year has the qualifications and ability to be a fantastic Miss Mississippi.”

What will she do when her reign ends?

“I think, first off, I will be spending a couple of weeks closer to the ground and give my feet a rest,” she said. “My high heels may be in the closet for a little while. After that, I’m kind of exploring my options.”

She’s certain that she’ll be using some of her scholarship money to attend graduate school.

“I’m thinking of some combination of law and medicine,” said the University of Mississippi graduate who majored in international studies and French and minored in chemistry. She said she’s interested in ophthalmology.

“One of my favorite quotes is by William Faulkner, who said: ‘To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi,’ and I think that kind of captures my time as Miss Mississippi, because I have learned a lot about the world.”

Got a comment? E-mail me at endyanna@earthlink.com or Tweet me at @lareecarucker.

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