TEWKSBURY — TMHS graduate class of 2016’s Taylor Ward competed in the Nationals pageant of USA National Miss this past November. The competition took place over the week of Thanksgiving at Orlando’s Caribe Royale Resort and Convention Center for six age groups of girls ranging from ages 4 to 28.
Ward, 23, has been competing in pageants since she was a freshman in high school. Her first competition was for Miss Massachusetts Teen USA in 2014. She placed within the top 15 in this pageant for three years before graduating from TMHS in 2016 and starting that fall at Nichols College.
In order to qualify for Nationals with UNM, Ward needed a win from one of the state pageants. Ward received the “New England” State pageant and was crowned in February of 2020. She immediately got started training and meeting the judges’ expectations in her senior year of college knowing that this qualified her for nationals.
She said she trained the hardest for nationals than for any of her previous pageants, practicing with a personal coach for her interview and competitions and working with a personal trainer. At the same time, she was focusing on graduating from Nichols with a double major in Hospitality and Management with a minor in Entrepreneurship.
She was also working as an emcee for a dance competition called Turn It Up before the coronavirus outbreak, and she now works in hospitality for Windsor at Cambridge Park.
Besides preparing for what she would need to perform in November, Ward spent a lot of time toward the pageant on community service. She read anti-bullying books to students, donated to the food pantry, and walked for breast cancer research. All of her efforts were documented on her Instagram account (@unm_missnewengland).
“In an interview, you only have three minutes,” she explained. “You can’t get everything out that you hope you could.”
She shared that the judges would be looking for prestigious social media pages in addition to their performance for all of the contestants.
Over the course of 10 days at the Nationals pageant, she was subject to competitions, events, and an interview. There were also themed rehearsals and parties like a Roaring 20s party and an 80s rehearsal.
In her interview portion, she shared that she talked about how she had struggled in 9th grade after she lost her grandmother and then learned that her grandmother had competed in a pageant. She said that was the moment she decided to sign up for her first pageant, which was a life change for her.
Furthermore, in her overall performance, she was required to create a theme related to “Crown CARES.” CARES, here, stands for “creating a respectful environment in schools.” Her theme was on promoting anti-bullying in after-school programs like dance classes and any other activities in which students participate.
“At one of my dance studios I was bullied,” she explained.
She said that this led her to see the opportunity for anti-bullying zones to be brought into other spaces so that whatever happens at school is left there. This is part of her platform that she’ll bring with her into her next pageant.
Ward was scored on her competitions like “Evening Gown” and her interview, but she didn’t walk away with only a score compared to other contestants.
“I’ve never felt the way I did on stage before,” she said. “I worked so hard and felt proud and confident on stage… I grew as an adult.”
She also cherished the time that she spent with her fellow competitors, against whom she has competed before, and many of whom she considers sisters.
“It’s actually about inner beauty, [and] the friendships that you make,” she added.
Although Ward didn’t have her initial goals for the overall competition met, she said that she realized new goals while she was there.
“I had a goal of making top 15… unfortunately that was not achieved,” she said.
However, she did win scholarship money from an optional competition, where she had to write an article about her legacy. In her article, she said that she wrote about what it means to her to “live between your dash” and make the dash on her tombstone between her birth and death mean something.
“People don’t remember your achievements — they remember who you were as a person.”
The money she won went toward her student loans.
As she’s just moved in with her boyfriend, Ward sees her pageant career ending within the next few years. After she competes in Miss Massachusetts USA this March, she’s hoping to go on TV in the Miss USA pageant. At the same time, she wants to start mentoring younger pageant contestants and welcomes anyone interested in a passionate and experienced coach to contact her.
From there, she wants to open her own dance studio that includes an “adaptive” dance program for the special needs community. She got the idea from her old dance studio that had a similar program and from her cousin who has autism and plays several sports. And if in doing so, she leads girls who dance to also compete in pageants, Ward said that would be an added bonus.