By then, Ronke was benefiting from her four-year full scholarship to McDonogh. Despite being almost two years younger than many of her classmates, she excelled at her schoolwork, worked part-time in the admissions office, became a featured vocalist in the gospel choir and started a campus chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions. In her junior year, she became one of 12 students picked to serve on the national council of that organization. Last fall, she took over the leadership of McDonogh's Black Awareness Club, organizing fund-raisers for the Bea Gaddy Family Center and Bentalou Elementary School in West Baltimore.
Ronke's teachers marvel at her drive and determination to do her best. She never whines, they say. In a culture obsessed with the notion of "stressing out," Ronke always seems to keep her cool.
When club adviser Stephanie Dennis asked if she had an agenda for the Black Awareness Club, Ronke arrived at the next meeting with a long list of plans.
"She not only had the ideas, but also the proposals for how to implement them," Dennis says. "I'd say, `Have you thought about this or that?' And she'd say, `Yeah, that's on page 3.'"
Along with fund-raisers, Ronke mobilized the Big Brother, Big Sister program among McDonogh's students of color. She arranged Black History Month presentations that included guest speaker Walter Thomas Sr., pastor of New Psalmist Baptist Church, and a performing arts assembly of poetry, music and Ronke's own rendition of "Four Women," originally performed by Nina Simone, one of her favorite artists.
The senior plans to study voice and business in college. Although she was granted early admission into New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, she turned the offer down after she learned the university would give her only a partial scholarship.
"I couldn't afford it," she says. "NYU wanted me to pay about $20,000 a year - and in the grand scheme of my life, I don't think I could handle coming out of college with that much debt."
She has also been accepted at Temple University, Boston University, the University of Maryland, Northeastern University and Philadelphia University and is waiting to learn their financial aid offers. She believes God will place her on the right path .
The final chapter of Ronke's state pageant tale concluded quite happily, if suspensefully. The teenager waited with the other contestants in the pink and lavender gown she borrowed for "the poise section" while the announcer, Miss Maryland USA 2005, Marina Harrison, began calling out category winners.
"At that point, I had messed up the fitness section and I didn't expect anything from the competition," she says. "But I did think, `Maybe I can still win the talent competition, which is $250.'"
Harrison announced the spirit award, the scholastic award, the fitness award. Then came talent.
"When she said, `Jeanna Riscigno and Brittanie Everhart' - my smile was there, but I was trembling in my body because I just felt like, `Wow, I didn't win anything,'" Ronke recalls.
"I was like, `All hope is lost, but I tried my best, so that's something I can take out of this.'"
Harrison next announced the contest's third runner-up, then second runner-up, then first runner-up. Then it was time for Miss Maryland to announce Maryland's 2005 Junior Miss:
Contestant Number 12, Ronke Olaleye!
Despite her doubts, Ronke had won $5,000 toward college with a chance to compete for more money at the national competition in Mobile, Ala., in June. She had also won automatic partial scholarships to any of 16 colleges - most of which she had never heard of - as well as full scholarships to Troy State University in Alabama and Campbellsville University in Kentucky.
"It didn't register until the little boy came out with my flowers and my medallion and gave me a kiss. I was, `Ooooohh! That's me!' I just couldn't believe it," she recalls. "Afterward, my walk was all messed up. I was crying. It was one of those moments I will never forget. My family came up on stage. My mom was still in her R.N. uniform, my brother and sister were in their sneakers."
"It was a big surprise to us," admits her mother. "At first, we weren't even going to let her compete because of the moral aspect."
That Saturday, however, the 41-year-old nurse made sure she could leave work early so that the entire family could drive to Frederick for the competition. They arrived just in time for the awards.
Ronke is short for Aderonke, which means "God has given me something to cherish."
"We have realized that she is a talented child," Olaleye says. "God's hand is upon her. ... We hope that she will keep up this good work that she has started."
Maryland's 2005 Junior Miss has no intention of doing anything else. She's already developing a list of ways to use her business degree.
"I would like my own record label," she says. "That way I could be in charge of what I sing and manage myself and choose what I want to do. I also want to start a chain of African restaurants around this country, and hopefully, around the world at some point. I would also like to open a chain of something that's between a bed and breakfast and a hotel for missionaries who travel around the world.
"You can see I have big dreams!"
Title: Maryland's Junior Miss 2005
School: McDonogh School
Family: Father, Emanuel, a pastor; mother, Grace, a nurse; two siblings
Ambitions: Professional singer, restaurateur, hotelier
Next pageant: America's Junior Miss, Mobile, Ala., in June
Quote: "I'm not a pageant person by any means. I was skeptical about this."