Shawnee High School, community inspired by Miss USA alumna’s pageant journey

There’s a new motto at Shawnee High School: “Empowered by Elle.”

The motto is inspired by Elle Smith, a Shawnee graduate and reigning Miss USA who competed in the 70th Miss Universe pageant in Israel on Sunday. The Springfield native finished the competition as a Top 10 delegate among 79 other competitors.

Miss India Harnaaz Sandhu was crowned the 2021 Miss Universe.

Nonetheless, Smith’s former high school and the surrounding community are proud of her accomplishments.

“The Clark Shawnee community is extremely proud of Elle and her representation of the USA,” said Sherry Akers, a Shawnee guidance counselor. “We look forward to watching her fulfill her responsibilities as Miss USA, and are confident she will continue to inspire, empower and motivate change in the world.”

Springfield leaders also praised Smith for her Miss Universe success.

“The City of Springfield warmly congratulates Elle Smith on placing in the Top 10 delegates during the Miss Universe pageant.” Logan Cobb, Springfield deputy city manager, said. “We hope you can feel all the pride and happiness surrounding you from Clark County.”

Smith, a 2016 graduate, competed as Miss Kentucky to capture the Miss USA crown during the 70th Miss USA pageant on Nov. 29 in Oklahoma. While she was a student at Shawnee, Smith participated in choir, orchestra and drama. The 23-year-old also was a volleyball player and an honor student.

Laurel Lanum, currently a junior at the high school, said that seeing the Shawnee alumna advance to Miss Universe helped give her confidence as a young woman.

“No matter how hard life gets, she showed that accomplishing what you fight for is possible,” she said.

Shawnee freshman Maura Simpson echoed this, saying Smith’s journey gives her hope.

“She makes me realize that even though you are from a small town, you can have a big impact on the world,” she said.

Shawnee has been abuzz since Smith’s Miss USA crowning, said Akers, who was Smith’s guidance counselor. A video displaying Smith’s pageant journey is in the works to run in the school’s lobby, and bracelets nodding to her achievement will also be made for the students and faculty, Akers said.

Smith earned a journalism degree at the University of Kentucky and is a multimedia journalist at TV station WHAS 11 in Louisville.

“Working as a journalist in local news, I know the importance of journalism in society: we ask the hard questions, we get those answers and we educate the community,” she said during the competition on Sunday night.

Smith’s work ethic is inspiring to Kennedy Thomas. The high school sophomore said that Smith’s pageant story reminded her not to “close the gate” before it even has a chance to open.

“Elle shows me I am responsible for my life,” she said. “If I want something to happen, I have to make it happen.”

Miss Universe candidates select platforms to raise awareness on topics that are important to them, and Smith’s is cervical cancer education and awareness. Her grandmother, whom she described as her “absolute favorite person in the world,” died of cervical cancer in 2015.

“[Smith] has poise, beauty and intelligence,” Shawnee junior Jewels Cydrus said. “I was touched by the story of her and her grandmother.”

Credit: Ariel Schalit

Credit: Ariel Schalit

About the Author