A Beauty Queen's Passion for Literacy

Today’s guest blog post comes from Jessica Terrill. Miss Terrill is Miss Mississippi State University and a communication major with an emphasis in broadcasting.

I’ve always been a dreamer.  Since a very young age, my parents encouraged me to dream big and to truly believe in those dreams and my ability to attain them. In early high school, I had the opportunity to lend a hand in an afterschool program, and I volunteered to help tutor a group of third grade students each day. I will quickly tell you that I had no idea of what I was getting myself into, and thought this new task that I was taking on would be simple and easy. After working with these kids for only a short time, one fact became very clear to me. Of this small group of third graders, only a hand full were reading well—most hardly could read, if they could at all. I was shocked at my discovery and over time I visited other classrooms—only to find the same results. After experiencing this harsh reality, it truly brought the illiteracy crisis that our nation is facing home to me and made this truth all the more real.

After being forced to face this reality, I was determined to put all the effort I could towards changing this, and teaching and sharing with kids and our communities about the importance of reading, the benefits of reading, and the vital part I feel it plays in each child’s future. Once I began this journey, I quickly found out about the organization, First Book, and it became a passion of mine from the very start. I was so delighted to find an organization whose entire basis was providing books to kids and therefore providing endless and unimaginable possibilities for each child. I have devoted much of my time to promoting this vision that I and First Book share, and one of the ways I have had the opportunity to do this is by serving as Miss Mississippi State University 2011. The Miss MSU title is part of the Miss America Organization, and through this organization each young woman is encouraged to have a platform in which we devote our year of service. I was thrilled to be blessed with a title in which I could have such a voice in my community and state about First Book and the illiteracy crisis, and it has given me the chance to enter schools throughout Mississippi promoting First Book, participating in book distributions, and encouraging children.

With each classroom I enter, I hope to spread the message to kids that reading can literally change their world! I explain that through reading one can take part in great adventures, visit foreign lands, fight evil villains—the possibilities are endless! Even more than that, I want kids in our nation to dream big and just like I was encouraged by my parents, be encouraged to reach and strive to make their dreams a reality. I truly feel that this message is one that many of our children never hear—“You CAN.” I want kids to know that they CAN succeed, and I sincerely believe that reading and access to books play a pivotal factor in relaying this message.