Video of Maria Rome discussing her journey to the title of Miss Northwestern-Lady of the Bracelet is available at youtube.com/watch?v=vmXFHIle2cI&feature=em-upload_owner
NATCHITOCHES -- Senior Maria Rome hadn’t participated in a beauty pageant before winning Saturday’s 59th Annual Miss Northwestern-Lady of the Bracelet Pageant, but she’s no stranger to the stage.
The Baton Rouge native was a theater and dance veteran at St. Joseph’s Academy, and her previous stage presence along with encouragement from her fraternity sisters helped Phi Mu continue their success as Northwestern State University pageant winners.
“(My experience) definitely made it easier, and I was more comfortable on stage than if I would have never participated in theater and dance,” Rome said. “But pageants are so different than theater or dance recitals -- you’re on stage all alone with all eyes on you.
“But after all the rehearsals, I told myself it’s basically a performance now. The only thing different about this is that somebody is going to win the performance.”
Rome is the fourth Phi Mu member to be named Miss Northwestern in the last five years, and she said advice from past winners Tori Thompson (2012) and Marissa McMickens (2016) aided in her pursuit of the crown and a shot at Miss Louisiana.
“Marissa is my big (sister), and Tori is my grand big (sister),” said Rome, who will receive more than $8,000 in scholarships and prizes. “I just saw how they conduct themselves with such poise now, and I saw how much pageants did for them and positively impacted their lives.
“I had the desire to participate, and when they would talk about Lady of the Bracelet, it sparked something in me. I would mention it, and they would encourage me. They were fueling a fire that had already been burning within me.”
In addition to the crown, Rome also took home the Liz Carroll People’s Choice Award selected by the pageant audience and the Children’s Miracle Network Miracle Maker Award.
Rome’s personality was on display in her singing performance of “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” from the classic musical “The Sound of Music” that was adapted into a hit movie.
“I thought the song was a little ironic and fun,” Maria said. “If I had a dime for every time I introduce myself and someone started singing that song, I swear I could retire.”
Rome chose NSU because of its stellar music and performing arts programs, but a past community service experience shaped her career pursuit as well as her platform as Miss Northwestern.
She and her mother volunteered with Miracle League, an organization that provides opportunities for special needs children to play baseball.
The psychology major aspires to be an occupational therapist and work closely with special needs and disabled children.
“My mom and I are part of a charity organization that works with a new philanthropy every year, and in my junior year of high school, we worked on a service project with Miracle League,” Rome said. “You’re at a baseball game, and you work 1-on-1 with a disabled child as their personal protector during the game.
“You play with them, throw the ball to them and explain what’s happening in the game. It’s so rewarding because you give these kids their one moment to shine and have a night where they are just like any other kid. Miracle League helps break barriers because you realize these kids aren’t as different as you’d think. They like the same things and want to laugh and have fun. They just want to live life and do the best with what they are given.”
Rome’s family suggested she look into occupational therapy, and when she realized psychology classes were a significant portion of prerequisites, the two fields seemed “to fit.”
Upon graduation either this coming fall or next spring, Rome plans on enrolling into an occupational therapy program.
“I just want to get my platform out there a little bit more (as a Lady of the Bracelet),” Rome said. “I want to do a few fundraisers and bring it home to Baton Rouge to help give them what they gave me -- Miracle League is how I decided that I wanted to be an occupational therapist.
“I also want to return to my high school and encourage and empower the young women there. I want to speak to them about healthy living.”
Natchitoches and NSU are also close to Rome’s heart, and she plans on serving those communities often during her year of service.
“I want to do a lot of different things here like work with the Boys and Girls Club to give back to this town and university that gave me so much,” Rome said. “The feeling I had when I got here was phenomenal.
“The family environment is great, and the faculty and staff want you to be successful. I am proud to be an NSU Demon, and I can’t wait to represent this school.”