July 12, 2013 10:10:11 AM
Two local teenagers are heading to Meredian to compete in the Distinguished Young Women of Mississippi pagaent.
Formerly known as Junior Miss, the pagaent offers more than $44,500 in scholarships to contestants.
Cassidy Simmons of Lowndes County and Bobby "Bell" Hester of Starkville, both 17, will be competing in the event on July 18.
Simmons will be a senior at Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven and said she entered the contest to prove that every girl is beautiful. With a short blond pixie cut, Simmons said she wanted to break the mold of a stereotypical pageant girl.
"I'm a bit different than other girls," she said. "I have short hair and I go to a boarding school. I wanted to do it prove that someone different can be in something that's more of the girly, stereotypical Southern girl thing. It's my goal to prove that everyone is beautiful for who they are, for their uniqueness."
Simmons said that if she was chosen Mississippi's 2014 Distinguished Young Woman, she would see it as an honor.
"It's about being yourself and avoiding peer pressure and self-acceptance," she said.
Simmons said she feels her unique look and self-confidence gives her an edge in the competition.
"The program, when you think about, distinguished means setting apart from the others and I think I am definitely the definition of that," she said.
Hester, who is an upcoming senior at Starkville Academy, said she also sees the experience as an honor and said if she were to win, it would be "the cherry on top."
From her fitness routine to her talent portion to keeping up on current events, Hester said she has been preparing for the competition for months.
"I've enjoyed it," she said. "It's stressful, it makes me nervous, but it's more than I could ever ask for."
Hester said she was encouraged to participate in the program by her parents and teachers. Since entering the competition, she has volunteered at local charities in the Starkville area.
"It's an awesome way to volunteer," she said. "It's been a great experience for me."
While the two girls differ in their talents, Simmons dances and Hester plays piano, both girls exude confidence and grace that belie their youth. While they both admit they want to win for the scholarship money, each girl is modest about her accomplishments.
"I feel like any girl that wins it would be setting an example for Mississippi and I feel like that would be the most important thing to remember," Hester said. "I would feel honored that someone would choose me."
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah
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