Miss America 2016, otherwise known as Warner Robins native Betty Cantrell, visited Liberty County on Thursday, where she briefly stopped by the Sheriff’s Office and then spoke to students at Waldo Pafford Elementary School.
Cantrell traveled to coastal Georgia for the groundbreaking of a new Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in Savannah on Friday. She is the National Goodwill Ambassador for the hospital network. While in Liberty, she encouraged students to chase after their dreams.
Michelle Harris, also from Warner Robins, coordinateed Cantrell’s visit.
Cantrell arrived at the school in a limousine escorted by sheriff’s deputies. She walked down the red carpet into the school’s gymnasium, where she was greeted with flowers and cheers from the students. Cantrell talked about her journey to winning Miss America and how when others said she could not win, she did not give up.
“I was so scared, but I decided I wasn’t going to give up and give it everything I had,” she said. “I decided I was going to be the best Betty that I can be and, apparently, that was good enough because I won Miss America, and that was the coolest moment of my life.”
Cantrell said it was the first time that a Miss Georgia had won the national pageant in 63 years.
She talked to students about the upcoming Georgia Milestones Assessment System test. She discussed important things to do in preparation for the test.
“Eating healthy and exercising will help you when you’re testing because the more active you are, the more stimulated and active your brain is going to be, the better you’ll do on your testing,” she said.
Cantrell’s Miss America platform is “Healthy Children, Strong America.” She advocates for helping children develop healthy bodies and minds. She challenged students to go outside and play three times a week instead of constantly staying inside and playing video games.
Students asked Cantrell questions. One student asked, “What is Miss America all about?”
Cantrell said her job is demanding, that she travels all over the country talking to students, and the world on a USO tour, visiting deployed American soldiers.
Another asked, “What is the meaning of life to you?”
Cantrell responded, “I think that the meaning of life is to find your purpose. I think that if you find what you’re good at and you pursue it and you try to be the best person you can be. Then I think you’ve done a good job with that, and that’s the meaning of life.”
A student asked what Cantrell won as Miss America. Cantrell won the crown, received $50,000 in scholarship money and the opportunity to serve as the ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
Cantrell discussed what helped her prepare for the competition. She said eating healthy and exercising showed the judges that contestants were taking care of their bodies, especially during the swimsuit competition. Practicing her talent, singing, was also vital, she said.
During the Miss America pageant, Cantrell sang “Tu, Tu Piccolo Iddio” from the opera “Madama Butterfly.” At Waldo Pafford, she sang a more relatable song for the students, “Let It Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen.” Cantrell said she wants to perform on Broadway and pursue a singing career.
She said she loves being Miss America and inspiring students to go after their dreams. She shared that people told her she could not be Miss America or even Miss Georgia because she did not have enough experience. Those remarks made her work harder and when she won, it felt good to prove her naysayers wrong.
Cantrell has partnered with the American Farm Bureau to help children, especially in impoverished areas, understand where food comes from and the benefits of growing their own. Her favorite part of being Miss America has been traveling and talking with children.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said. “Anything is possible if you put in the work.”
Jackie’s Joyful Expressions E.W.D. LLC, an event planning service, and Gloss Customized designs provided decorations for the school gymnasium.