Shirley Fisher’s palms were sweaty as she stepped on stage and into the bright lights for the interview portion of the pageant. She said a quick prayer, asking for a peaceful mind.
“What do you know?” asked a judge.
“What do I know about what?” Shirley thought, panicking for a moment before silently reciting her inner mantra, “I’m the Queen, I’m the Queen, I’m the Queen.”
“I honestly don’t know much because I’m only 21,” she responded. “But I want to learn as much as I can from every experience.”
With that sincere answer, Shirley was crowned Miss Pennsylvania Coed 2010.
Shirley had been working toward this moment since her sophomore year of high school, when she opened a pamphlet in the mail and decided to try pageantry.
Only 10 pageants later – after not even making the top 15 contestants her first try – Shirley is competing for the National Miss American Coed title in Orlando, Fla., this November.
“Once you start, it’s about bettering yourself,” she said. “You see improvements each time.”
Before the summer of 2009, “bettering herself” meant frequenting the Hollywood Tans in her hometown every day, sometimes twice a day. Her obsession drove her to believe she was unattractive if she was pale.
Convinced by family and friends that her natural coloring was more beautiful than a fake orange glow, Shirley stopped tanning and adopted skin-cancer awareness as her pageant platform. The decision ultimately helped save her biggest supporter – her mother, Ana Fisher.
While researching skin cancer, Shirley pointed out a suspicious mole on her mother’s foot and suggested she have it checked. Because it was found at an early stage, the cancerous mole was removed, ensuring that Ana would be able to cheer her daughter on for years to come.
Ana, a native of the Dominican Republic, has difficulty talking about her daughter’s upcoming national pageant without getting emotional.
“She’s such a humble girl. I’m the one who always brags,” Ana said. “I tell her to wear her crown everywhere.”
Although Shirley debates Ana about trivial things such as clothes and hair, she sends her mother a text as soon as she gets offstage at every pageant.
“She’s always feeding me positivity,” Shirley said.
Ana is most proud of her daughter’s decision to help others throughout the pageant process. Shirley is a member of the American Cancer Society, volunteering at events and spreading awareness. During the summer, she was introduced to thousands of cheering fans at a Phillies game as part of Major League Baseball’s “Play Sun Smart” promotion.
“My pageants represent how much I’ve grown over these years,” she said. “I work hard for it, and it’s something that I believe in.”
– Julie Achilles
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