Today is my last day as Miss New Mexico USA.... I am honored to have been able to share this experience with you all.
Throughout my reign, what has resonated most have been the incredible people that I have shared my adventure with along the way. These elements mixed with my own path of self-discovery have truly shaped my experience. I have spent hours trying to summarize this past year. While this year cannot be limited to only ten moments, I wanted to share these particular ten with you all to give you a picture of the lessons I have learned, the growth I have made and the people who were part of it.
So, without further adieu….
Brittany’s Top 10 Moments as Miss New Mexico USA 2011
- Introducing my new role to my students. Nothing could have been more rewarding. I sat in front of an a.m. classroom and a p.m. classroom, each filled with 19 pre-kindergarten students, eager for learning and loving, on October 25th and presented them with a shiny crown and sash that was just as much theirs as it was mine. Their eyes lit up, their hands clenched with excitement and their little voices let out sounds of pure joy. At that moment I knew this was an adventure we were on as a team; we were each others’ biggest fans. From there my connection to my students and their families was taken to a whole new level as I proudly presented tangible evidence to our class motto: If you work hard you can do anything you want.
- The winning moment. Years of focus on a goal that was so meaningful to me finally came down to one moment. My road to Miss New Mexico was filled with lessons about myself: I had to ask myself what I stood for. It fortuned me relationships that brought unconditional support through and through. It made me eager for an opportunity to share my voice and represent the state that I love with every part of who I am. The winning moment was more than 12.3 seconds. Instead, it was an opportunity for reflection and gratitude for all that had led me to those fast, few seconds and a celebration with the many people who had traveled on this path with me.
- The road trip to Miss USA with my mom. Eight hours, one over packed CR-V, and the pursuit of our destination: Las Vegas along with the opportunity to represent the state of New Mexico at the 2011 Miss USA competition. We laughed. We cried. We listened to our favorite music, and we ate our favorite snacks (what do you mean “pageant diet?). I said “goodbye” to New Mexico and “hello” to Las Vegas Nevada at 6:34 p.m. on June 3rd 2011. We checked into our hotel, ordered a great, big, cheese pizza, and proceeded to steam every article of clothing that had been crammed into the backseat of my SUV. I fell asleep dreaming about bright lights, sequins, and that simple black and white “New Mexico” sash that I would proudly represent. I awoke the next morning to find a whole rack of freshly steamed clothes; my tireless mother had kept steaming. I got ready, submitted my last piece of work to my school district as Ms. Toll, and I said goodbye to my beautiful mother. I navigated my way to the Planet Hollywood Resort, a place I would call home for nearly three weeks. With butterflies in my belly, peace in my heart, and my dreams at my fingertips I was ready to make it all a reality. This will forever remain one of my fondest memories of a road trip with my best friend, only a small glimpse into the support she has given my entire 25 years of life.
- Leading the “Cupid Shuffle” and “La Macarena” at the 2011 Inaugural Children’s Ball with Lexi, Miss New Mexico Teen USA, and the Honorable Susana Martinez. It was an honor to be invited to such a celebrated event by New Mexico’s first female governor. I learned that when newly elected Governor Martinez suddenly requests you on stage to help lead a line dance-- you do not hesitate, regardless of your poor coordination and mild stage fright. Lexi and I eagerly pranced to the stage and began dancing, laughing, and sharing an extraordinary moment. I am thankful to my sweet Miss New Mexico Teen USA, Lexi. First for not making fun of me for my legitimately terrible dance moves, but mostly to have shared this incredible moment with a beautiful girl whom I admire and adore on so many levels for her kind heart and limitless smile. This moment captivates the many incredible experiences we’ve had together this year and I am so fortunate to have had such a wonderful, selfless and caring young woman.
- The daytrip to Cloudcroft with my directors, Belia and Curtis. It was the holidays and when a fire devastated this quaint little mountain town, Belia & Curtis immediately felt the urge to do something. We saddled up and headed north to lend a hand to a community that I will forever consider a second home. We spent the whole evening talking with community members, running into old friends, and offering our support to rebuild the town in the spirit of the holidays. We were privileged to connect with the community in such a powerful way and we learned so much from the people there and their unconditional love for one anther. Additionally I realized that I have been so blessed to have been paired with such a wonderful set of directors not only once but twice. I’ve loved every moment that I have shared with these two individuals. Our trip to Cloudcroft represents only a small testament of their never-ending devotion to service and community. My year is indicative of their work as well-- all that they have inspired me to do and become. For that, I am eternally grateful.
- The day my students chose the color of my gown for Miss USA. It was very important for me to let my quirky little four and five-year-old students to play a significant role in my reign. When preparing a lesson for them on graphing, I decided to let them choose the color of my gown for Miss USA so that this experience was as shared as possible. I showed them a YouTube video of the gown segment at a previous Miss USA pageant and they could hardly hold in their excitement. “That’s gonna be you Ms. Toll?!” they asked giddily “Oh my gosh!” exclaimed Zachariah as he turned to Xavier. I was humbled, yet again, with the realization of who I was in the scope of their little lives. I laid out the entire classroom set of crayons and let each of them decide the color of my dress. They each colored in a square on the graph and then stood by in anticipation as the votes rolled in. With two-thirds of my students being boys, it made perfect sense that the majority of my students envisioned me in blue. And what do you know? That gown was the most beautiful gown in the history of gowns. I wore it with pride knowing that 38 of the most important individuals in my life invested their hearts into what they believed would make Ms. Toll shine like a star. Even in their absence I felt the love of each of them as I twirled and paraded on that glamorous stage one warm, June evening. I will never forget that feeling.
- The people. For lucky number seven I have no clever way to categorize this moment, or rather the countless moments, other than to say how grateful I am for the people in my life and the year that invited new people into my adventure. The endless phone calls, conversations, emails, flowers, hand-written letters, Facebook messages, Tweets and so forth are beautiful reminders of how blessed I am. Additionally, not much can rival an audience in which over 90 seats are occupied by some of the most amazing people you have ever known. You know who you are, you traveled from all over the country… from New York, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Texas to sit in that audience. You represented a variety of sub-groups; Zeta sisters, Teach For America co-workers, family, former pageant queens, college, high school, and even middle school friends and the list continues. You all came with a common link, to support a daughter/friend/sister/roommate/coworker/etc, and her ambitions. You are selfless, loving, brilliant, supportive, helpful, and amazing. I am the product of what your love has helped me become. This experience would not have been nearly what it was if it was not for you and the passion for love you each radiate.
- My Miss USA Send-Off party with a surprise guest. Preparation for Miss USA, given its prestige and impact, brings stress and exhaustion. It felt like one hurdle after another: an evening gown that was too small, the balancing act of teaching my students, and the process of self-discovery (while ensuring I stayed healthy, and prepared to sport a swimsuit on national TV). The months of preparation were all put into perspective one mild May evening in my hometown of Las Cruces. Nearly 60 people gathered to share beautiful words of love and support as I approached one of the most unique adventures of my life. The room was filled with smiling faces: countless former Miss New Mexico USAs and Miss New Mexico Teen USAs, families, neighbors, friends, former judges, hair dressers and endless supporters. But the most humbling support of all? My high school principal, Bob Ogas. It was a night I will never forget. This intimate opportunity enabled me to not only express my gratitude, but also to discover that the true value of this opportunity was not found in the perfect dress or the right shade of highlights. I realized that it was found in the love of the ones I carried with me day after day… the ones who have always seen great things in me, even when I did not see them in myself—even in my awkward high school days. I love you all. You know who you are.
- Being featured on Gala Darling’s blog. It is no secret that Gala Darling (of galadarling.com) is one of my idols and has been for years. She is a symbol of “radical self-love” and everything I aspire to be as a confident and inspiring woman in today’s world. I could not believe that she invited me to do an interview on her blog. Did that really happen? I felt so comfortable and proud to be honest about myself and my experiences. I was humbled by the words she wrote along with the amount of people my voice was able to reach. The emails came pouring in, and they were incredibly warm and inspiring. My roommate and I would smile from ear to ear as I would read them out loud to her. One in particular continues to stay with me: a Navajo woman now living in Phoenix wrote me an email that radiated honesty, respect and bold reflection. She shared many feelings with me that enlightened my perspective on life and the power of my voice.
- Placing Top 16 at Miss USA and being named America’s Choice for the Miss USA title. There is something so humbling about millions of people believing in me and logging onto NBC.com and MissUniverse.com to cast their vote. Sometimes I am overwhelmed just imagining the amount of people who took the time to learn about me, invest in me, and support me. It was more than I could have even dreamed of as a way to sum up my experience at Miss USA. My voice made an impression that I never knew it could, my efforts were not unnoticed and my heart will forever hold endless amounts of love and gratitude. As I stood up there in the Top 16 line up, I knew I was not alone. I felt the presence of everyone who had been on this journey with me: everyone who had sent an email, who had posted a link on Facebook, who had texted to others about why New Mexico deserved to be represented on that national stage. I loved the community that my placement reflected and the reminder of the many people I have been fortuned to connect with. As one of my teaching friends once said in a mass email she sent to her family back on the east coast: “One of my closest friends here, Miss Brittany Toll, is in the running for Miss USA. I realize that you may find it impossible to believe that I'm friends with a beauty queen. I still do too actually, but this woman is absolutely fabulous...”
I know it has been quite the adventure, because even as I review these top ten moments, I am reminded still of other great moments as well: floating in a hot air balloon, sponsoring an athlete and being by her side for her big race in the Special Olympics, being recognized at the 2011 legislative session as a notable community leader of Gallup, presenting awards at the GLTB annual awards banquet with my roommate Julia, receiving the honor of being wrapped in a traditional Navajo blanket at the Miss Navajo Teen pageant, experiencing my first photo shoot with Lexi, sharing my experiences on happybrittany.com, learning endless life-lessons from Belia, my trip to NYC (and seeing Gloria!), a weekend with Jill and Alina, the adventures at Miss USA with my favorite new beauty queens, being a bridesmaid in Jenna’s wedding, and connecting with the people of my beloved state and across the country. Whether it was as extravagant as meeting the governor or as sweet and simple as reading a Dr. Seuss book at a local elementary school, not one second of this year has been lost. Just as the night of Miss USA, I felt my students with me as I wore that blue gown, I will wear the love and experience I have shared with all of you as I go forward.
Miss New Mexico USA 2011