The Miss Louisiana Organization

Lola Magazine Lola Shreveport

Miss Congeniality,’ the 2000 box office hit, is a fan favorite with lovable pageant queens and unforgettable one-liners. In the film, Cheryl Frasier, aka Miss Rhode Island,  instructed to describe her perfect date during her onstage interview responds with an uncomfortable giggle and this classic line:

“That’s a tough one, I’d have to say April 25th. Because it’s not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket.”

Beautiful, sweet, slightly dingy young ladies stressing over extra calories and glowing skin seem to fit the “pageant-queen” role quite well in the movies. In reality, the contestants in The Miss America Organization are quite different than what the silver screen portrays.

Gracie Reichman, Miss Louisiana 2022, and Miss Louisiana’s Outstanding Teen 2022, Mary Laura Hunt, have become part of the sisterhood, breaking the stigma surrounding pageants. Mary Laura admits that prior to her involvement, she shared the misconception. She said, “I thought pageants revolved more around beauty than brains. I quickly found out that could not be further from the truth. The Miss America Organization is actually centered around scholarship, service, and ‘preparing great women for the world.’ It was only two years ago I began competing. Since then, I have grown immensely in my public speaking proficiencies with a greater knowledge of current events and the many troubles facing our world today. I have had the opportunity to be deeply involved in our communities. My interview and presentation skills are stronger and will be a tremendous career asset in my future. At times people can have a negative perception. It’s our job to remove this stigma and bring awareness to the value of being a part of this organization.” Pageants are indeed a competition, one that takes time, effort, self-discipline, and dedication, but in return, offers encouragement and growth to young women. Mary Laura explains, “It’s challenging yourself on every aspect, but it’s all worth the effort.” Gracie shares her appreciation for The Miss Louisiana Organization by saying, “I will forever be grateful for this organization. It has given me the opportunity to meet so many smart, driven, and amazing young women who have poured into me in so many ways and made me a better Miss Louisiana and a better person as a whole.”

Both Gracie and Mary Laura agree the rewards of personal growth and the opportunity to encourage other young teens and women are vast, but the hidden treasure in their titles comes with the connections they have made through the organization. Mary Laura is grateful in saying, “I have formed some of the most real, genuine, raw relationships I’ve ever experienced. If you think about it, when putting a group of talented, intelligent, self-aware women in one room with a common goal to bond over, they’re bound to make a deep-rooted connection.” Gracie represented Louisiana in The Miss America pageant this past December. When asked about her experience, Gracie showed the most gratitude for friendships she made with the other contestants. She said, “My Miss America experience was nothing short of extraordinary. I simply cannot put into words how rewarding the week was. I am happy to say that I am walking away with 50 newfound friendships with the most accomplished, beautiful, and talented young women across our nation. I am counting the days until we are reunited!”

Gracie and Mary Laura have become an accurate illustration of pageant bonds in their friendship. Gracie expresses her adoration for Mary Laura, saying, “Growing up in the Miss Louisiana Organization, I always admired the relationship that each Miss Louisiana shared with her Teen. I prayed that one day I would have the opportunity to share my year as Miss Louisiana with another remarkable young lady. My year with Mary Laura brought that dream to life. Between co-emceeing pageants, community events, the Rose Bowl Parade, and everything in between, we have made memories together that will stick with me for life.” Mary Laura followed, saying, “ Gracie and I have had so many fun experiences together. Inside and outside of competition, we always have a blast together. Gracie has been an incredible mentor, encourager, supporter, and friend!”

Gracie, 22, and Mary Laura, 16, have traveled across the country together from Connecticut to California. Recently the two, along with Queen Dixie Gem Peach LXXI Emma Carter, represented our great state on the Louisiana Travel’s float for the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Both Gracie and Mary Laura agree their experience in Pasadena will remain a highlight in their year together. Mary Laura, reflecting on her time spent in California, said, “Riding in the Rose Parade was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and unlike anything in my entire life. One of the most impactful things about this parade was the community’s excitement and the traditions that bring them together. The night before the parade, we drove down Colorado Boulevard. There were thousands of people camping out on the streets with friends and family, sleeping there all night, saving their parade spots for the following morning. It was such a privilege for us to represent Louisiana, The Miss Louisiana Organization, and Lincoln Parish. Louisiana’s connection through our culture is remarkable. The volunteerism and behind-the-scenes work portrayed Louisiana’s flavor for life and love of culture for our state perfectly. I think we left Pasadena feeling touched by a taste of Louisiana passion and fun! Experiencing this with my sister queens made it all truly unforgettable.” Gracie agreed, saying, “The 2023 Rose Parade was an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Words are hard to find to accurately describe what an amazing day we shared. I sincerely love our great state but representing Louisiana in The Rose Parade grew my love for our state, our culture, and our people even further. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to share it with Mary Laura.”

The stigmas may be hard to break, but as the organization has evolved, they have begun to soften. The young women who represent The Miss Louisiana Organization are driven, genuine, and far more than an outdated stereotype. Gracie and Mary Laura are two shining examples not only of beauty and brains but, most notably, of heart. The experiences and memories made throughout their year as Miss Louisiana and Miss Louisiana’s Outstanding Teen will be treasured forever. They will pass down their crowns soon, but they will continue to make their mark in the world and their friendship will continue to last a lifetime.