MICHELLE N. ATTAI, a 17-year-old senior at Meade High School, is Miss Maryland Teen 2002.
As the newly crowned Miss Maryland Teen, Michelle will represent the state in the Miss Teen USA pageant in August. She'll also spend the year representing the pageant at community events around the state.
After finishing as first runner-up in the pageant the past two years, she waited nervously to hear the outcome of this year's competition, held Nov. 25 at the Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel in Baltimore.
She had made her way through the preliminary competition to be named to the "Top 15" group.
At the pageant finals, she took part in the swimsuit and evening gown events. She answered questions during an onstage interview. Asked to name a role model, she answered Oprah Winfrey.
When she was chosen as one of the five finalists, the tension was, she said, "nerve-wracking." She waited while the names of the fourth runner-up, then the third runner-up, then the second runner-up were called.
Finally, only two contestants were left. Would Michelle once again hear her name called as the first runner-up?
No. This was her year.
How did she feel when she realized she'd won?
"Very excited!" she said.
This contest is not Michelle's only experience with pageants. At 14, she took part in the Miss Junior Teen District of Columbia event. Some friends had told her the pageant would be fun and a good experience, so she gave it a try. She became Miss Junior Teen District of Columbia and traveled to the national pageant in Las Vegas, where she was awarded Miss Photogenic honors.
The next year, at 15, she entered the Miss Maryland Teen USA pageant, where she was named first runner-up. As a 16-year-old, she competed again. Again she was named first runner-up.
When she won the crown at this year's pageant, her family was there, beaming proudly.
"She put a lot of work into it," said her father, Glenn Attai. "It kept her focused. She had a goal set of going to college. She has a good head on her shoulders."
Michelle's brother, Glenn Attai Jr., 18, said, "She's talented and she's pretty."
Throughout high school, Michelle has worked hard at her school courses, at preparing for the pageants and at her job selling shoes at a store in Arundel Mills mall. Now that she has earned her title, she says she looks forward to representing the Miss Maryland Teen organization through community service activities and public appearances.
One major focus of her year will be to speak with children about having a positive outlook. She has been involved in working with youths through her involvement in Meade's student government and as a mentor at a local elementary school.
Michelle sees her title as a way to capture children's attention. Children hear so much negative news, she says, that it is important for them to hear a more positive message. She tells them, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." And, through her example, she has shown that a positive focus can lead to success.
Her plans include college, to be partially funded by a scholarship she won with her pageant crown. After that, she is considering a career as an entertainment lawyer. Whatever choice she makes, Attai is sure that the self-confidence she has learned by taking part in the pageants will stand her in good stead.
Michelle knows that many people criticize pageants, and she acknowledges that pageants are "not meant for everyone." Still, for her, they have been a way to learn good life lessons, such as being confident.
"If you're able to do something, do it and do it well," she says. "You can't control what other people do, but only what you do yourself. There are lots of really cute, really pretty girls, and you are always being judged by people. You could start feeling low when you see how beautiful other contestants are. I just tell them, `You're beautiful,' and be confident about myself."
Regional penance services
Advent is a season when Roman Catholics traditionally take part in the sacrament of reconciliation, also known as confession. Almost every parish offers the sacrament throughout the year. But during the next few weeks, area churches will join together in regional penance services.
At the services, priests from several parishes will offer the opportunity for people to take part in confession. The assembled group will reflect on the meaning of the Advent season.
The following penance services will take place: 11 a.m. Dec. 15 at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church in Pasadena; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at St. Philip Neri Church in Linthicum; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 at Holy Family Church, Davidsonville; and 11 a.m. Dec. 22 at St. Joseph's Church, Odenton.