Vivian O’Neal says she’s still on cloud nine after winning the Miss University of Southern Mississippi Pageant and knowing she’ll get to represent her school next summer at the Miss Mississippi Pageant in Vicksburg.
“Being Miss University of Southern Mississippi has been a dream of mine for years, and though I didn't always realize it, it's a job I've been preparing for all throughout my time here at USM,” said O’Neal, a USM senior from Purvis who is majoring in public relations with a minor in political science. “I feel incredibly blessed and thankful to have earned a title that truly means the world to me.”
A Luckyday Scholar at USM, O’Neal is a member of the Dixie Darlings dance team and Phi Mu Sorority. Her goals after graduation are to attend law school and eventually work in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill or at the White House.
“I have been given so many opportunities here at USM, from dancing in ‘The Rock’ with a team (Dixie Darlings) that has maintained its traditions since 1954, to serving the Hattiesburg community as a Luckyday Scholar, to now representing my university as Miss University of Southern Mississippi,” O’Neal said. “I have had the most incredible experience at Southern Miss, and would not be who I am today without this university.”
O’Neal’s social impact initiative/platform is CapABLE, Turning Disabilities into Capabilities, a curriculum she created for K-2 students designed to bridge the gap between students with and without disabilities by educating non-disabled students on how to communicate about disability, and to empower students with disabilities to celebrate and embrace their differences.
The program also includes student and teacher guides, as well as a “superhero cape” for every student completing the program. The teacher guide includes diversity checklists, inclusion classroom activities, and guidelines for ensuring students are equipped and educated on disability etiquette and inclusivity. The students follow along in their workbook.
“My end goal is to use the connections I make in Washington, D.C. to turn this curriculum into usable state legislation so it is implemented in the public school system in the state of Mississippi,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal competed at Miss Mississippi for two years, representing other preliminary pageants, then took a year off for an internship, and is “thrilled to have the opportunity to experience the Miss Mississippi competition again as Miss University of Southern Mississippi.”
The Miss University of Southern Mississippi Pageant is presented by the USM Student Government Association (SGA).
“The Miss University of Southern Mississippi Pageant was unlike any preliminary I have participated in before,” she said. “There is something so special about university titles, so I was very intentional about what year I competed. I wanted to ensure I would be fully ready for the responsibility that comes with this title if I were chosen.
“Competing as a senior gave me time to step back and appreciate all that USM has given me throughout the years, and because of that, I believe I appreciate the experience and title more now.”