Shayla Montgomery, 18, is ready to represent Oregon in a beautiful way when she attends the Miss Teen USA pageant this summer.
Montgomery, a Milwaukie resident who was named Miss Oregon Teen USA 2020 in January, recently went to Salem as part of a panel representing the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. Currently, counselors in schools and nurses don't have training in suicide prevention, but the Oregon Legislature is considering passing a bill to make that training mandatory.
Next year, the foundation will push for a bill to include beds specifically for teens in psych wards. Currently, teens who attempt to kill themselves are taken to the emergency room, and then sent home, where they sometimes go on to take their own lives, Montgomery said.
Montgomery will graduate in June with a high school diploma from Clackamas Middle College and an associate's degree from Clackamas Community College, and will then enroll in nursing school this fall at Concorde Career College's Portland campus.
She plans to become a registered nurse practitioner specializing in dermatology, because when she was younger she had eczema.
"It took a toll on my self-confidence, and my dermatologist helped me feel confident in my own skin," Montgomery said.
Once she has her nursing degree, she hopes to be part of the Travel Nurses program, serving in different parts of the country on a temporary basis to fill in for short-term employment gaps.
Montgomery is no stranger to national attention. In 2015, when she was only 13 years old, she was crowned National American Miss in the preteen division, in Anaheim, California. She also won the National Spokesmodel competition and was third runner-up in the nation for volunteer service.
In 2019, Montgomery was named a state honoree in the Spirit of Prudential Awards, primarily for creating #Standup, an organization devoted to ending bullying. Using social media, Montgomery invited people affected by bullying to post photos of themselves online holding a #Standup sign.
She also visited schools and community groups, speaking to young people and adults to brainstorm ways to solve the problem of bullying.
The issue is personal to her, Montgomery said, as she was bullied in sixth grade. She entered the National American Miss Pageant in 2015 as a way to prove to herself she had value.
Competing in pageants has taught her how to speak in public without fear, carry herself with confidence, and to be the best version of herself, Montgomery said.
Self-love is key
All the contestants in the Miss Oregon Teen USA pageant were asked to come up with a platform revolving around a social issue important to them. Montgomery chose Teens Speak Life, which she said is a "sister project" of #Standup that focuses on self-love.
"Anti-bullying and self-love are a dynamic duo," she said.
Montgomery said she realized that people who bully and those they bully do not have self-love, and once those people develop that quality there will be less bullying.
"When I was bullied I did not have self-love. If I had, then I wouldn't have let those words bother me," she said.
"If someone had told me to get to know myself and love myself, I could have gotten over" the bullying.
Going to nationals
For now, however, Montgomery is focused on the upcoming national pageant. She is most looking forward to meeting her fellow contestants and making Oregon proud. She is working hard to be in tip-top shape at the national pageant. Montgomery entered the state pageant as Miss Happy Valley 2019, which she said represents her optimistic personality.
The dates of the pageant have not been announced, but Montgomery has a workout regimen and a meal plan for physical fitness, and is staying on top of current events.
The first event in the national competition will be a personal interview, followed by a runway appearance in both athletic wear and evening gown. If she is selected for the top five, Montgomery will be asked an onstage question.
"This is an election year, so there will be questions about politics," she said.
Montgomery noted that in last year's local pageant she made the top 10 but did not place, so she spent a lot of time this year practicing, and it paid off.
"I was so hungry to win this year," Montgomery said, adding that she has always wanted to be Miss Oregon Teen USA, which she described as "the Super Bowl of pageants."
This pageant is different from the Miss Oregon and Miss Oregon's Outstanding Teen pageants, which feed into the Miss America program.
In the Miss USA system, judges "get to know the actual girl; every single one of us is unique. It shines the light on the best version of you," she said.
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