As 16-year-old Carissa Wagner stood on stage closing out her first pageant, the first runner-up’s name was called. Suddenly, a thought entered the teenager’s mind.
“I either won, or I didn’t get anything,” Wagner said.
Any doubt was quickly erased as the announcer proclaimed Wagner would hold the title and the crown of Miss Pierce County Outstanding Teen.
“I was speechless,” the Emerald Ridge High School sophomore said. “I zoned out. I couldn’t even express my emotion. I had no idea I was going to win because all of the other girls are so amazing.”
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Carissa’s mother, Barb Wagner, originally got the teen hooked on pageants. Wagner served on the Miss Pierce County Outstanding Teen board, and then began chaperoning the pageants backstage. As a chaperone, Wagner ensured the girls’ hair looked just so, their dresses were on point, and most importantly, ready to compete for scholarships. Carissa eventually joined in on the chaperoning fun with her mom, and finally decided she wanted to give the pageant a shot.
Once Carissa decided to participate in her first pageant, preparations began. Proving her natural communication abilities, Carissa read one book filled with pageant questions. However, thanks to her mother’s involvement, Barb helped train Carissa with perfecting the walk.
“All of the life skills is mainly what I’ve gotten out of this,” she said.”I got scholarships and so many life skills that I will have forever that will help me got jobs in the future as well.”
For her victory, Carissa was awarded a scholarship for $1,000, and another from the Toastmasters organization once she won an optional speech competition, as well as Pump Your Platform for her vast knowledge of her platform, iDance4aCure to end childhood cancers.
Carissa hopes to put all of that scholarship cash to good use, since she has her eye on Southeastern University, outside of Tampa, Florida.
“They have a communications degree with an emphasis in broadcast,” she said. “I think that would be really fun.”
This year, the Miss Pierce County Outstanding Teen pageant, a part of the Miss America Organization, had 12 contestants. Typically, the girls have questions or need assistance from co-directors Michele Kronlund and Jennifer Goble. Wagner, however, had everything she needed down pat.
“Carissa came in and we barely had any comments or questions for her at all,” Kronlund said. “It was just really well done. She was so ready to go.”
According to Kronlund, Carissa’s biggest strength was the six-minute interview portion of the pageant, which was held Feb. 21 at Curtis High School.
“Carissa was 12th out of 12 contestants, and the judges were tired,” she said. “Carissa smiled and was glad to see them. She was so friendly with them that it brightened up their evening. That helped us see that she was very engaging with these strangers. She really knew her material, she knows a lot about childhood cancer and was very aware of the issues in the world. For someone who’s 16, you’re not always paying attention to the world news. Carissa is very well versed in what’s going on.”
Now that Carissa won the title of Miss Pierce County Outstanding Teen, she will go on to compete at the Miss Washington Outstanding Teen pageant later this spring.
The Outstanding Teen program is part of the Miss America Organization, which according to Kronlund, is the largest organization that gives scholarships out to women all over the world, with over $45 million up for grabs. It is far more than the typical beauty pageant.
"It’s not just what you see on ‘Toddlers in Tiaras’ where you win a giant crown and go home, or don’t win and cry about it,” Carissa said. “You have to be smart, be able to communicate well with other people.”