By Sapna Raghavan ’20, Miss Connecticut
My journey to the Miss America pageant is unique in that I wasn’t immersed in the pageant world from a young age. Rather, when applying to colleges, I joined a local scholarship competition in my town as an extracurricular activity. At the time, I had no idea what the Miss America Organization was, how these competitions worked, or what it took to win. Lo and behold — I won! I was Miss Greater Rockville’s Outstanding Teen 2015. Later that year in June, I won Miss Connecticut’s Outstanding Teen competition and headed to Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition, the sister program to Miss America, to represent my state and continue earning scholarships for college.
After a whirlwind of a year, it was time for me to take off my crown and head to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to pursue my undergraduate degree. For four years, whenever someone found out that I was named Miss Connecticut’s Outstanding Teen, I would immediately say that it was “just a lucky day” or “it just happened.” I was suffering from imposter syndrome and only later I realized I had worked hard for the recognition, and more importantly, I deserved to acknowledge my success.
As I began my career, I realized that women in the workplace also experience imposter syndrome. Every email I wrote began with “sorry to bother you,” and I found myself being judged for my appearance rather than my performance. As women, we often consider our accomplishments to be the results of chance; we are uncomfortable using our voice, and as a result, we reduce our own power. While we have made great strides advancing gender equality in society, the confidence gap that exists today is a known crisis.
As the pandemic began, and six years had passed since I set foot on the Miss Connecticut stage, I decided it was time to focus on gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace. A small part of me also wanted to prove to myself that I could do this again; that the reason I won that first time was merit, not fluke. For the second time, I won my state competition on my first try and I could not be more proud of this accomplishment. I was the first Indian American Miss Connecticut — and I was going to Miss America!
My experience at Miss America is something that I will cherish forever. Advocating for my social impact initiative, on a national scale, was an incredible opportunity. I was able to share my story and my culture throughout the week, specifically during my talent showcase — an Indian classical dance focused on what it means to be a woman today. To hear the impact it made on supporters at the competition and on social media was really moving and overall, reminded me of what my purpose is and the profound impact we can make as female leaders.
Despite my successes, the painful reality is that, as a woman of color I will always face biases, and my Miss America experience reminded me that I constantly need to rise above these barriers. From here, I will be continuing to promote my social impact initiative across the state through events and speaking engagements. “Diversity” is often used as a buzzword, but for me and for so many other women, this word has an immense impact on our lives. Existing biases challenge our confidence, and we owe it to ourselves, as women, to reach beyond societal expectations and realize our true potential. I look forward to continuing this initiative throughout the rest of my year as Miss Connecticut and beyond.