HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi.
Hannah Roberts is fully aware of the first impression some will have of her as she travels the country as Miss Mississippi—it comes with the crown.
And that's not all good; nor is it entirely bad. State titleholders in the Miss America pageant are viewed by supporters as the best of the best, talented, beautiful and intelligent young women—but by cynics as possessing the polar opposite of many of those positive traits.
But Hannah Roberts—recent University of Southern Mississippi graduate, Goldwater Scholar, accomplished violinist, med school student and humanitarian—is smart enough to know that first impressions can be woefully wrong. And the new Miss Mississippi, named this evening in Vicksburg, might just change a few opinions.
"Hannah is a rarity among her peers, grounded in her values yet open-minded," said Wynde Fitts, Associate Dean of Students at The University of Southern Mississippi. "She is an exceptional young woman not because of the accolades she's received but for the way in which she has achieved them. I've met very few people like Hannah whose talent and intellect are matched with a genuine caring heart.
"Hannah possesses all the qualities of a Miss Mississippi. She is the whole package of poise, professionalism and personality. She is a strong woman whose ability to meet challenges head on is only matched by her true sincerity."
Roberts, who was the first runner-up in the 2013 Miss Mississippi Pageant and took last year to prepare for the medical school-qualifying exam, won the competition of 30 young women from across the state. That group including a number of Southern Miss students, including Arrielle Dale, Miss New South; Bethany Cuevas, Miss Mid-South; Kaylee Scroggins, Miss Metro Jackson; and Michaela Moore, Miss Leaf River Valley.
The Chemistry Queen
Roberts' list of academic accomplishments were virtually unmatched by her peers. She not only competed favorably with her fellow Southern Miss students, but students across the country. As a sophomore, she was one of three Mississippians named a Goldwater Scholar, which recognizes the next generation of great research scientists. The scholarship, named for former senator Barry Goldwater, is the premier award in the United States conferred upon undergraduates studying the sciences.
With Hannah's signature pink laboratory goggles and superb intelligence, one professor dubbed her the "Chemistry Queen." In the classroom or in the laboratory, few students had the work ethic or intelligence, according to professors.
"Hannah is one of the best students I have had the privilege to teach during my 11 years at USM," said Dr. Doug Masterson, associate dean in the College of Science and Technology. "She is one of those rare students that seems to be able to do just about anything. She completed four classes with me and excelled in each."
A biochemistry major with a minor in biology, Roberts was named the outstanding senior from the College of Science and Technology and is a member of the Southern Miss Student Hall of Fame. And when she applied for and was accepted to medical school, reviewers found that searching for a "B" grade on her transcript was almost a futile task, even if they tracked her school records back a decade and a half.
Masterson said Roberts' focused approach to her classwork and research raised the bar for her classmates and instructors.
"She has a vigorous approach to learning that is contagious in class," Masterson said. "She not only brought out the best in herself, but also her classmates and teachers. She is certainly not your typical student. She is highly motivated, focused, and determined to achieve all of her goals."
To be sure, the importance of education was communicated to her at an early age by her parents, both teachers. Mother Danna Roberts teaches gifted education at Seminary High, and father James Roberts is an agriculture teacher at Sumrall High—contributing to her pursuit of a career in the sciences.
"My goal is to work in pediatric reconstructive surgery, helping kids who have been affected by burns, birth defects or other conditions that require reconstruction," said Roberts. "I feel like I can make a difference with kids."
She hopes that other young women will also consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields for careers. Many of her presentations to schoolchildren not only relate to reading but center on scientific topics, often accompanied by a short chemistry experiment.
"It is important to educate girls about STEM opportunities while they are still choosing what they want to be when they grow up," said Roberts.
Roberts makes classical violin her hobby. She began playing violin at five years old and continues today not only as an accomplished performer, as evidenced by her playing of the classical piece "Zigeunerweisen" by Pablo Sarasate, at the Miss Mississippi pageant, but as a mentor to young musicians.
"I remember working on her technique through etudes and pieces and noticed that it was very easy for her to play fast/flashy music," said Jorge Gonzalez, conductor of the Southern Mississippi Youth Orchestra, of which Roberts was a member. Gonzalez said she quickly became "a true leader and an inspiration for the younger players."
Roberts served the orchestra as concertmaster, the second-most significant person in the orchestra, and a position reserved for highly skilled musicians who can learn music quickly. More recently, Gonzalez said Roberts spoke to the orchestra's current musicians and audience at the orchestra's fall concert.
"She spoke about the importance of learning to play an instrument—that it has opened many doors for her. She is a passionate advocate for the arts."
Pages of Love
A childhood marked by numerous visits to doctors' offices helped Roberts develop a passion for the life-changing pursuits of reading and medicine.
By the time she entered the sixth grade, Roberts had parlayed her love of reading into a special book donation project for sick and underprivileged kids. With the help of her family and friends, she began collecting new and gently used children's books from a multitude of donors. The initial book drive began around Valentine's Day 2005, which prompted Roberts' grandmother, Shirley Roberts, to suggest "Pages of ampLove" for the project's title.
Among other accolades, Hannah was honored by Forrest General Hospital's Spirit of Women program as its Youth Spirit in Action Award winner. That same year she took home the National Youth Role Model Award.
"What makes Hannah extraordinary is that even though she is from a small, rural town in Mississippi, she has big dreams and works hard to achieve them," said Kathy Emmons, Spirit of Women coordinator. "Not only does she help sick children, she helps those with whom she comes in contact by demonstrating a servant's heart – one who sees a need and takes action to help those who cannot help themselves."
Fast-forward to the present, and "Pages of Love" has swelled to more than 25,000 book donations to hospitals, clinics, schools, churches and related organizations. Roberts concedes that she never imagined such phenomenal success from the charitable endeavor.
The gratitude that pours in reinforces Roberts' belief and reminds her of the impact she is making. "Dear Hannah, Thank you so much for the books. I did not have any before, and now I have 11. It will help me become a better reader," read one recent note from a young girl.
The kindness of this handwritten note scribbled on paper is not lost on the new Miss Mississippi.
"We've sent books to hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, and boys and girls clubs. I believe that one of the greatest gifts you can ever give a child is a book. I honestly did not think I would still be doing this after 10 years. It just kind of snowballed after the first year or two," Roberts said humbly.
Even though Hannah Roberts may not fit a mold, her kind and giving nature—something Mississippi is known for—is a stereotype she proudly embraces.