Nebraska's own Miss America 2011 just another ambitious college student - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:41 pm
Nebraska's own Miss America 2011 just another ambitious college student

PURCELLVILLE, Va. (AP) — It's a startling contrast to some observers — the glamorous, bikini-clad Miss America from 2011, Teresa Scanlan, finding her home at the tiny, super-conservative Patrick Henry College. The school requires students to dress modestly and “seek parental counsel when pursuing a romantic relationship.”

But the match has been a good one. Scanlan returned to campus in late August to begin her sophomore year. Among the things she loves about her classmates and her campus: “I've never had to sign an autograph, and I've never had to take a picture. Here, I can be just another student.”

Blending in is not always easy for Scanlan, who won the Miss America Contest at 17, representing Nebraska. The youngest Miss America in more than 70 years, she spent a year fulfilling her duties and enrolled at Patrick Henry in 2012.

The school was established in 2000 with the goal of giving home-schooled Christian conservatives a foundation to help them effect change in government, the law and journalism.

The school started with 90 students and a single major — government. It is still a tiny campus in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C., but now has 320 students and five majors, including journalism, literature and history. The SAT scores of its students are comparable to top-tier state universities.

Scanlan, who came from a home-schooling family in Gering, says she has wanted to go to Patrick Henry since she was 8.

She said she's frustrated by stereotypes that some hold about Patrick Henry students. She recalled a recent photo essay published about the school that she felt went out of its way to depict students as cloistered weirdos. The reality, she said, is that while the students are Christian, they come from a variety of backgrounds.

“There's this idea that we don't struggle with the same problems, that we don't understand real world problems ... that everyone comes from wonderful, happy families, that we're close-minded and brainwashed,” she said. “That kind of pushes my buttons.”

The degree to which some people are willing to make snap judgments about her has occasionally taken her aback. The negativity she faced from anonymous Internet critics was hurtful.

“To have someone look at a picture of you and decide just based on that picture that they hate you, and that they're going to tell the world that they hate you — that takes some getting used to,” she said.

During her year as Miss America, she began to feel depressed and, at times, even suicidal. The depression continued during her freshman year, she said, when she found her coursework grueling. She earned a 3.75 grade-point average but was disappointed because she had set a goal of a 3.9 or higher, which she feels she needs to get accepted into Harvard Law School.

She reached out to her parents for help during her spring semester, and she's now taking fewer classes and worrying less about others' expectations.

“I'm finally starting to let go of some of the stress, some of the responsibility,” she said.

While she loves her school, she said she has occasionally received criticism from some there who feel the Miss America pageant, particularly the swimsuit competition, is not compatible with a Christian lifestyle. Scanlan respectfully disagrees.

“I have never violated my conscience. I was never compromising my morals,” she said. “For myself, I have never believed it's wrong for a female to wear a swimsuit that would show the same amount of skin as a man. It's a bit of a double standard.”

The school's founder and chancellor, Mike Farris, also said he received sporadic complaints that Scanlan's status as a Miss America was supposedly contrary to the school's code and values.

“I don't view getting into the pageant world to be incompatible with Christian values,” said Farris.

Kira Clark, a roommate of Scanlan's, described her as “a caring, incredibly ambitious, smart, compassionate person who puts her friends first.”

On the small campus, she said students don't dwell on the fact that Scanlan was Miss America.

“We see her as a sister we can be proud of, rather than a celebrity we can be taking advantage of,” Clark said.

Despite her plans to reduce stress, Scanlan remains ambitious. On her LinkedIn profile, she lists herself, among other things, as “2028 presidential candidate.”

Farris said Scanlan and many other Patrick Henry students set such goals and he encourages them to aim high.

“If they mess up and only get to be governors and senators, I'll live with it,” Farris said.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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