Walking With A Purpose
Written by Madeleine Jepsen
Pageantry consists of much more than walking onstage in a dazzling dress. Participants must develop their resumes, show a strong academic focus, and possess strong interview skills. For Hannah Blazek, ’16, the emphasis placed on developing professional skills helped transform a shy, six-foot redhead into a confident leader.
“A lot of preparation goes into it,” she explained. “You really have to make sure that you have a lot of the business and leadership skills that are required of professionals—but at a young age.”
As a high schooler participating in beauty pageants, Blazek said she learned many valuable skills that would ultimately shape her personality and career.
“I oftentimes walked with my shoulders down and basically tried to hide myself, but through pageantry I learned I had to be confident in the person I was. I can’t change it, so learning to walk with a presence…that really shows that I care what I’m speaking about and am confident in myself,” she said.
Pageants also sparked Hannah’s interest in public speaking, so when she transferred to Hillsdale and flipped through the course catalog, the speech department seemed like a natural fit, building up the skills she would need for a career in law from the foundational skills she learned as a pageant participant.
“The pageant system really does a lot of good,” Hannah said. “It really prompted my desire to want to do public speaking and to want to do something where I was in the limelight, per se, advocating for the beliefs that I have.”
While at Hillsdale, she studied the art of persuasion both rhetorically and visually, combining her speech major with a graphic design minor.
“Hannah’s style is energetic,” Professor of Speech Kirstin Kiledal said. “She is a speaker who knows how to make use of not just her voice, but also her nonverbals. She combines that, then, with the tools that are available from a visual media perspective, which many speakers don’t do well.”
Kiledal said Hannah’s PowerPoint presentations in speech classes would often exceed everyone’s expectations as she combined her talents for visual and verbal persuasion.
Her public speaking classes also helped Hannah develop the skills she first fostered in the pageant system.
“I want to get into litigation as a lawyer, so my classes were a great opportunity to become comfortable speaking in front of large crowds and hone in on devices that are useful for persuading people to accept your viewpoint, which is very applicable when you’re talking to juries,” Hannah said.
Now Hannah is studying law at University of Virginia School of Law, the number-eight-ranked law school in U.S. News and World Report. She said her time studying speech at Hillsdale has helped her succeed in her current studies as well.
“Now, especially in law school, I have a leg up on everyone,” Blazek said. “A lot of law is based on definition, which is a huge part of rhetoric, because in order to communicate, you have to have a common understanding of what you’re talking about. It sounds so easy, but it’s so confusing when you’re talking about it wrapped in philosophy and political rhetoric, but it’s incredibly important, and that’s one thing Hillsdale taught me very well.”
In addition to her law studies, Hannah has continued to be involved with pageantry, but in a much different capacity. After winning Junior Teen Miss Nebraska as a sophomore in high school and placing third in the national pageant, Hannah continued to participate in pageants, serving as a volunteer for Miss Amazing, a non-profit pageant organization for women with disabilities.
She started as a “buddy” volunteer there, working one-on-one with pageant participants. The Miss Amazing organization continued to grow, and Hannah ultimately served as a production assistant, director of outreach, and as director of family relations. As a summer intern, she helped connect Miss Amazing to other organizations and promote the organization publicly.
Hannah now serves on the board of directors for Miss Amazing and has continued to work with the organization she first joined in high school.
“Overall, you just have to follow your heart,” Hannah said. “I could not imagine if Miss Amazing was not in my life and think I’m incredibly blessed to have found an organization that gives back to me as much as I give to them.”
Madeleine Jepsen, ‘18, studies biochemistry and journalism. Outside the classroom, Madeleine serves as a reporter and assistant editor for the Collegian. She is also involved in Catholic Society.