Miss USA

High School Teacher And Miss Oregon USA Candidate : How Stephanie Matheson Advocates Youth Empowerment

 Today, youth in America are making strides to change the world around them. From powerful social media movements, to political organizing and protesting on the ground, the voice and passion of young people have convinced society to take us seriously. One major component in youth engagement that is overlooked is youth empowerment. When youth are “empowered,” they have the skills, critical awareness, and opportunities to positively impact their own lives and the lives of other individuals, organizations, and communities.

Stephanie Matheson, who'll be competing for the crown of Miss Oregon USA next weekend, chooses to advocate for this cause. She is currently a high school teacher with an endorsement in Social Studies - "I do my best to empower my students by making my classes about more than just the specific subject. Relationships are everything, and when students know you care about them, it gives them a sense of confidence. It's important for them to be aware of what's going on, and when they're informed, they tend to care more. I want them to find their passions and do something with it; whether that is starting a club at school, fundraising for a cause, and getting involved in their community.  I periodically will have them do other activities such as Dream Boards - we then talk about the importance of having our goals visible and what we need to do to attain them. I try to give them as much choice as possible so that they have a sense of ownership" - she explained.

As someone who struggled with anxiety and depression in high school, she wants her students to feel empowered and know that she's there for them - "I want to make sure they know I believe in them and I am in their corner; that way they learn to believe in themselves and have confidence in who they are. It's important to me that they leave my classroom as passionate, caring, contributing members of society" - she added.

In the past Stephanie has worked for a mentoring non-profit, as well as interned with Mercy Corps - an international humanitarian organization.  Her other platforms include Women Empowerment, which ties in perfectly with her company EmpowHER Apparel, Mental Health Awareness, and Building Cultural Bridges -  "I have thousands of community service hours working with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Oregon, Klamath Basin Youth Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Children’s Cancer Charities, and countless other organizations, as well as serving as a mentor" - she added.

If she wins the crown of Miss Oregon USA the beautiful Stephanie will have the opportunity to represent her state in Miss USA 2018. The state has never won the competition however the highest placed Miss Oregon USA was Gail Atchison who finished 2nd runner-up to Barbara Peterson in 1976. The most recent finalist was Jennifer Murphy in 2004. 

Check my interview about her preparation for the upcoming pageant below!

You will compete at the Miss Oregon USA Pageant, how will you prepare for the contest ? What inspired you to walk on the course of beauty pageants?

Witnessing the involvement of pageant contestants within their communities inspired me to begin competing in pageants - not only were these women serving their communities, they were beautiful, intelligent, poised, and well-spoken.  Preparing to compete is so much more than working out, eating healthy, and selecting your wardrobe. I have officially been preparing for the job of Miss Oregon USA for the last ten years - when I first started competing in pageantry at the age of 17.  In many ways though, because I’ve been exposed to a variety of cultures and ways of life, and because my parents raised me to have a global outlook and emphasized the importance of education and community service, I have been preparing for the job of Miss Oregon USA/Miss USA my entire life.

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By Georgina Vaughan Photography

What do you expect to gain by competing in pageantry?

I have already gained so much from competing! I have gained friendships, "family", public speaking and interview skills, and most importantly, my confidence has grown.  Pageantry has helped me gain a strong sense of self; it has allowed me to discover who I am, be my best self, and be confident in my authenticity.

Many misses have said that their dream since a child was to participate in a pageant as prestigious as Miss World (or Miss Universe). It it your case ? And if so, why?

I remember watching Miss USA/Universe on television as a little girl.  We didn’t have much when we moved to the States after evacuating the Rwandan Genocide, so we didn’t have cable, but luckily Miss USA aired on one of the seven channels we did get.  I would fight sleep to stay up and see who won. The women mesmerized me; they were on a pedestal.  I didn’t know who they were or where they came from, but I never imagined I would ever have the chance to be up there.  

I was focused on academics, sports, and community service as an adolescent, so competing for Miss USA/Universe never seemed like an attainable  dream.  Competing in my first pageant when I was 17 years old sparked something in me though - it gave me a drive and belief that I could someday be on that stage.

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Did you face any moment of disappointment with yourself during the pageant journey, and how did you overcome it?

Although I haven’t been too disappointed with myself, I have faced so much disappointment throughout my pageant journey.  I have ‘failed’ far more times than I have won.  It took me five years of competing and nine pageants before I won my first local title.  I have gone from being 1st runner-up at Miss Oregon USA to not placing in the Top Five… Although I have had many moments where I’ve been disappointed with the outcome, I have never given up.  My courage and perseverance have carried me through to where I am today.  There’s a fire in me, and I won’t quit on this dream.

We’ve all seen the stereotypical portrayals of pageant contestants, a la Miss Congeniality, spreading peace, love and beauty throughout the world. How do you think you'll make a difference ?

Breaking pageant stereotypes has always been one of my goals.  I don’t think I fit the pageant mold, and I love that pageantry is evolving and there isn’t much of a mold anymore. I’ll make a difference by continuing to be who I am and doing what I do. I will use my adaptability, compassion, and perseverance to make a difference by being the best teacher I can be, being a positive mentor to students I work with, speaking at gala fundraisers and also being able to work in impoverished areas and get my hands dirty volunteering overseas.  I’ll be able to make a difference by shining my light in order to inspire others to be confident shining their own.  Being Miss Oregon USA 2018 will allow me to reach an even broader audience and make a more significant difference.

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What would you advise any young girl out there who has a dream of being a queen one day?

I would tell anyone who wants to compete in a pageant to give it a try and pursue that dream.  Stay true to yourself and be confident in who you are and what you have to offer.  Give it your best shot, and most importantly, remember that your success and self-worth are not determined by a set of judges or a title.

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Who is your ideal beauty queen and how has she helped you to evolve as a beauty queen?

I love Olivia Jordan. She is everything a modern beauty queen should be; she is strong and opinionated, she stands up for what she believes in, and she empowers women and those around her.  She is inspirational and a positive force who will make a difference in the world.  To me, she is everything a Miss USA (beauty queen) should be.


Thanks to the beautiful Stephanie for the interview. Pageants News wishes you all the very best for Miss Oregon USA pageant.