In the 21st century, an era that has so far brought us the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March and more women than ever running for political office, the Miss America pageant (not to be confused with the Miss USA pageant once owned by Donald Trump) has not been without its challenges. Facing criticisms for its failure to modernize and move away from its focus on the male gaze, the 99-year-old organization announced in 2018 it was doing away with its swimsuit competition and, in its place, contestants would deliver a social impact presentation.
Then, this winter, on the eve of the show’s centennial, Miss Virginia 2019, Camille Schrier, confidently stepped onto the stage in a white lab coat for the talent portion of the show. “Science is a talent,” she told the live audience at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. “And it’s my mission to show kids that science is fun, relevant and easy to understand.” She then demonstrated what the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide looks like when you mix hydrogen peroxide, dish soap and, most importantly, food coloring. (Spoiler: It creates a rainbow-foam explosion on stage.) The science experiment, coupled with Schrier’s social impact platform of combating the opioid epidemic through drug safety and abuse prevention (and, let’s be honest, her TV-ready good looks), won her the 2020 crown.
The newly minted Miss America (which the organization has dubbed Miss America 2.0 on its website) has deep ties to Virginia. She earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and systems biology from Virginia Tech, and she’s currently pursuing a doctorate of pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. Schrier grew up near Richmond and, as she told the audience, the Virginia resident has “loved science since I was a little girl.” It looks like the Miss America pageant may modernize yet—with a woman from Virginia leading the way.