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ODU Grad Ashley Smith Crowned Miss United States

Old Dominion University graduate Ashley Smith has been crowned Miss United States 2011.

Smith, from Chesapeake, won the pageant in Las Vegas July 17, becoming only the second African American to win the Miss United States title in the competition's 11 years of existence.

"I was actually planning to take a year off from pageants to focus on school and work," said Smith, 23. "But something inside of me told me to give it a shot."

She entered the contest in March, and won Miss Virginia United States a month later, to earn the trip to Las Vegas. "It all happened so fast, but I knew it was all part of a great plan. I just had to be persistent and take the journey," Smith said.

As Miss United States, Smith will travel across the country for a year, promoting the Miss United States organization and her personal platform of breast cancer awareness. "My life changed forever when my mother became the first person in my family diagnosed with breast cancer. I began to look at the disease in a completely different way and vowed to educate others that breast cancer is an impartial killer," she said.

Smith, a graduate of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, earned a degree in communication from ODU in 2010, and is currently pursuing a master's in journalism at Regent University. She was awarded the title of Miss Virginia United States during the pageant in Richmond the weekend of April 8-10.

Smith's communication expertise helped her ace the interview portion of the contest, a key component of judging.

Pageant week in Las Vegas last month saw a series of successes for Virginia entrants. The commonwealth placed young women among the top three in all four pageant categories, including Smith's win in the biggest event.

"My family and I used to make a big deal of watching pageants on TV," Smith said. "I always thought those girls were so beautiful; I never imagined that would be me some day. Growing up, I didn't have many friends and had very low self-esteem. Pageants helped me turn that around and today I'm able to help other young women who struggle with the same issue."

Smith has worked hard to promote breast cancer awareness for the past eight years, even before she started entering pageants. Among her community service activities, she founded and serves as executive director of the Queen of P.I.N.K. Pageant, a fundraiser event in which all the entrants are breast cancer survivors. She is also the webmaster for Relay for Life of Chesapeake and media representative for Strut the Runway for Breast Cancer Inc.

"When your work comes from your heart, that work can only find another heart to reach," she said. "It may take years before you realize the extent of your service, but genuine volunteerism always touches people's lives in unimaginable ways."

This article was posted on: August 2, 2011

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