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

Perfectly Imperfect 365 Days of the Year

An open letter to anyone who has ever felt like they were “not enough”:

My friend Courtney recently left for Swaziland to serve in the Peace Corps for 28 months.  It was a place I couldn’t locate on a map before April, but now I think of it often.  In the weeks before she left, we spoke about what would be different about this country from ours.  While we both believe that at the core people are people with similar desires and motives, an ability to be good and do good, we knew there would be cultural differences.  It was during one of these conversations that she asked if I’d ever heard of Perfect365.  I hadn’t, but I became immediately disgusted.

For those of you who don’t know, Perfect365 is an app that allows its user to enhance selfies to be, well, “perfect.”  You can slim your face, raise your cheek bones, and widen your eyes.  You can apply makeup – from foundation to eyeliner to mascara.  You can change your eye color.  You can create a new photo with startlingly white teeth and inappropriately smooth features that in no way resembles a human.

[Side note: I have done pageants, and I have professionally edited photographs of myself.  However, I love the face that looks back at me at 7am with bed head.  It’s ok to have professional photos and to look great in them.  It’s not ok to feel like every single photo you have ever posted needs to look like it was taken in a studio.]

This is what society has done to American adolescents, and even adults.  We have created such a desire for unachievable “beauty” that we need apps to photoshop our filtered Instagram selfies.  If that doesn’t make your heart ache for the 13 year old who sees her face in the mirror and can’t see her natural skin as beautiful, you might be part of the problem.

Just to put that in perspective, we are taking selfies with our smartphones, editing them into a stranger, and posting them on social media to be validated by our acquaintances double-tapping on the screen.  We are doing this while other people in our communities, our nations, our world are going hungry or cold or sick tonight without respite in their sights.

I am begging you to love yourself.  You should not rely on the likes you receive or the followers you have for validation.  You should not rely on makeup or photoshop to create a face you like.  You should not rely on the label of your clothes, the numbers on the scale, or even the grade on an exam to create a definition of you.  These things are superficial and fleeting, here today but maybe gone tomorrow.  They are part of the material world we live in, not part of what defines you.

God created you in His image, and He loves you for precisely who you are.  Physical faults you find looking at a mirror are irrelevant when you leave this world.  Your inner beauty is what God’s eyes see, and no mistake you have made is surprising or unforgivable to Him.  You are beautiful for the person that you are, so be a person you are proud of.

If nobody has every told you, let me be the first: you are beautiful.  There is nothing you need to do or say to be beautiful if you can find love for yourself that is not based on something material.  Do not let your hair, your weight, or your house be what makes you feel good.  Hair can fall out, pounds can add on, and that house can burn down.  If you define yourself in things of this world, your definition of self is fragile and so easily lost by a breeze of bad fate.

I have a sticky note that a (different) friend named Courtney placed on my bathroom mirror a year ago, and I read it every day to make sure I haven’t forgotten.

Sometimes people are beautiful not in looks, not in what they say, just in what they are.

If you are truly blessed, you will find someone on this earth who can celebrate you for exactly who you are, but more often than not, other people are going to tear you down.  They are going to find reasons you are not enough.  Some days you might even find reasons you are not enough.  For God, you will always be enough.

If Christianity is not your faith, this message should still resonate with you.  Build the foundations of your self-image and worth on solid ground.  For me, my faith is that rock, and it is what I turn to when I start to forget my worth.  For you, it can be something different, and that’s okay, too.  Just make sure it isn’t something you will lose when the tides in your life wax and wane.  I don’t think anybody gets to go through life without at least one high tide, and it’s hard to keep your head above water if you can’t love yourself.

We live in a world where, from a young age, we are competing to have followers.  We are counting the “likes” on our photos.  Thanks to Facebook, we can now count the “loves” “hahas” “wows” “sads” and “angrys” – as if we didn’t have enough to think about.  People clicking a button (approximately 0.05 seconds of their time) has become such an important source of validation that our own faces are no longer “enough” for our social media accounts.

It started with Photoshop.  I was probably in about 4th grade when I begged my parents for this software.  To what end did I need it?  Well, my friends had it, and they were able to crop themselves into photos with Hilary Duff.  This was important to me.  What I (and the many parents who relented to adding this software to the home computer) did not realize was that my friends were in training to slim their waist line, enhance their breast size, and spray tan themselves later in life.

Photoshop isn’t user-friendly, though.  At least, I have never been able to master it.  Know what’s super easy?  Perfect365 and other apps like it.  It identifies the face in any image uploaded to it and gives simple options for the user to pick from.  Having issues with your mouth?  There’s a mouth button.  Want to widen your smile?  Slide the bar to the right.  Want to whiten your teeth?  Slide that bar.

On the left, my face; on the right, Perfect365. Of course, you can use the app in less obvious ways, but for full effect, I used every enhancement option there was.

This is the reality of life in 2016, and it is nothing like the smiling faces of the Jetson family.  Society is pressuring us in so many ways and through so many outlets.  If you are struggling to feel good about yourself, there are a million places you can point fingers.  Peers, TV, magazine, Facebook, Instagram… Every advertisement wants you to buy a product so you can be more like the perfect actor in their ad.

Stop blaming others when you feel bad about yourself and look inward.  You are the only person responsible for making sure you know that you are enough just the way you are.  We can try to create more positivity for and about each other, but at the end of the day, you are in charge of how you feel.  If you can love yourself, you can take on anything this world can throw.  Just remember, the best is yet to come.

#APerfectFit

I challenged some friends to skip their makeup for a selfie and see their real skin’s beauty. Your turn!

Be Bold

Holding the title of Miss Greater Easley last year was great, but explaining to countless people that I will not be returning to compete in the MAO has been a headache.  I hold nothing against the girls who are gearing up for competition this summer.  In fact, I think back fondly to the spray tans, fake nails, and fake lashes, and I remember being happy underneath all the makeup.  The thing is, I am so incredibly much more than a title, and I have so incredibly much more to offer to the world than being a queen.

While competing for Miss South Carolina, I ceased to be Tracy.  The entire week of the state pageant, I was called by my title and never by my name.  There are many girls, and using titles is simply easier.  I get that.  What I did not understand is the number of people who knew I was Miss Greater Easley and desired no other information.  The number of people who felt they knew me simply because they knew my title.  The title did not define me.

Long before I held a title, I was a volunteer at GHS Children’s Hospital.  I loved volunteering with my local CMN hospital.  I did not love it because it was MAO’s platform; I love it because those kids show what can be accomplished with a little strength of character.  I love it because that hospital is an opportunity for more kids to have birthdays.  I love it because every child deserves a childhood.  It wasn’t about the pictures I could take at events; it was about the relationships I could build.

Long before I held a title, I was a personal trainer advocating for my platform, A Perfect Fit; I just wasn’t calling it that.  Mental, physical, and spiritual wellness has always been a passion for me.  It was never something I did to promote myself.  My intention was always to help others.  Being a contestant ruined that for me.  It started to become about how many appearances I’d made instead of about what good I’d done.

Now, I hold the title of Miss Clemson University, and I am not taking it to compete for a higher title.  I am completely satisfied with having this title to potentially make a difference in the place that has given me so much.

To the girls competing this summer, I wish you nothing but the best.  Please remember who you are, though.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you need a nose job to be beautiful enough to win.  Don’t let them encourage unhealthy weight loss when your body is your own.  Don’t let them tell you that you should sell more advertisements to be considered for the title.  Make a difference by spending time in your community, not just by fundraising for it.  (A little birdie told me that $0.40 of every dollar raised for CMN through MAO goes right back into the pageant system.  It could be a rumor, but for a rumor to start, I find there’s usually a little truth.). Do not lose yourself to their system; let this be part of the journey that helps you find yourself, not the part of your journey that defines you.

As for me, I’m content to serve in a different way.  Not winning the title of Miss South Carolina will always be one of the biggest blessings in my life, but I’m grateful for the experience.  I became more confident in the woman I am having faced a million voices trying to change me.  I’m forever thanking God for taking my life in a new direction and instilling new dreams to chase in my heart.

Be bold, be confident, and be at peace because you are beautiful and you are loved.