Miss Clemson University 2016

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil to bring you an expected end.
Jeremiah 29:11

That verse has been playing in my head ever since I was crowned Miss Clemson University in January of 2016.  From the moment I hit campus freshmen year, I was in love with this institution, but I never anticipated the opportunity to represent it in such a special way.  This was a part of my life planned by someone much wiser than me, and as they put the crown on my head, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why me, God?  What is your plan for me in this role?”

I never participate in anything without putting my best foot forward.  That’s how I was raised.  At the same time, I in no way anticipated beating some of the biggest names in the pageant world in order to win this title.  I was happy to be considered, so blessed my sorority sisters trusted me to represent them.  I had no idea what was coming, though.

With my reign ending this Saturday, I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year and what it has meant to me.

Being Miss Clemson University is special in that she has no ties to a larger pageant organization.  While this means no director or assistance with scheduling events, it also provides a special autonomy.  For the past year, it was on me to determine what I should be doing.  I chose to primarily integrate the title into my existing life, not necessarily seeking special circumstances, but just using it as an excuse to volunteer more.

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It’s not happy people who are thankful; it’s thankful people who are happy.

As usual, I did most of my volunteer work for the GHS Children’s Hospital, using the crown and being executive director of Clemson Miracle to get through the door.  I got to see a lot of smiling faces, kids who thought I was way cooler than I actually am.

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Giving our check to CCDC

Through the pageant itself, we fundraised for the Clemson Child Development Center.  I had the honor of delivering the check.  If you’ve never been, it’s often a little chaotic.  The kids have a lot of energy, and the adults have been there all day and will most likely take some work home.  However, when their director, Carol, found a moment to step out of the room and saw the check, her face said more than words could about her gratitude for Mortar Board and all they do for CCDC.

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First Friday Parade 2016

 

Then, there was the moment they let me ride in the First Friday Parade.  If you didn’t go to Clemson, this is the parade before our first home football game every fall, and to us, it’s kind of a big deal.  To have my own car in the parade was a huge honor, and I loved every minute of blowing kisses to little girls and screaming cadence count with our alumni band.

Of all the years to be crowned Miss Clemson, I got 2016 – the year we finished off our football season with a National Championship title by defeating Alabama.  The year Clemson Miracle raised over $71,000 for the children’s hospital.  The year I graduated from Clemson and was accepted into their MBA program.  The year my little brother started his freshmen year as a tiger.  It has been a year I will never forget.

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Trading the crown in for a mortar board. (Christine Scott Photography)

Five years ago, I decided to attend Clemson University.  As a Georgia native, people repeatedly asked me why, and I had little to say other than “it just felt right.”  I had no idea I had made the best decision of my life.  During my time at Clemson, I met my best friends and the love of my life.  I was challenged and changed by numerous mentors and opportunities.  I realized that above all it wasn’t the school I chose but the people I found.  The Clemson family – all the unique individuals who find common ground in a love of orange and purple – is the best to be surrounded by, and I am forever thankful I found each and every one of you.

To my parents, who agreed to send me to the only school I didn’t have a full scholarship to, thank you.  I cannot express either my love for you and your support, or my love for this place, because the words just don’t exist.  Just know, I could not have accomplished all I have without the unconditional love and support of you both.

To my little brother, Henry, I truly appreciate all of the pageants and dance recitals you have sat through.  I’m so excited to watch your love of Clemson grow and to see how you both change over the next 4 (or maybe 5 if you’re lucky!) years.

To all the people who made it possible for me to succeed in the world of pageants: thank you.  Mama K, you are truly my second mom, and I’m just so thankful for every hour I got to spend with you in the studio.  Christine (Smith), wow, you’re the most talented human, and your salon is going to be the talk of the town!  Thanks for making me the absolute best version of myself and drinking mimosas with me during makeup time.  Cathy Scott, it has been way too long since we crossed paths, but you were the first to recognize I had the potential for the stage.  Thank you for every gown you altered to perfection.  And of course, Gregory Ellenburg, thank you for the gown of my dreams.

Christine (Scott) – thank you a thousand times over again for the hundreds of shots it took to perfectly expose a white evening gown at midday on a football field.  You are such a talented photographer; I’m blessed to call you my friend.

girliesTo the women of Kappa Delta, thank you for letting me represent you on stage last year.  I’m thankful for the continual support of so many of you, especially my roommates.  Savannah, thank you for dressing me when clothes became overwhelming / taking me to wine night when life became overwhelming.  Littlest One, thank you for being the best sister I could have asked for.  My other Courtneys – all my love, I wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t found you both 4.5 years ago.  And English, you were last to the roommate party, which is good because the amount of fun we have together is deadly.

 

To my amazing boyfriend, Lawrence I know you never thought you’d sit through a pageant (or 5), but you have been so great about supporting everything I pursue.  I’m thankful every day that Clemson brought me to you.  You’re also the best puppy dad, and I’m so proud of the little nugget we’re raising.

Maybe it’s the sunsets, or the ice cream, or the tailgates that make Clemson so special; everyone has their own opinion.  To me, it’s the people that make up our Clemson family that make it such a special place to call home.  I am blessed every day to be a tiger, and I want to thank every member of my Clemson family for allowing me to represent you over the past year.  To the girl we crown on Saturday, what you do is up to you, so make it the best year of your life to date!  I am truly so excited for whoever gets to experience this incredible #ClemsonMoment next.

Forever your Miss Clemson University 2016,

Tracy McGee

Job 5:9

He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.
Job 5:9

So many amazing things have happened in my life since I decided to neglect my blog, and it strikes me as odd because I had so many posts to write when very little was happening to me.  Thanks to the kind encouragement from friends and even from some strangers who have become friends, I have decided to write again.  While you will soon hear my Miss Clemson University story, I want to start with my most meaningful endeavor – Clemson Miracle.

My journey with Clemson Miracle started as a freshmen.  I signed up for Clemson University Dance Marathon (as it was then called) with some sorority sisters; I wanted to see what it was all about.  To my surprise, it was about so much more than dancing, and I fell in love.  Clemson Miracle (as we are now called) is part of the national Dance Marathon (DM) movement.  Each year, we fundraise for our local CMN hospital, which happens to be GHS Children’s Hospital in Greenville, SC.

We raised $17,152.63 for the kids (FTK) at my first DM, and I knew I wouldn’t want to rest until we reached even higher goals.  You see, the Dance Marathon is a celebration of our efforts.  Yes, we teach a morale dance, but we do so much more.  We have families share their stories, we play games, and we provide a variety of entertainment to everyone who stands with us for 12 hours.  We stand and dance and celebrate for the thousands of kids across America who are confined to a hospital bed today because we hope and pray they will leave that bed tomorrow.

One of our miracle children, Manning Grace, at the first DM I attended (2013) and the last (2016).
One of our miracle children, Manning Grace, at the first DM I attended (2013) and the last (2016).

My sophomore year, I applied for the executive board, and I had the chance to serve as corporate chair.  In other words, I was suppose to be bringing in the money.  I guess you could say we did okay bringing in money, and that year we raised $30,262.57 FTK.  There is beauty in the way college kids can come together and create change in their local community.  Of course, we were not stopping there.  We were going to get bigger.

Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2014.
Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2014.

My junior year, we set our highest goal yet.  This year we dreamed of raising $50,000, and we wanted it.  We were at a distinct disadvantage, though.  Nobody knew what DM was, and once most students heard “dance” and “12 hours” and “Saturday”, they backed away.  I had the pleasure of serving as Donor Relations chair, which means I had to convince college kids to give up their Saturday.  We changed our name to Clemson Miracle, because we felt creating miracles was our true purpose.  We were going to light the campus on fire with passion, and we were going to create change for our kids.  We raised $41,914.64, which was shy of our goal, but we would not be deterred.

Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2015.
Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2015.

(An important aside for you:  This is an undergraduate student organization.  Everyone involved has full-time commitments outside of Clemson Miracle, and Clemson Miracle is in itself a full-time commitment.  Being on our executive board is time consuming.  We are active every day of the year, and we push – never settling is why we have gotten where we are today.  There is no shame in not reaching lofty goals.  Dance Marathons across the nation are taking aim and achieving unbelievably more than even large corporations, like Wal-mart.  It is only possible through faith, vision, and passion.)

Our miracle child, Brinkley, playing with the tiger at CM 2016!
Our miracle child, Brinkley, playing with the tiger at DM 2016!

This brings us to 2015, the year my life changed entirely.  I ran for Executive Director, which is the same thing as saying I ran for president, of Clemson Miracle.  I knew I had a lot of growing to do if I received the title, but somehow, I knew I was up for it.  It was divine intervention; I just woke up one morning and felt called to apply.  Miracle of miracles happened, and I received the position.

Being Director of an organization is hard.  I knew coming in that my job was to take the 20 very different personalities of my (amazing) executive board and unite them in one cause.  We all had very different jobs, but we all needed to keep driving in the same direction.  I was the voice behind the scenes reminding everyone that they could do more.  I was the mediator when two positions crashed into each other and needed to get back on our track.  Yet, at the end of the day, I was unnecessary, and that’s a strange feeling.  It was especially weird after holding very active positions the two years prior.

One of our advisors gave me a piece of advise at the beginning of the year.  “It is the sign of a great leader if you can get the flu the day of Dance Marathon, but everything runs fine without you.”  I took that to heart.  I put aside the piece of me that prefers to do it on her own, and I grew the piece of me that delegates.  I helped assign the essential tasks, and I helped provide deadlines.  Then, I stood back, and I watched the most incredible executive board step into their roles.  They amazed me; I just had to trust.

Our miracle child, Mia, and her sister, Mailey - 2016 marks 10 years in remission for Mia!
Our miracle child, Mia, and her sister, Mailey – 2016 marks 10 years in remission for Mia!

Every minute, 62 children enter a CMN hospital, and on February 13, 2016, we would find out if we reached our goal of $62,000.  We flipped a total of $70,027.82 that day, but the donations did not end with the event.  The grand total going to the hospital is $71,252.96.

Pause and really think about that number.

Total reveal 2016
Total reveal 2016

That’s 29 sleeping chairs so parents do not have to leave their children.  That’s 26 specialized cribs for children with special needs.  That’s 16 vein viewing machines to ensure less times sticking kids for blood work.  That’s 222 conscious sedations, a procedure used to prevent the pain of spinal taps that insurance will not cover.  That’s 42 special breast pumps for mothers with babies in the NICU to ensure their babies are getting all the nutrients they need.  That’s 158 infant CPR mannequins to teach parents the proper technique to resuscitate a child with heart of breathing difficulties.  That money is a means to make miracles for families.

(Another aside: We report net profit, not gross.)

So why do we do it?

We dance for more birthdays.  We dance for kids to have a childhood.  We dance for parents to have support.  We dance for miracles to happen.

Because every child deserves a childhood.
Because every child deserves a childhood.

I have learned so much in this past year.  It has been one for personal growth, and I found out I am capable of so much more than I imagined possible.  I learned that God truly does immeasurably more when you let Him lead, and I know His plan was for us to reach these incredible heights.

After 4 years, walking away from Clemson Miracle feels like ripping a part of my soul out, but I know I’ll find other ways to contribute.  I’m going to be okay.  Last weekend, I selected the next Executive Director, and she is going to lead us to even grander heights.  I feel certain of that, even though that decision easily ranks in the top 5 hardest life choices I have made to date.

So a huge thank you to Clemson Miracle for molding me for the past 4 years into a much better version of myself!  And a huge thank you to all the parties who helped make it happen…

To our Families:
You guys are the reason we keep going.  You guys are the reason we will not stop.  Thank you for sharing your stories and keeping us motivated.  You are truly the bravest and kindest of people, and I am so blessed to know each and every one of you.

Forever proud of the way Ali celebrates Haley's life. Haley would be so proud of this queen, and I am so thankful to celebrate her legacy with you.
Forever proud of the way Ali celebrates Haley’s life. Haley would be so proud of this queen, and I am so thankful to celebrate her legacy with you.

And to my Family:
A huge thank you to for instilling the need to challenge society’s norms and the strength of character to do something about it.  You have never lost faith in me, no matter what my latest project is.  I am so grateful to have your love.

To our Miracle Makers:
Your generosity made these achievements possible.  Do not doubt the impact your donation had here in the upstate.  Even a dollar can create change, and by donating to this cause, you had a direct impact on a family.  You’re amazing.  Please never stop partnering with us; you can be a part of this journey.

To our Dancers:
I cry each year at DM because it blows me away how incredibly gracious the student body at Clemson University is.  Thank you for giving up your Saturday.  Thank you for demanding donations.  Thank you for hugging our sweet miracle kids and making them feel special.  Just thank you.

Thankful our student athletes are willing to give up their time to high-five our miracle kids.
Thankful our student athletes are willing to give up their time to high-five our miracle kids.

To the 2015-2016 Executive Board:
You ladies and our one gentlemen were phenomenal.  I do not trust others easily, so know it is a true sign of your capability that I gave you your position.  You are each capable of even more, and I challenge you to never stop pushing in life.  I love each of you and hope you know you can come to me if ever you need a friend.

Clemson Miracle 2016 Executive Board

To our advisors:
This year, you each stepped up by scheduling meetings with chairs, and that opened my schedule to do so much more than other executive directors had time for.  I knew I could count on you ladies at any time, and your love and support was so heavily relied on.  Thanks for being the mentors I did not even know I needed.

(left to right): me, Erin Helbling, Jenn Parker, Julie Fleishman, & Kelsey Rock
(left to right): me, Erin Helbling, Jenn Parker, Julie Fleishman, & Kelsey Rock

To Jenn:
You have believed in Clemson Miracle from the beginning, and your reaction when we blew our goal away this year still brings tears to my eyes.  You have been the best friend, mentor, and shoulder I could have asked for.  I love you so much, and I am so grateful that this amazing organization brought you into my life.  You might not realize how much change you have made in the world, but it is truly incredible the impact you have had as just one person.  You embody being the change you wish to see in the world, and I cannot wait to watch you continue to create new normals in the upstate.

Embracing the GHS Children's Hospital's annual giving coordinator after our total was revealed.
Embracing the GHS Children’s Hospital’s annual giving coordinator after our total was revealed.

To the 2016-2017 Executive Board, whomever you may be:
I already know you are going to obliterate our achievements this year with bigger achievements of your own, and I can’t wait!  I speak for my entire exec when I say do better than us.  We want you to recognize our mistakes and grow Clemson Miracle from them, and then, we want you to encourage the same from the next group.  Do not let us stagnate and never be satisfied.

Miracle Challenge 2015

Motivation is what gets you started.  Habit is what keeps you going.
Jim Ryan

September 1 – September 27 marks the days of a challenge whose causes are near and dear to my heart.  Miracle Challenge is a fundraising campaign for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals that emphasizes getting up and getting fit.  After selecting one of 5 different athletic “tracks”, you embark on a 27 day fitness challenge.  You receive e-mails every day with motivating quotes, motivating stories about children in the hospital, and a challenge from your fitness trainer.

For me, this challenge really puts things into perspective.  We all have days when we want to be lazy.  I’m guilty of having days I want to skip my workout and eat cookies instead.  The idea of this challenge is to be active for children who cannot run and play themselves.  This challenge asks you to run for kids who are stuck in hospital rooms, whose inability to get active is not laziness but circumstance.

Imagine being a child living in a hospital for weeks on end.  You cannot go on a bike ride in the sunshine with your sibling.  Maybe you can go on a stroll to the hospital’s decorative fish tank if you’re feeling well, but if it’s a bad day, you might not get to leave bed at all.  Instead of the rough and tumble days we imagine for most children, your days are spent with quiet artistic expressions and the comfort of a favorite movie.  Your parents have created this new construct of childhood and are doing the best they can to provide you with fulfilling experiences each day, but you know you are missing out on the fun your classmates get to have.

Being a child in a hospital is hard, but the kids you meet there are inspiring.  They face challenge after challenge with courage, but they need our help.  Please support my participation in Miracle Challenge today by going to
http://events.dancemarathon.com/participant/tracyelizabethmcgee
and donating $1.  Every dollar goes directly to CMN and impacts a child’s life.  My goal is to raise $100 during Miracle Challenge because that is the cost associated with a pair of hanging basketball hoops.  These hoops would provide children in the hospital with their own means of staying active, and I want to help provide kids with a normal athletic activity that makes some of their time in the hospital seem like just a day as a kid.

James MasonA special shout out to my friend, James Mason, who is going in for surgery this morning.  He is on my mind and in my prayers a little extra today.  I know his mom and I would appreciate you lifting him up in your own prayers.

Thank you for reading this message.  If you want to get involved in the Miracle Challenge, it’s not too late!  Go to www.miraclechallenge.org and register today.  FTK All Ways, Always.

FTK Always, All Ways

“Even miracles take a little time.”
The Fairy Godmother

I believe in making commitments to things I feel passionately about.  That way, losing sleep and pouring out energy is worth it.  When I attended my first dance marathon my freshmen year (2013) I walked away knowing that Children’s Miracle Network was a cause I wanted to take a stand for.  I applied and was accepted to a position on Clemson Miracle’s executive board, and since then, I’ve given countless hours to the kids at Greenville Children’s Hospital.

On March 7, 2015, we raised a little over $42,000 for CMN.  After the incredible amount of time and commitment put forth by our executive board, it was overwhelming for us to see such huge success.  This was the most Clemson University has ever raised for CMN, and of that money, over $10,000 was raised during the event itself through in house fundraising activities.

I love everything about Clemson Miracle, but one of the best things is the people on the executive board.  Each of us is passionate about the children we work to help, and each of us is willing to push for what we believe in.  The committed people I’ve worked with over the past year to organize this event have never tired, refusing to give up on the kids at Greenville Children’s Hospital.  This executive board not only continues to inspire me, but we have inspired so many others.  We’ve lit a fire in the hearts of Clemson students for the kids, and we will fan those flames until it consumes the entire Clemson community.  I know for a fact that the executive board of Clemson Miracle will never settle, we will always push for more, and I thank everyone I’ve worked with over the past year.

So why do we do it?  Where does the passion come from?  We each have our own personal reasons, but I think this cause is universal.  Every child who is admitted into a Children’s Miracle Network hospital has the innocence of youth.  They should be worried about being found in hide-and-seek, not worried about the next needle or procedure.  Every child deserves a childhood, and growing up in a hospital is not the life any parents wants for their kid.  Life doesn’t work like that, though.  Life isn’t fair.  Kids will spend hours on end undergoing treatment, and the outcome isn’t always what we think it should be.  I believe God has a plan and a reason for everything, even if we don’t always understand, but I also believe we should do everything we can to make the lives of those children as innocent, happy, and fun as possible.

Although there were many emotional moments for me during the 10 hours dance marathon, one of the most upsetting occurred toward the beginning.  Every participant is given a hospital bracelet with a miracle child’s name on it to wear during the course of the day.  At the end of the day, there is a circle of hope ceremony in which all the dancers stand in a circle, while a miracle child walks around and cuts off each bracelet.  It shows support of the kids, but it is also a prayer that every child will one day get to remove their bracelet.  Mia, one of our miracle children, was checking in.  She reached for a bracelet, and I asked her if she needed help putting it on (many of the college kids had; the snap can be confusing).  She looked up at me, smiled, and said “No offense, but I’m probably better at this than you are.”  She proceeded to snap on the bracelet with her name, cut the annoying tail off, and leave the table, and for the first of 50 times that day I was reminded of why I gave up my Saturday and plenty of other hours throughout the year for CMN.

Mia
(
Mia also insisted on taking a selfie.)

I just want to say thank you.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who put their money where the miracles are and gave to Clemson Miracle.  Your generosity to this incredible cause means the world to me and to these children.  Thank you to the best executive board around.  Each of you inspires me daily, and it was our passion that made this event a success.  Thank you to the miracle families who gave up a Saturday to share their stories.  I cannot think of anything more moving than hearing what you have been through and am so glad that your strong, brave kids are giving their time to help other hospitalized children.  I am blessed by the opportunity to serve this organization, and I promise that I will never settle.  Next year, Clemson Miracle will continue to grow, and we will astonish even ourselves with what we can do.  Through love, nothing is impossible.

For The Kids
Always, All Ways

James Mason

PS. My fundraising for CMN has not ended.  If you are willing and able, please consider making a donation to help me on my journey to Miss South Carolina this summer!  As always, it’s FTK!

http://www.missamericaforkids.org/Donate/tracyelizabethmcgee

Julia