In a world of seemingly endless bad news, it’s great to read something uplifting. The Miss USA pageant has marked a new milestone by awarding a contestant with Down syndrome for the very first time.
Marking the first time a participant with Down syndrome has competed in a Miss USA state show altogether, 22-year-old Mikayla Holmgren, a talented young dancer, was awarded both the Spirit of Miss USA and Director’s Awards at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
And it’s not the first time Miss Minnesota has pushed boundaries – last year, Halima Aden made waves as the first ever Miss USA contestant to compete in a hijab and burkini. And in this climate, such a statement is pretty powerful.
As for Mikayla, her double win has inspired countless others, and moved her to tears. She told BuzzFeed News, “I was super shocked, I was in tears. I went from a special needs pageant to the biggest pageant in the world. It’s kind of crazy.”
Mikayla Holmgren said she was so shocked she cried when she won two awards at Miss Minnesota yesterday. She also made history as the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in a @MissUSA state pageant 👑https://t.co/dBqh8BP2FE pic.twitter.com/rdxXHmTzgF
— Brianna Sacks (@bri_sacks) November 27, 2017
Holmgren’s background in dance is one she’s described as an outlet, and way to express herself. She hopes that her visibility in the pageant might expose new audiences to different types of people, hopefully challenging some of their ideas in the process. Speaking to People earlier this year, she said, “I want to show my personality. I want to show what my life looks like, being happy, and joyful. I want to show what Down syndrome looks like.”
And it seems her star spirit really caught the eye of the show organizers. “You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile and dance. You exude the spirit of Miss USA by always being true to yourself and putting others first. You have selflessness, humility and the ability to overcome obstacles with a smile on your face and excitement in your heart,” Denise Wallace Heitkamp read from Mikayla’s nomination letter for the Spirit Award. Heitkamp is the executive co-director of Future Productions in Savage, Minnesota, which produces the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
Heitkamp also described Holmgren as “an incredible and accomplished young woman,” who was “the epitome of what the Miss Universe Organization strives to look for in contestants.”
It sure sounds like the right way forward to us –- and like a somewhat outdated and criticized organization is finally getting itself up to date, showcasing the diversity and beauty of the world around us. By including different notions of beauty and celebrating what’s inside and not just outside, we all benefit.