Beauty Queen shares story, educates others
Kelsey Schwartz is majoring in communications at California State University, San Marco. Courtesy Photo
December 26, 2013When most people think of beauty pageants, they think of one thing only: beautiful young women. After all, beauty is in the description. What isn't well known are the strict criteria that many pageants require. Beauty is often secondary to intelligence, poise and authenticity.
First impressions are everything and Kelsey Schwarz knows how to impress. She is both eloquent and elegant. Her ability to articulate is decades beyond her 21 years. It is evident why she has won many titles, from Miss Valley Center to Miss San Diego to Miss Southland and others. She is not just a pretty girl.
Schwarz views pageants as a conduit to her success. To date, they have helped her raise $8,000 for her college education, as a communications major at California State University, San Marcos. She describes the experience as the catalyst to becoming educated in national and local issues, keeping her commitment to a healthy lifestyle and providing her a platform to spotlight issues that are dear to her.
As Miss San Diego 2013, Schwarz has toured Southern California, speaking to large groups of high school students on bullying, and mentoring young girls. It's an issue that has personal roots. Her journey from middle school through high school looked enviable from the outside.
Her singing talent won her leading roles in musical theater. She was the president of the Community Service Club. She was voted prom queen and "Sweet as Sugar" as a senior stand-out. Then she won Miss Valley Center. Yet what most of her closest friends and family members didn't know, was the level in which she was being bullied by a certain group of girls, with a few boys joining in.
She endured constant remarks: "Barbie," "Little Miss Perfect." She was excluded from parties and other social events for not drinking, smoking and partying.
"It was rougher than anyone could have imagined," she said, her eyes filling up with tears. "People assume that you must look a certain way if you're being bullied, but the truth is, there isn't a 'face' for it. Bullying can happen to anyone."
Schwarz missed more than 50 days of school her senior year, besieged by anxiety and depression.
"Graduating was total freedom," she said. "In college, I realized I am okay on my own and that I can choose who I want to be around. I learned how to rise above it all, and how not to be consumed by other people's opinions."
Going back to Valley Center High School to mentor girls has been a full circle moment for Schwarz. She is willing to share her personal experiences with others in an effort to open the door of dialogue.
"I get girls to talk about what they're going through. Testimony is great and it's an excellent starting point, but nothing is going to change until kids start talking to other kids. If a boy made fun of a girl and another girl stood up for her, it wouldn't happen anymore. When you ask girls to be accountable for another girl's feelings, it's really powerful."
Schwarz believes in starting the mentoring process when kids are young. She volunteers as a big sister in the Big Sisters League of San Diego, spending lots of quality time with eight-year-old Bella.
"When you instill self-love and teach young girls what they have to offer, it's transformative. It's going to translate into their teen years and adulthood. It's kind of like being illuminated, when you are a light in your own life. That's why I want to do this as a profession."
These days, Schwarz balances a tight schedule as a full-time college student, interning as a student ambassador for a diversity outreach program at Mira Costa College, performing as a Disney princess for an events company, touring as a public speaker, mentoring high school girls, volunteering for Big Sisters and participating in pageants a few weeks per year.
In January, she will relinquish her title as Miss San Diego 2013 and will take on her new role as Miss Southland, her most recent win. She will continue to speak publicly and in small group settings about bullying, cyberbullying, how to protect yourself from being stalked, and the importance of higher education.
"I had a victim mentality when I was in high school, but I had to switch over to thinking that I'm a survivor because that's what it takes to be a successful adult," she said. "It's a decision. And happiness is also a decision."