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Suffolk Junior Wins Miss New Jersey USA

By Richard Stile
On November 8, 2011

Its always exciting for the Suffolk community when one of our fellow students earns a prestigious title, and recently Michelle Leonardo, a junior broadcast journalism major at Suffolk, won the 2011 Miss New Jersey USA pageant. Michelle has been training for the event since the end of June, but this is certainly not the first time she's competed on stage for a title.

"I was one of those ‘Toddlers in Tiaras' girls," Michelle said of her early days of pageantry. Her mother, Laura, started putting Michelle into pageants at the age of 4, but Michelle recognizes how important it was that her mother had her involved in this world at a young age. "I am so thankful that she put me in pageants, it really shaped who I am. It made me a more confident and driven person," she said. "I just love being on stage."

Michelle won her first big title in 2008 when she was crowned Miss New Jersey Teen USA. Michelle's mother entered her into the competition without her knowing, so she was completely surprised when she found out that she had been chosen to compete. "I was just a little sixteen year old girl who walked off the street, I still have no idea how I won," Michelle says of the pageant.

Going into the Miss New Jersey USA pageant was a totally different experience. This time there wasn't a single detail about the competition that Michelle didn't know. When Michelle arrived at the Parsippany Hilton Hotel on Friday, October 21st, she was ready for battle.

Michelle successfully losing 20 pounds for the competition by going through 16 weeks of constant exercise and staying on a strict diet of low carbs and low sugars. She also barely slept for a week before the competition because all of the anticipation was really getting to her. But she kept seeing herself winning the title, which kept her focused and driven. "Being mentally prepared was my biggest challenge." Michelle said of her preparation.

The Miss New Jersey USA pageant consists of three competitions; gown, a 3 minute interview, and swimsuit. Michelle competed against 111 other girls. When it was announced that Michelle had won, she immediately fell to her knees, then continued to run around stage in joy and relief. All of her hard work and sacrifice of taking a week off from classes was now well worth it. "It wasn't easy," Michelle admitted, "I literally had to fight for the crown."

After the dust had settled, Michelle celebrated by eating an entire pineapple pizza from Domino's, and relaxing with her friends and family. She now has a long year of appearances and representing New Jersey ahead of her, but will remain enrolled in classes at Suffolk. Michelle says that she lives by her favorite saying, "Your dreams will carry you but you have to be willing to fly first," which that is all too apparent by her recent success.

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