Atlantic City, here she comes

Miss Maryland, Keri Schrader, has a strong opinions, strong toes and is ready for September


July 11, 1999|By Sarah Pekkanen | By Sarah Pekkanen,SUN STAFF

Forget the big-haired, "My dream is for world peace"-burbling beauty contestant of yesterday. Keri Schrader, 23, the newly anointed Miss Maryland, is among a new breed of women storming the pageant circuit. Consider the Rockville native's vital stats: She's a third-year law student at prestigious Georgetown University. She can perform an entire ballet dance en pointe (meaning on her tiptoes -- ouch!). And, yes, she'll probably wear a bikini in the Miss America pageant in September.

Before she heads off to Atlantic City, we helped the former Miss College Park practice her interview skills:

What was the first pageant you ever competed in?

The very, very first pageant was when I was in eighth grade. I grew up in Wauchula, Fla., and it was in a little town fair. It was the Junior Miss Hardee County. Then, when I was in college, someone introduced me to the Miss America organization.

How long has it been since a Miss Maryland won the Miss America title?

Miss Maryland has never had a title holder go on to become Miss America. About 10 years ago, we had a first runner-up.

Is it nerve-wracking facing such daunting odds?

It's good timing!

How did you prepare for the Miss Maryland pageant?

I made sure I kept up with my ballet, and also made sure I worked on my platform issue, the issue I'll work with and speak on during my year of service. I've been active in the field of domestic violence prevention for several years now, volunteering for the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office Family Violence Unit. I help prepare cases for prosecution. I'm also active with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and I've done some lobbying on Capitol Hill for important legislation to help battered women.

Why did you choose domestic violence as your platform?

When I was in high school, my best friend was in a violent relationship. That was my first introduction to domestic violence. Back then, I had no idea what domestic violence was and no idea how to help her. ... I researched it in college and realized what a tremendous problem it is. As a titleholder, I have the opportunity to speak to people about issues. That's what it's going to take, educating people about this issue and facts and what we can do to prevent it.

It seems like the pageant has changed in recent years, with less emphasis on beauty and more on academic and professional accomplishments. Do you agree?

Absolutely. I guess it's been about nine or 10 years since Miss Americas developed platform issues. Since that time, Miss America has become not just a [she laughs] figurehead for the organization, but an activist for issues she cares about. ... It's taken Miss America into the trenches of social issues.

Are other students at Georgetown Law surprised to learn of your interest in pageants?

At first they're surprised a fellow student is involved in pageants, but then I explain what Miss America is all about and how much scholarship money is involved -- Miss America is the largest scholarship organization in the world -- and they don't realize that. ... Both fellow students and the administration at Georgetown are very supportive of what I'm doing.

What are your thoughts on the big debate: Bikinis vs. one-piece suits?

I'll probably wear a two-piece in Miss America because I think it's a little more flattering for my figure. The debate is, `Well it's sexist and demeans women,' but if you can walk across the stage in a national competition in a swimsuit in front of thousands of people, you can handle just about anything!

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