By NATHAN GREGORY
Since growing up on her family farm in Lawrence, Mississippi State University student Paige Nicholson has always wanted to put herself in position to be a leader.
When she was crowned Miss Maroon and White Friday night at Lee Hall’s Bettersworth Auditorium, she added to a list of ways she’s been able to accomplish that goal.
A junior majoring in agriculture information science, Nicholson says she wants to use what she learns at MSU to be a strong advocate for agriculture in Mississippi. She said she got this desire from growing up on her family’s 2,000-acre farm with her mother, Denise, and her younger brother and sister, Chris and Katelyn, where her father, Ronnie, raises beef cows and grows corn and soybeans.
“I started in veterinary science because I really enjoyed working on the farm and being around the animals, but when I got here I realized there was a need for people who wanted to talk about agriculture and who wanted to teach others,” she said. “I think we need a strong voice for agriculture. That’s why I want to be commissioner of agriculture in Mississippi someday. I want Mississippi to have more strength in agriculture and I don’t want us to fall behind other states. I want us to be a leader in agriculture because we have such good resources here. If we harness that and really try to develop it we can do something really good.”
Her win Friday night came despite having little experience in beauty pageants, as she is more active in rodeo events including barrel racing and rodeo queen pageants. She competed for the title of Miss Maroon and White her freshman year and made it to the top 15.
“I don’t do beauty pageants all the time. It’s not a hobby of mine, but I did (this one) because I enjoy it. I like being around the other girls. Everybody in the Miss Maroon and White Pageant is really nice,” she said. “It’s not cutthroat like you hear beauty pageants being.
“I like to get to know the other girls and know people from different majors ... there were a couple of girls who were in apparels and textiles (as well as) merchandising; there were a couple more animal science girls — all of them are really different,” Nicholson added. “I thought it was really good that we could all come and be competitive in the pageant coming from different walks of life and not having to be the typical pageant. That is what makes me proud to be Miss Maroon and White — to say that I’m an accurate representation of the student body here.”
Nicholson is involved in several extracurricular clubs, including the MSU Dairy Science Club and the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association. She writes for the latter organization’s magazine, Cattle Business in Mississippi, and said her experience as a writer and advocate for agriculture in the state has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I really enjoy writing magazine articles about cattlemen and people that have interesting operations around the state because you get to know that producer and write the story. I enjoy journalism,” she said.
She said the feeling of nervousness participants in this type competition normally experience was not an issue.
“I was really looking forward to coming back and doing it this year. I wasn’t nervous or anything before the pageant. I was talking to the other girls and encouraging them and telling them to go up there and have fun and not be nervous,” she said. “I enjoy being backstage as much as I like being on stage. I noticed the audience was really involved. They did a lot more cheering than it seems people normally do at beauty pageants. Everybody seemed to have their cheering section. I thought it was impressive that everybody was being such a good sport about it.”
She said having her own cheering section at the pageant meant the world to her.
“Five or six women from Miss Rodeo Mississippi association came to watch; my whole family came. I was really excited they came because it’s hard to get away from the farm and come off to town and take an afternoon off, but I’m really glad they did that,” she said. “The best part of winning was that they were able to see it. I had a bunch of friends there that aren’t even in beauty pageants at all. They just came for me, so that made me feel really good.”
Nicholson’s father, Ronnie, said he was proud of all her daughter’s achievements.
“I’m proud of her whatever she does. This is great for me. I don’t know what to say,” he said. “She’s accomplished a lot. She’s always been a winner and she has a winning attitude. She’ll go a long way in the world.”
Her sister, Katelyn, said she had a hunch Paige would be the contestant crowned at the end of the pageant.
“She’s worked for it,” Katelyn Nicholson said. “She was in a rodeo queen pageant earlier this year and won it, then she came to this one and won, so it’s pretty cool.”
Paige Nicholson said she’s honored to be named Miss Maroon and White because it gives her the opportunity to be a role model for others.
“When you have a title you’re in the capacity of a leader and you can inspire and be a role model for others,” Nicholson said. “That’s what I’m studying to do and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life — be a leader.”