Lessons learned from pageants

Published 10:23 am Thursday, July 3, 2008

It’s perhaps an atypical combination — religion teacher and pageant queen — but it’s proved a perfect fit for Miss Minnesota International Tina Rosenthal.

The two tracks are inseparably intertwined, in fact, for the former Miss Austin and Pacelli High School graduate.

“I knew I wanted my doctorate in theology since I was 14,” said 24-year-old Rosenthal, now a Twin Cities resident. “I knew I would have to pay for it myself, so I started a huge scholarship search, and the Miss Austin pageant offered the biggest one.

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“I wanted to go to college, and that money was sitting there and waiting for a woman in this community,” she said.

Rosenthal won first runner-up that year, the first of five Miss Austin pageants she would enter before a victory in 2006. Seventeen pageants later, and a total of $10,000 in winnings, Rosenthal had found one passion to fuel another, most recently winning Miss Minnesota International in March while earning a master’s degree in arts and Catholic studies at her alma mater, the University of St. Thomas.

It was a seemingly graceful climb for her, particularly as she transitioned from the Miss America to the Miss International pageant organization. Both organize events nationwide, with small- to large-scale pageants from the local to national level, though Rosenthal said their priorities and style vary somewhat.

The Miss International organization is more “interview-oriented,” as opposed to a talent focus in Miss America pageants, and doesn’t require a swimwear category, instead opting for fitness outfits, complete with tennis shoes.

“This system is something I really wanted to do,” Rosenthal said, referring to Miss International. “I was really comfortable because I had all that experience in the Miss Minnesota, and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”

Her instincts were on. Rosenthal won the pageant March 9 after days of interviews with judges and a two-day competition. At the moment of crowning, she said her adrenaline was so strong, her memory of the win is spotty.

“I have photos of the moment I heard my name, and actually no recollection,” she said, laughing.

What has followed, however, has been wholly memorable. The title has given her opportunity to fulfill a mission, felt personally and required, to contribute to her community and educate audiences about her platform — foster care adoption.

“Our motto is, ‘To make the difference,’” Rosenthal said. “The crown is that sparkle that get the attention and perks the ears.”

And hopefully you can educate people in the process, she added.

An adopted child herself, Rosenthal said she was already an active advocate, though the Miss Minnesota International broadcast her message with new force through regularly-scheduled appearances, parades and speeches.

“On any given day, I have calendars spread out all over my desk color-coded,” she said, noting the three planners she keeps for her pageant work, for her academics and job and for her appearances.

This work — through Miss International and pageant experience — has also changed her, she said, helping her hone skills and poise and affording contacts and possibilities unparalleled. Rosenthal cites one example: her former two-year teaching position at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minn., in which her communication skills and interpersonal savvy far outshined her lack of work experience.

“I’m absolutely certain if I hadn’t had all those interviews in the pageant and I hadn’t gotten rid of all that fear, I wouldn’t have gotten that job,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal quit the job to pursue her degree, which was offered free of charge through a fellowship at St. Thomas. Following her graduation this winter, she hopes to eventually earn her doctorate in cannon law, which could lead to a professional as a cannon lawyer or tribunal judge for the Catholic Church.

In the meantime, she will prepare for the Miss International competition in Chicago, which will feature contestants from countries worldwide. Rosenthal said she and her coach will organize mock interviews, stage runs and other exercises until the event July 25-26.

According to its Web site, the Miss International organization provides “young women everywhere the opportunity to compete in a pageant system that maintains the highest of moral standards.”

The Miss International pageant is one of three crowns, which also include Mrs. International and Miss Teen International. Rosenthal said her two Minnesota counterparts will be in Austin for the Spamtown Freedom Fest parade Friday. She was also a judge in the Miss Austin pageant Tuesday.