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  • Writer's pictureTori Leto

Empowering Dreams: Creating a Legacy of Unfettered Potential

I am thrilled to share that I have reached my fundraising goal! Thanks to the incredible generosity and support of my network, family, and friends, I will be competing for the title of Miss Florida entirely sponsored. This accomplishment is not only a huge relief but also a fantastic opportunity. It has also led me to reflect on the financial burdens associated with competing and the legacy I hope to leave within the Miss America organization. 

Recently, my TikTok feed has been flooded with videos from recent graduates lamenting the scarcity of scholarships available to the “average student.” Many of these scholarships seem to go to the wealthy students in their schools, a trend that baffles many as they are not the ones in need. Take the Bright Futures Scholarship, for instance. This merit-based scholarship relies heavily on grades, SAT scores, and GPA—all of which are heavily influenced by a student's access to academic resources.

In high school, I was fortunate to have a fiscally secure household and parents who prioritized my education, allowing me to focus entirely on my studies. I could afford to retake the SAT multiple times and even get a tutor if needed. As a result, I was awarded the Bright Futures Scholarship for my undergraduate degree. However, a classmate of mine, who worked throughout high school and could only afford to take the SAT once, struggled academically due to her family responsibilities. She missed out on college due to financial constraints, unable to break the generational cycle of not attending college.

It's a harsh reality that many scholarships and academic opportunities exacerbate the education gap rather than bridge it. Instead of creating equitable opportunities, we often end up reinforcing the success of those who already have resources.

I believe that by rethinking how we allocate resources and support, we can create more inclusive and fair opportunities for all students, regardless of their financial background. This is why the power of community and collective generosity is so important to me.

I am always amazed by the incredible amounts of money raised at galas and events for various worthy causes. Seeing how a community can transform lives with donations that are a fraction of their net worth is truly inspiring. After my time as Miss Tampa, I realized that even if I never become Miss Florida, I want to remain involved with the Miss America organization in some capacity—perhaps as a community leader or a volunteer executive director for a local pageant. However, my recent fundraising efforts have inspired me to dream bigger.

The Miss America system is the leading scholarship provider for women in America. I want my legacy to be a sponsorship or scholarship—not one that goes to the contestant with the crown, who often has the most financial resources for coaches and clothes, but one that helps girls compete without being held back by financial limitations. This sponsorship would be available to contestants interested in joining the organization. It would provide the necessary funds for gowns, shoes, makeup, and other essentials, based not on academic metrics but on an essay or interview that reveals the contestant's heart and the impact she hopes to make with these resources. This way, contestants won't be bound by the shackles of financial insecurity.

I have only succeeded because of the resources I had at my disposal. While I have made the most of these opportunities, I recognize that many women’s potential is thwarted by their circumstances. This sponsorship aims to help women join the sisterhood of the Miss America system without the burden of financial worries, allowing them to focus solely on making a positive impact.

The goal of this sponsorship is to enrich the organization with diversity, equity, and inclusion, bringing a vast range of delegates to the Miss America stage. More importantly, it aims to empower young women in the community, showing them that they need not fear the “glass ceiling.” There is a village behind them, ensuring they have everything they need to never be held back. This is the narrative I have been fortunate enough to live, and I want to extend that same support to others.

Thank you to all who support me, not only financially but in every aspect of my journey.

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