GGC student funds education with pageant titles, inspires others

Determined to earn scholarships for her education, Georgia Gwinnett College sophomore Keila Diaz-Ramirez found an unusual way to meet her goal: beauty pageants.

Determined to earn scholarships for her education, Georgia Gwinnett College sophomore Keila Diaz-Ramirez found an unusual way to meet her goal: beauty pageants.

“I never thought I’d be a beauty queen,” Diaz-Ramirez said. “But I’ve tried every sport you could name in high school and I wasn’t good at any of them, and that was where a lot of college scholarship money was coming from. But then I saw that if I entered my high school pageant and won, there was money for school.”

And win, she did. Along with the sash, crown and the title of Miss Mill Creek 2010, she won a $1000 scholarship for college. From there she’s won six titles: Miss Buford 2010, Miss Southern Bell 2011, Miss Southern States 2011, Top 10 Miss Teen America 2011, Miss Georgia Coed 2011 and her current title of 2012 Miss American Teen.

Diaz-Ramirez also had some help from her mother, a runner-up to the Miss El Salvador title in 1977.

“She showed me how to do the walk and she instilled in me the sense that beauty goes deeper than the skin. But winning money for college is what makes me want to continue doing pageants,” she said. “I’ve also learned that pageant work helps build strong character, poise and responsibility. I see my role as a queen in that I can inspire other young ladies. You don’t have to be economically high up there or extremely beautiful to do beauty pageants. It’s who you are that makes you beautiful and not what you have.”

Her pageant experience has also taught her how to be responsible in managing her work and how to focus on what she wants, she said. Therefore, goal-setting is one accessory she keeps tucked in her handbag.

When not preparing for upcoming competitions, such as the Miss Georgia USA title in November 2013, Diaz-Ramirez focuses on her biology classes at GGC. She plans to continue her studies once she graduates and is considering a career in anesthesiology.

Diaz-Ramirez, whose father comes from Puerto Rico and mother from El Salvador, also wants to be an inspiration to other Latinos.

“Even though we’re a minority, we can still make a difference and show young people that if you go for your dreams, you can reach them,” said Diaz-Ramirez. “There’s a quote that I use, ‘shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’ The idea is that it’s important to try whatever it is you’ve set your mind on, no matter what everyone else is saying.”

One of her commitments as a pageant queen includes traveling around the country and speaking at motivational seminars for young people about self-esteem issues. She also visits children in hospitals and works with the Special Olympics of Georgia and Hosea Feed the Hungry.

“Beauty fades, but your intelligence will take you farther,” said Diaz-Ramirez. “Even though I do beauty pageants while in school – I will never let pageants get in the way of school. School is my priority. But pageants have helped me grow as a person with confidence, determination, responsibility and leadership skills. I tell younger people to never say they can’t accomplish something. If you put your mind and soul to it you can always achieve what you want. The road will be bumpy, but you just have to pick yourself up and keep going.”

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