GCU Honors College alumna crowned Miss Arizona
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
After finishing second in the 2018 competition, it seemed like only a matter of time before Grand Canyon University alumna Jacqueline Thomas would add the title of Miss Arizona to her already impressive resumé.
Her moment came last weekend.
Thomas, who was heavily involved in the Honors College during her four years at GCU and graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management in 2017, took home the Miss Arizona crown in her fifth try. But it didn’t come easily for the Arizona native, who credits the obstacles she faced for making her the person she is today.
One of those road blocks convinced her to start a social impact initiative, Lady Leaders, which she said “trains women to celebrate their feminine design and fearlessly step into their leadership potential.” GCU’s Honors College was the first organization to partner with Thomas and Lady Leaders to host a panel.
“Lady Leaders originally stemmed from the fact that I was not allowed to be the president at my high school because I was a girl,” Thomas said. “There were no females in any leadership position from the top faculty all the way down to the students, and they just didn’t encourage women to pursue being leaders or role models or provide us with any sort of role models.
“The highest position I was allowed to have was secretary, so I was student body secretary.”
She would find herself taking notes for student body meetings made up of primarily men and found herself in a position where she was expected to just sit and observe rather than have input in the discussion.
Throughout the remainder of her high school years, she took it upon herself to work one-on-one with younger female students, empowering them to believe that they “do have a purpose and do have a seat at the table,” she said. After graduating from high school, Thomas’ passion for empowering women would evolve into her work with Lady Leaders and her eventual participation in the Miss America organization.
“Miss America is the number one provider of scholarships to women in the world, and the opportunities it creates — not just for the winners but also all the candidates participating — are unparalleled with service, philanthropy, networking and educational opportunities,” she said. “It was something so different from what I had done in high school that I wanted to jump on board and get involved right away.”
Thomas competed in every Miss Arizona competition for the last six years except for 2016, when she was doing an internship in Washington, D.C. Although she had come close to winning before, she’s glad God had a different plan.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason and that God doesn’t launch us into something before we are ready,” she said, “and I’m so grateful that I didn’t win last year because of all the growth that I’ve been able to experience and expand Lady Leaders this year.”
Thomas also believes that she wouldn’t have been able to do it without the experience she had in the Honors College.
“Everything that I did once I joined the Honors College, from internships to jobs to other extra-curricular activities or opportunities within the Miss Arizona organization, was all because of the foundation that the Honors College laid out for me,” she said.
Watching Thomas continue to better herself has been a sight of pride for the Honors College as well.
“It has been such a pleasure to watch Jacqueline grow and emerge into such a confident, inspirational leader among her peers and within the community,” Honors College Associate Dean Breanna Naegeli said. “She took advantage of every opportunity, intentionally sought out personal growth and development opportunities, sought out mentorship from GCU’s exceptional female leaders while also providing mentorship to others in the community. We’re so proud to see her in this role as Miss Arizona and look forward to future collaboration with her and her Lady Leaders organization.”
Thomas intends to go into the Miss America competition “from a place of wholeness” and open-mindedness, with the mentality that the crown doesn’t define her worth. She wants to just do her best and enjoy the opportunity to bond with the other talented, accomplished women against whom she will be competing.
“I’m just so grateful that I get to go and be a part of the Miss America class of 2020,” she said.
The start date for the Miss America competition hasn’t been announced, but Thomas plans on utilizing the break between competitions to set up a meeting with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey as well as travel to Washington to work with and lobby Arizona’s two senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally.
And after the Miss America competition? Thomas plans to use the scholarship money she won to attend law school on the East Coast.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.