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MISS AMERICA PAGEANT

Brooke Elizabeth McLaurin

MISS NORTH CAROLINA

On June 13, 1981, in Fayetteville, N.C., a bouquet of flowers arrived in the maternity ward of Cape Fear Valley Hospital. The card read "Future Miss America." Those flowers were for me, Brooke Elizabeth McLaurin, on the day of my birth from my very optimistic grandmother.

As a shy young girl, my parents, Jerry and Teresa McLaurin, introduced me to pageantry and the performing arts in hopes of bringing me out of my shell. My passion for the stage and performing was born. Since that time, I have been driven by my passion and inspired by others' faith in me which has helped carry me down life's path to where I am today. I have shared my training in dance, voice and drama by volunteering in my community with the Cape Fear Regional Theatre for over 17 years.

In 1999, I graduated with honors from Cape Fear High School and decided to pursue my love for making others feel good about themselves through improving their personal image. I graduated with honors from Robeson Community College with a diploma in cosmetology and took the first step to becoming a successful entrepreneur. With plans of furthering my education, I continued on with life, having no clue what was in store for me. While focusing on my day-to-day life, I failed to realize that my health was diminishing. I began to have frequent headaches, bouts of nausea and seemed to never get enough sleep. Soon the headaches became debilitating. I decided to have a routine eye exam in hopes of finding the etiology of my illness. A brain MRI was ordered, and my life was forever changed. The MRI revealed a 9mm brain tumor accompanied by a cyst the size of a large egg. I was rushed to the ER and was prepped for surgery. My condition was so severe that the doctors had to immediately operate before I slipped into a coma or perhaps died. I was told that after surgery I may have to learn to walk and talk again. However, two successful brain surgeries later, I found myself building the foundation to my community service platform. The goal of my platform was to promote education and awareness of brain tumors and more specifically Von Hippel-Lindau disease.

In August 2005, I was given the honor of representing my hometown, as Miss Fayetteville. This was my opportunity to use the title to speak to individuals and educate them about my disease. As Miss Fayetteville, I raised $10,000 for brain tumor research and awareness. I partnered with the Brain Tumor Center at Duke Hospital to host the national traveling exhibit, Hidden Under Our Hats, and held an educational seminar for medical professionals throughout eastern North Carolina. I received a full scholarship to Fayetteville State University to continue my education and was on the chancellor's list. I was the RISE Community Service Award winner, named an honorary member of the Fayetteville Area Economic Development Corporation and was recognized as a community leader. Still wanting to do more, I began to focus on becoming Miss North Carolina and having the entire state to use as my classroom.

This year, another one of my goals and childhood dreams came true. I was given the job and privilege of serving as an ambassador to the citizens of the great state of North Carolina, but for me personally, I was given so much more. I have been afforded the opportunity to share my story with a much larger audience in hopes of finding a cure for this life threatening illness. As Miss North Carolina, I will educate officials and citizens about the threat of brain tumors in hopes to show the prevalence that this disease has in our society. Each year 190,000 are diagnosed with a brain tumor. Funding is desperately needed for research and heightening awareness. I want to use my success in the face of adversity to allow people to see my strength, faith, and optimism. Strength to carry on, despite any situation; faith in the Lord that blessed me with a full recovery; and optimism that one can overcome any obstacle in life through faith and determination. I clearly have a newfound appreciation for life and see the need to educate others on the importance of appreciating every minute life gives you.

My personal goal as Miss North Carolina is to partner with Brain Tumor Foundations and Associations from across this state and nation to eradicate brain tumors and provide a tremendous increase in funding for the search for treatment and hopefully a cure for the many causes of brain tumors including Von Hippel-Lindau disease.

My motto for life and this year as Miss North Carolina is simply "Ya Gotta Believe." (Tug McGraw)

Album: Fireflies, Faith Hill

Movie: Notting Hill

Place to visit: My aunt and uncle's house at Long Beach, N.C.

Food: Anything my grandma cooks

Book: Ya Gotta Believe, Tug McGraw

Songs:

"Hello Darlin'," Conway Twitty

"Crazy," Aerosmith

"Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right," Billy Currington

"Live Like You Were Dying," Tim McGraw

"Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel," Tavares

Sport: NASCAR racing

Sport team: Wolfpack of North Carolina State University

Actor: Hugh Grant

Actress: Julia Roberts

Author: Nicholas Sparks

TV program: Will & Grace

Thing to do on the weekend: Catch a live concert, go to dinner with the girls, shop, spend time with family and catch up on my sleep!

Charity: American Brain Tumor Association

Way to spend a day off: Sleep in late, have lunch with my dad and hang out at the house.

Q: Who is the most influential person in your life? A: My grandmother has influenced me the most with her strength, admirable character and her determination to never give up. Q: What is one thing about you that people you meet may not immediately realize? A: Generally when people meet me they see a woman who is well groomed and appropriately dressed, but if they happen to catch me on a day off, they just might be surprised to find me in a baseball cap, coveralls, riding four wheelers or even going hunting with my dad. Q: What is your hometown like? A: My hometown reminds me of the Andy Griffith Show. When you pass through, you feel immediately at home. While driving down the road, you meet an oncoming car and see them throw up a hand in a quick hello wave and give a friendly smile. Generally, everyone takes time to know your name and genuinely cares about your well being. We also work as a big family, and everyone is quick to lend a hand. You will always hear a nice slow thank you, please or yes ma'am, typical of our Southern heritage. Q: What makes your state so special? A: North Carolina is full of diversity. Trom our coastal shores to our majestic mountains, our state has so much to discover. Our state is full of heroes, being a host to several military bases including two of the largest: Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base. North Carolina is truly one of the most military friendly states in this country and has become a melting pot, in a sense, with all of the culture and ethnic backgrounds that exist here. Home of the legendary Andy Griffith, Catfish Hunter, Michael Jordan and ACC champions, the UNC Tar Heels, and so much more! Q: What was one defining moment in your life? A: March 7, 2003, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Q: If you are named Miss America, what do you want to accomplish during the next 12 months? A: I would heighten public awareness and raise monies for brain tumor research in hopes of finding a cure. My ultimate goal would be to partner with Tim McGraw in these efforts. Tim lost his father, Tug McGraw, to this illness in January 2004. My final goal would be to leave a legacy of passion, faith, determination, strength and grace. Q: What is the best piece of advice you've ever received? Run your own race. Q: What have you learned about yourself after winning the state pageant? A: I stay so busy that I have learned to appreciate a quiet day. Q: What advice would you give today's teens? A: Be true to yourself. It's better to be hated for who you are, than be loved for who you're not. Q: What is one important thing you have learned from being in pageants? A: I have learned how to push myself. Compete against myself, not others, and gain something from each competition, so that I step away better than I was when I began. Growth is important. Q: What is the silliest thing you've seen at a pageant? A: Many years ago, I was a visiting queen at a local pageant and a young girl I was standing beside did not use the restroom before the curtain opened. Shortly after we were on stage, she began to use the restroom right there beside me while the other queens were introducing themselves. It ran down her leg, formed a puddle on stage, and she and I had to stand in it until the curtain closed! Clean up on aisle one!!! Q: Do you have any fun/funny behind-the-scenes stories? A: Yes É it involves tape and swimsuit competition É enough said! Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? A: I would like to have more patience. Q: During your pageant competitions, what has been the most difficult question you've been asked to answer? A: When I was younger, I was asked the question if you had to choose between ice cream and a boyfriend which would you choose? It is not fair to make a girl choose between dessert and a boyfriend! Q: How many pageants have you competed in during your life? A: I have no idea. I have competed since I was 4. Q: What do you feel is the most important issue facing the nation at the time in history? A: I am deeply concerned about the lack of respect and support for our nation, our president and our military. We are a free country, and we have the opportunity to be unique individuals, but it seems as though people do not appreciate those freedoms and what it takes to keep them. Q: What do you think is the greatest misconception about pageant contestants? A: The typical stereotype for pageant contestants is arrogant, fake, superficial, caddy and unapproachable. That is not always the case. We are human beings just like everyone else, with feelings, but most importantly goals for our lives and pageants allow us to challenge ourselves to obtain those goals. We are approachable and real people. Q: Do you consider yourself a role model? Is so are you comfortable in that position? A: Yes, I do consider myself a role model, and I am very comfortable being in that position because I am confidant being myself. I am proud of where I have come from and where I am going, and I am certain of the legacy of which I will leave behind. Q: What is the last book you read? A: Ya Gotta Believe by Tug McGraw Q: What do you consider your greatest strength? Weakness? A: My greatest strength is my independence, and my weakness is how stubborn I can be at times. Q: What qualities do you look for in a leader? Do you have these qualities? A: In a leader I look for integrity, courage, faith, determination, passion, and they must be a good listener. I do feel as if my parents raised me with these same qualities, and I am most comfortable in a leadership position. Q: What does it mean to you to be an American? A: Being an American is about standing up when hear the music for our national anthem and getting chills listening to the words that remind us of all the sacrifices that have been made for us to be living here today. Being an American means having the freedom to be an individual, possessing great pride in our country and continually supporting our military and president. Q: What are you studying, or what did you study in school? A: Business administration with a concentration in marketing Q: What were you like when you were a child? A: Prissy, petite, polite, artistic, inquisitive, talented É and just a tad stubborn! Q: What are you most excited about regarding this year's pageant? A: I am most excited about being a part of all the new and inspiring changes that the CMT partnership will bring to the Miss America Program. Q: What is the best thing about participating in this year's pageant? A: To participate is simply the opportunity of a lifetime. I was once told that you have a better chance of your son playing in the NFL than your daughter walking across the stage at Miss America. That says it all!

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