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A Celebration of Excellence Poise, character, talent, and beauty were on full display at the Miss Teen of America 2016 National Pageant, where Serena Zamarripa was chosen as the newest young woman to wear the crown T he Miss Teen of America 2016 National Pageant was about more than just pageantry. It was about showcasing the very best of our nation’s youth, accenting achievement, building lasting relation- ships, creating memories, empowering social in- clusion, and celebrating excellence. The Class of 2016 State Titleholders are the epitome of everything the pageant embodies. These young ladies are leaders in their schools and communities, active participants in clubs and service organizations, and agents for positive change. As imagined, bringing such an exceptional group to- gether proved to be a jam-packed weekend of inspiration, im- pact, and fun. Upon their arrival at Radisson Blu Mall of America, the State Titleholders were greeted by the reigning Miss Teen of America, Cornelia Hayes, where they enjoyed photo oppor- tunities on the Miss Teen of America Red Carpet. After Ori- entation and the General Awareness Test, the State Titleholders participated in the MTOA State Introduction Dinner. Denise Wallace-Heitkamp, the very first Miss Teen of America National Titleholder (1984), hosted the dinner with grace and poise and Shannon Jipsen, Miss Teen of Mis- souri 1983, delivered an impactful keynote address. The din- ner also provided the opportunity for each State Titleholder to dress as an achiever from her state and share with the au- dience a highlight and what impact he or she made. From Ray Charles to gold medalist Shawn Johnson and everything in between, the State Introduction Dinner was a wonderful nod to Miss Teen of America Pageants of the past with a fresh new twist for the present. Rounding out the opening day festivities was the Purple Reign Party, which was named after one of Minnesota’s own hometown achievers, Prince. The Purple Reign Party allowed the State Titleholders to get to know one another, listen to some rocking music, take self- ies, and enjoy a spread filled with delicious purple food. 108 PAGEANTRY photo credit: King ShotS photography The following morning started off with Personal Inter- views, during which State Titleholders had the opportunity to spend time with the six distinguished National Judges. The in- terview portion is the highest weighted competition category and allows each young lady to present her best self to the judg- ing panel. After the interview portion was entirely complete, members of the Special Olympics Minnesota staff, Mike Kane (VP of Area Programs & Initiatives), Jennifer Hansen (Senior Manager of School & Youth Initiatives), and Nick Cedergren (School & Youth Coordinator), provided an in- credible training focused both on what Special Olympics rep- resents and how to engage. Special Olympics Minnesota is the MTOA Special Olympics Founding Partner and has paved the way for what has truly been a great alliance and partner- ship with Special Olympics Athletes across the nation. As es- tablished leaders within their schools and communities, MTOA State Titleholders serve as Inclusion Ambassadors and are focused on ensuring that social inclusion is the norm.