MEXICO -- Katelyn Lewis, the reigning Miss Missouri, has been in a whirlwind this past year. She's put nearly 50,000 miles on her car in her approximate 225 public appearances across the state while finding the time to complete her accounting degree.
She will pass her title to the next Miss Missouri on Saturday. Preliminary competitions started Tuesday to whittle 27 contestants down to 11 finalists — 10 judges' choice, 1 audience choice.
"The past year has truly been a dream come true. I was involved in the Miss Missouri organization for four years before I ever actually got the opportunity to become Miss Missouri," Lewis said. "I was so excited to get the opportunity to kind of touch people, reach out and become a great Miss Missouri."
Lewis has competed in pageants for several years, receiving various local titles before being crowned last year by Jennifer Davis. Contestants must raise at least $100 for the Children's Miracle Network before they're considered a contestant in a local pageant. Lewis raised $300 during her first year. Her first local title was Miss Mid-Missouri. She was also named Miss Fleur-de-lis, representing St. Louis, before earning the state title.
"I was just kind of bitten by this bug of seeing all these women who were so inspirational and so confident in themselves," she said.
Lewis sought ways to help fund her college career when she initially became involved with the Miss Missouri organization. She was attending community college through the A+ program, which paid for her tuition but not books.
"I started looking at different scholarship opportunities for young women, and I kept coming across the Miss America organization leading me to Miss Missouri," Lewis said. "I've gotten to learn a lot more this year being Miss Missouri and getting to sit in on the board meetings."
The winner of Miss Missouri usually has to take a year off from school to serve the role. The Miss Missouri organization made an exception for Lewis since she was so close to graduation. She worked with her school, Missouri Baptist University in Creve Coeur, to take online courses.
"I took my last few classes in spans of eight weeks," she said. "So I was never taking a bunch of classes at once. I was taking classes all throughout the year, and I got to graduate about a month ago."
It's not a path Lewis would recommend, because it meant a lot of late nights. She had to find a way to balance her appearance schedule and her class schedule.
"I didn't want to say no to any appearance, because you only get one year to be Miss Missouri,” she said. “At the same time, that was a big goal I had, was to continue to go to school and to graduate.”
Many of Lewis' public appearances have been at schools teaching students about internet safety and how to best present themselves online as part of her personal impact campaign.
"So many young people are tweeting things, because they're upset or they're mad at someone, and they're losing amazing opportunities in the future because of inappropriate language on Twitter or pictures that are super inappropriate on Facebook, Instagram or even sometimes videos on TikTok and Snapchat," Lewis said.
She connected with a former FBI agent to develop a message for students and parents. She met the agent when she was an intern with the Milo organization in St. Louis, which offered a safe space for youth and teens to interact online. It is no longer an active organization.
"As I kind of fell in love with figuring out what was going on in social media and raising awareness for positive social media, I kind of branched off and did my own type of thing," Lewis said.
Lewis created an education portal at yourdigitalcompass.net for best practices for social media.
"That's the biggest thing for me because it's everlasting. It will always be there," Lewis said.
Now that she is passing on her crown, Lewis is preparing for the next stage of her life. She has moved to Kansas City, where she will work as a staff accountant for Cochran, Head, Vick & Co., which also has a branch in Mexico. Her job starts Monday.
Due to Miss America rules, Lewis cannot have direct involvement with Miss Missouri and Miss America for one year after her reign.
"So I probably won't do anything, unless just a local (pageant) wants me to come back and sing. I know a local in St. Louis probably wants me to," she said.
Lewis has advice for the next Miss Missouri. There may be mornings when you wake up and wish you weren't the title holder, she said. But the new Miss Missouri must remember that there were 26 other women who wanted to the title. The women who did not win were the ones she thought about each day, Lewis said.
"You're not just being Miss Missouri for yourself, you're being Miss Missouri for your entire class, because they don't get the opportunity, so you have to cherish the opportunity and do the best you possibly can," she said.