Fri 06.08.2021 – 16:34 | By: David Tisdale
University of Southern Mississippi (USM) alumnus Vivian O’Neal came away with lots of positives from her performance at this year’s Miss Mississippi pageant in Vicksburg, including one of the top prizes in the event, graduate funding and a renewed confidence in herself and her abilities.
O’Neal, who entered the contest as Miss University of Southern Mississippi, placed first alternate in the contest and won the event’s quality of life award and scholarship.
“After a three-year waiting period, to say that I was grateful to be back in Vicksburg (for the competition) is an understatement,” said the Pine Belt resident who earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the USM in 2020. “All the nerves I had had been quickly replaced with the joy and gratitude of being surrounded by the most amazing women, production staff, board and volunteers.
“I’ve been a performer since I was three, so it was also nice to come back on stage to do what I love, especially as a representative of my beloved alma mater.”
While a student at USM, O’Neal was a member of his famous Dixie Darlings dance team and the Alpha Omicron chapter of the Phi Mu sorority, among other organizations. She will use the scholarship to pursue a masters degree.
The Quality of Life Award recognizes the competitor with the most impactful social impact initiative; O’Neal’s is the Able program, which has been taught to over 5,000 students in four states, and she plans to continue engaging with Mississippi students and educators through this program.
Able provides education stakeholders with solutions to bridge emotional learning for all students, including people with disabilities. The initiative focuses on celebrating the differences between students, eliminating stigma and fostering diversity.
“I am particularly excited to see this particular field grow and continue to establish programs that promote inclusion in classrooms across the country,” she said.
O’Neal said Miss Mississippi Week is an exponentially growing learning experience, and failure to make the event’s top 15 in previous years to nearly win the title has made him builds confidence.
“It was so humbling to see the hard work pay off, even after one of the most difficult years our country has known,” she continued, referring to the impacts of the global pandemic. “I came out of this year’s competition being a better and more confident person, dancer and communicator, along with scholarship funds and a whole new set of goals and opportunities.
“As for the future, O’Neal says if the past year has taught him anything, it’s that ‘plans rarely turn out the way you want them to.’
“That being said, I continue to look for opportunities for growth, but ultimately following God’s example.”