Pre-Nursing Student Juggles School, Busy Pageant Schedule

Although Jasmyn Wilkins was born into a family of NBA royalty – you might have heard of her father, Gerald, or her uncle, Dominique – she discovered in high school that she was more interested in playing in the band than playing basketball. On June 3, the pre-nursing student will be vying for a crown of her own in a very different kind of national competition: the Miss USA Pageant.

Wilkins, 22, had never even seen a beauty pageant on TV until early 2011. One night as she watched a pageant – her first – with roommates, one of them remarked that she could see Wilkins competing in something like Miss USA. Although Wilkins dismissed the idea at first, a seed had been planted, and eventually she looked into it.

“I was like, ‘Well, you know, why not?’” Wilkins says. “I just thought it would be a fun thing to try. I didn’t even think that I would make it past Miss Georgia [USA].”

The self-proclaimed geek sold her saxophone to help raise money to cover the cost of her Miss Georgia USA entry fee, eveningwear and training with a pageant coach. Her goal was to make it to the top 15, which she thought would be pretty impressive for her first pageant. At the competition in November 2011, Wilkins’ was the last name called in the top 15. Hers was also the last name called out of the five finalists, and last announced of the evening as the new Miss Georgia USA.

Since she won the title, it’s been a whirlwind of public appearances, community service work, modeling and pageant prep for Miss USA. Now that she is competing on a national stage, she has sponsors that cover everything: shoes, gowns, makeup, pageant coaches, stylists, personal trainers and more. In the midst of all this, of course, she is going to school. Wilkins, who hopes to go into nursing or respiratory therapy, transferred to GSU from Clemson at the start of the 2011-12 academic year.

“I don’t really have a social life” right now, Wilkins says. “It’s pretty much just school and pageantry.”

Balancing just those two things can be a challenge, particularly when her Miss Georgia USA schedule has her traveling out-of-state for USO appearances or crisscrossing the state to speak to students or civic organizations. One of the issues Wilkins is promoting to the latter is organ donation; her mother has received two liver transplants, without which she might not be alive. When she speaks to high school and junior high girls, she focuses on staying true to oneself.

Wilkins believes that ideal helps her stand out from many other contestants. “There are a lot of girls out there who are like Pageant Patty, who have been doing pageants their whole lives, and they’re beautiful, but they’re mechanical,” Wilkins says. “Nowadays they’re looking for someone who can relate to the modern woman, and that’s not someone who’s manufactured.”

Gregarious and articulate, Wilkins says that her strength lies in the interview portion of the pageant. Learning to walk in sky-high heels and heavy beaded dresses for the eveningwear competition, however, has been more of a struggle. “I’m so tall that when I put on 5- or 6-inch heels, my center of gravity is really off,” she says. “There really is a technique to pageant walking!”

In her six-month career as a beauty queen, Wilkins says she has grown personally, particularly in the areas of poise and confidence. She never imagined she would be at ease parading across a stage in a bikini or be able to speak in front of millions of people. “It’s helped me mature a lot,” Wilkins says of her role as Miss Georgia USA. “I don’t even feel like I’m 22; I feel like I’m a 30-year-old.”

While Miss America is known as a scholarship organization, Wilkins says that Miss USA, a separate pageant track under the Trump Organization, focuses more on the individual.

“Miss USA is really about – I know it sounds cheesy, but – really about the empowerment of women,” Wilkins says.

This pageant will be only her second competition, and, unless she wins and goes on to represent the country in the Miss Universe pageant, it will be her last. She is grateful for the many opportunities her year as Miss Georgia USA has brought her, but sees Miss USA as the pinnacle of pageants.

“I wanted to find my own place in life,” Wilkins says of her Miss Georgia USA experience. “I’m still on the hunt, but I think that pageantry is leading me in the right direction.”

May 23, 2012