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From selfies to selfless living

Miss America's Outstanding Teen uses faith in Christ as her guide as she launches a campaign to let real light shine.

Her triumphant walk across the stage at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., was just the beginning of Nicole Jia’s journey.

Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2017, Nicole Jia (PHOTO PROVIDED)As Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2017, the 17-year-old high school senior from Oklahoma City will travel the nation in coming months. She’ll speak to audiences about her platform, “This Little Light of Mine,” emphasizing the need for kindness.

Jia won the title, which includes a $30,000 college scholarship, after a week of intense competition alongside 51 other talented young women. The 12-year-old Outstanding Teen program encourages positive goals through scholastic achievement, creative accomplishments and community involvement.

Jia’s parents, Greg and Mary, grew up just a few miles apart in Beijing but didn’t meet until both moved to the U.S. Jia’s father is now a urologist, and the family worships with the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. Their son, Nathan, is currently enrolled at New York University Medical School.

Nicole Jia, an active member of her church’s youth group, maintains a 4.08 grade-point average and is an accomplished pianist and community volunteer. She hopes to become a national TV news anchor someday.

Meanwhile, she enjoys opportunities to expand her God-given talents and serve others.

Scroll down to read our interview with Nicole Jia and check out this video interview, too.

Tell us about how your faith has developed — and the role it played in this competition.Ever since I was a little girl, my family and I have gone to church every single Sunday and Wednesday, so faith has always been a big part of my life. And throughout the entire competition, I truly believe that it was my faith that guided me.

Anytime I felt anxious or nervous, I reminded myself that God already knew who would win long ago, and I had to trust that, if it was meant to be, then it would be me. But if not, God had other plans.

Before every phase of competition, I would say a prayer, placing everything into his hands and asking not to be nervous because he would be with me every step of the way.

Even though I wanted to give in to the nerves, I fought the urge to lose confidence in God’s power. The sense of peace and confidence that washed over me is hard to describe, but because I placed my worries and fears into his hands, I realized I had nothing to fear.
What attracted you to this competition?I first heard about the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen organization when I was a little girl. As I got older, I saw how this organization positively impacts young girls and encourages them to have a heart of service. After competing for two years, I am not the same person. I’ve changed in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined, and I can say it is due to this organization.
How does this competition differ from other pageants?Many times, when people hear the word “pageant” they automatically have some preconceived notion that may not have the most positive light, but the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen organization is not a pageant. It is a scholarship competition that rewards academic excellence, healthy living and community service.
Explain your platform and how you chose it. My platform is “This Little Light of Mine” from the Sunday school song I learned as a child. It is a platform about kindness, encouraging people to do exactly what the song says — “let it shine all the time.”

When I was younger, I had a friend who was bullied every day. As I sat and consoled her while she cried, I saw how deeply words could hurt someone. So when asked what platform I would promote during my year of service, I immediately thought, “kindness.” It is a subject that means a lot to me, and one that I believe is very relevant with what is happening in our world, nation and schools today.

Each of us has a light within us, and that light is compassion and understanding. What we need most is for people to shine that light onto others through their actions and their words. That’s what I will encourage people to do.
How will you communicate that platform? I have a new campaign called #BeSelfLess. During my freshman year I switched high schools, and being the new girl can be very tough. On weekends I would see these photos on social media of all the girls in my grade at sleepovers or birthday dinners that I wasn’t invited to. It made me feel like an outsider who didn’t belong. Then I read an article that people spend, on average, five hours a week trying to take the perfect selfie. That blew my mind.

I thought, “Why don’t we use our time to document people doing good things for others instead of pictures of ourselves?” So that’s where the idea for #BeSelfLess came from.

While I was in Atlantic City for the Miss America competition, I kicked it off with a clean-up of a section of the beach. The goal is to capture moments that are truly authentic —the person who helped load groceries into someone’s car or a neighbor offering to mow your lawn.

Pictures like these will turn the selfie tide into a selfless wave.
As a Christian, what opportunities or challenges are there for you in this position? This prestigious title is a wonderful chance for me to use my faith to reach as many people as possible on a national level, to encourage kindness and compassion.

One challenge that many of us encounter is the lack of time in our busy schedules. Although I know this year will be very eventful and filled with exciting opportunities, I remind myself that it wasn’t by my own abilities that I won this title, but through the power of believing in God.

So, no matter how busy I may become, or how many people congratulate me, it is important that I remember who I am, whose I am and who got me here.

Filed under: Dialogue

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