Classmates, Friends and Competitors for the Miss Virginia USA Crown
The first time University of Virginia School of Law students Kiara Williams and Erika Baldwin met wasn't at the Law School, or even elsewhere on Grounds. They were participating in last year's Miss Virginia USA pageant.
"One of the other contestants asked me if I had met the other UVA law student," Williams said. "I told her that I thought she was mistaken, because there couldn't possibly be another UVA Law student competing for the title of Miss Virginia USA. Then I met Erika."
Now in their third year of studying law, the two friends will compete again for the title of Miss Virginia USA on Nov. 29-30 in Charlottesville. The pair are finding that the valuable experience they've gained through UVA Law — in classes, during job interviews and in professional settings — gives them an advantage on the stage.
"It's lucky for us that Kiara and I excel in public speaking because we get that experience in our everyday life," Baldwin said.
Williams was fourth runner-up as Miss Manassas USA in last year's finals, and is this year's Miss Roanoke. Baldwin, who was last year's Miss Charlottesville USA, is this year's Miss Southern Virginia USA. The pageant system allows eligible women to choose the qualifying location that's most convenient for them. The law students will vie for the state title at the Paramount Theater against about 20 other women in interview, swimsuit and evening-wear rounds. The pageant will culminate on Nov. 30 at 4 p.m. before a live audience. The competition will also include the Miss Virginia Teen USA pageant, and advertises more than $500,000 in scholarships for the winners, finalists and semifinalists. Williams said she started competing in pageants at first for the scholarship money. "But then I realized there are few organizations that will let a young woman, [age] 18 to 27, get in front of a crowd and talk to people," Williams said.
She found that pageants teach young women how to speak well, carry themselves and command attention — all of which are useful skills for lawyers. Williams' father is Sanford Williams, a 1996 graduate of the Law School who works in D.C. as special counsel for the Federal Communications Commission. She grew up in Charlottesville and Manassas, but chose to compete in Roanoke this time because it was the only pageant that didn't conflict with her work as a summer legal intern for the Disney ABC Television Group in Los Angeles. Her goal is to become an entertainment lawyer. "Disney had over a thousand applicants, and they chose one." Williams said. "That's going to help me a lot in my future."
Baldwin, who said she hopes to work for a public defender's office after law school, chose Bristol, Virginia, as this year's pageant entry point. The location was closer to her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, where she returned for a few weeks over the summer. She spent the other part of her summer working for the UVA Office of General Counsel and investigating the validity of a murder conviction for the South Carolina Office of Indigent Defense.
Both women are working in Washington, D.C., this semester through the Law School's externship program. Baldwin works for the Environmental Enforcement Section of the Department of Justice. Williams is with the Student Press Law Center.
Their pageant platforms also tie into their interests as law students. Williams speaks to school-age children about the value of setting goals in order to accomplish dreams, while Baldwin talks to children about preventing global climate change through measures they can take at home.
The women have other talents, too — Williams sings and Baldwin is a competitive weightlifter — but the Miss USA pageants don't feature a talent round. Nevertheless, Baldwin said her supporters will be wearing T-shirts that feature a muscle holding a crown and the hashtags "#teamerika" and "#loadedguns."
The women said having pageants in common has made them close friends, and they are looking forward to competing not against each other, but with each other. "A lot of times the final question of the pageant is: If you could pick one girl to win, and it isn't you, who would you pick?" Baldwin said. "In class recently Kiara said, 'I would say you.' And I said, 'I would say you.' "I don't know if I would be any less happy if we were the final two standing, and she was the one who took the crown."