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Lawless Competes in State Pageant

By Geoffrey A. Fowler, Crimson Staff Writer

Some Harvard students win scholarships that come with a plaque.

Quincy House resident Laura M. Lawless '00 wins scholarships that come with a tiara.

And copious responsibilities too, said the reigning Miss Freetown, Mass., who competed in the 60th Anniversary Miss Massachusetts Pageant on June 11.

She came in sixth at the state level and won the talent portion of the competition, but the responsibilities of her Freetown title remain.

"The pageant days of when you rode in the back of a limousine are over," Lawless said. "It's now much more a commitment to public service and community activities."

Lawless, who is a resident of Flushing, N.Y., said she'll spend much of the summer traveling back to the Bay State for public appearances and mentoring sessions with youth. She was able to compete in the Massachusetts competitions because Freetown's pageant is open to out-of-state students.

Lawless said that her experiences on the road are the best part of the Miss America pageant system.

"I get to meet one-on-one with students and talk with them about their fears and hopes," Lawless said.

At her speaking engagements, Lawless also promotes her platform of mental health awareness, speaking to patients at nursing homes, their families, and children.

These responsibilities keep her busy.

"Out of a seven days a week, I'm gone doing appearances four days," she said. "I really wanted to have the time to do everything, but I have so many responsibilities with the pageant title I had to choose not to write a thesis--which I'm still not exactly okay with."

But the scholarship money she earns helps make up for some of the disappointment.

In total, she has won over $1,000, all of which has gone to Harvard.

"I will never see a check passed into my hand [from the pageants]," she said "It goes directly to tuition."

Lawless isn't the first contestant to have her pageant winnings go to Harvard. In fact, she said, Crimson women--including the outgoing Miss Massachusetts, Elizabeth E. Hancock '00--have dominated the competition throughout the past decade.

And it was Hancock who first suggested that Lawless try out for a local contest in the Miss America system.

But the Freetown contest wasn't Lawless' first experience with competitive pageantry.

As a high school senior, she won the New York state title in America's Junior Miss Scholarship Competition. The event claims it is not a "pageant"--though Lawless admitted it "might look like one to the outside observer."

Lawless said both competitions involve similar activities--both place great importance talent and intelligence, though the pageants also include swimsuit competitions.

Lawless said her success is a result of talent and effort, not a "small waist and perfect features."

"I'm not a stick figure," she said. "I'm not thin, but I do consider myself in fairly good shape."

Lawless won the Miss Massachusetts competition's talent award by performing a Fredrick Chopin piece for piano, which she has studied for 15 years. She has also served as accompanist for the Radcliffe Choral Society.

While the talent exhibition comprised 40 percent of her total score, 30 percent came from a personal interview, with the swimsuit and evening wear competitions comprising 15 percent each.

Lawless said she isn't offended by the inclusion of "beauty" in the pageant.

"There is nothing that has been ever said to me that degrades any of the women," she said.

"There is nothing that promotes women more than the chance to receive scholarships," she adds. "The program is meant to reward women who have dedicated a lot of their time to perfecting a talent and keeping themselves in good physical health."

And what about the swimsuit portion of the competition?

"It is an evaluation of whether physically you can handle the rigors of an intense travelling schedule," she said.

Preparing for the swimsuit competition necessitated a rigorous fitness routine, Lawless said, though, unlike some other contestants, she did not hire a personal image consultant.

"Mostly it was just about getting in better physical shape--working out every day," she said.

And although she said some of her peers are skeptical about the pageant's value, she said she has been pleasantly surprised by their response to her participation.

"I don't have as much criticism as I expected to get," she said.

Lawless said she may compete for the Miss Massachusetts title again next year, but rules would demand that she do so from a different local pageant.

"I can't crown myself," she said.

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