Smart, confident and articulate women were the winners at this year’s Miss America pageant. The competition, which boasted 53 contestants from the United States, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, featured women vying for a crown, as well as a $50,000 scholarship, Sunday in Atlantic City.

The pageant differed greatly from those in the past, when contestants were indeed beautiful, albeit in a swim suit, evening gown or while performing their chosen talent, but with less emphasis put on brains. This year, however, contestants had swagger with a “bring it on” or “we can do it” kind of attitude that should prove inspirational for girls across the country. The pageant’s eventual winner — Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, 24, Syracuse — is beautiful and intelligent. She plans to be a physician like her father, and is confident, polished and reflects America’s characteristically diverse background. Davuluri is of Indian descent with her parents hailing from India. She wasn’t the only one knocking down stereotypes Sunday evening though.

Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, 22, a senior at Kansas State University, proudly represented the Sunflower State, as well as the U.S. military, by her presence. A tattoo of the Serenity prayer down her side was one of two tattoos Vail showed during the competition, but those were far from the only stereotypes she broke. Vail is a beauty who also is a member of the Army National Guard now serving as a dental technician with the National Guard medical detachment in Lenexa. She just signed up for another six-year stint. She also is an expert archer, though she wasn’t allowed to show her archery skills in the competition since the pageant’s insurance policy prohibited the use of projectile objects — which apparently excluded a bow and arrow, though not flying batons. Instead she learned opera in two days and performed a stirring song, “Nessa Dorma,” which traditionally is performed by a man in Italian. That’s another stereotype broken.

Though she didn’t win the crown, Vail was selected “America’s Choice” based on an online voting competition of each contestant’s video available for viewing ( and voting on social media.

Besides all those attributes, Vail is smart too. She holds a 3.8 GPA at K-State, where she is majoring in Chinese along with a second major in chemistry.

Perhaps more valuable than her beauty and brains was Vail’s humility and desire to serve others. Though she wanted to win, she reportedly said she didn’t want the victory for herself, but to spread the message of selfless giving and individuality. She wanted to embolden girls to know that hard work, personal sacrifice and selfless giving can help them do whatever they want to do all while being elegant and poised.

If the pageant was judged on those criteria, Vail definitely would have hit the bull’s-eye.

— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher