Miss America University
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Some universities are known for their physicists and scholars. Oklahoma City University is known as the place to go if you want to become Miss America.
The U.S. has had thousands of colleges but fewer than 100 Miss Americas, and modest-sized OCU has produced three of them. That's amazing, and OCU knows it. When the University unveiled its campus gateway plaza in 2004, its centerpiece was a sculptural tribute to its three most famous, and useful, alumni: Miss Americas Jane Jayroe (1967), Susan Powell (1981), and Shawntel Smith (1996).
OCU works to maintain its Miss America edge. The University has for years used pageant-savvy performing arts professors, and generous scholarships, to recruit proven beauty queens as students, stacking the deck in its favor. "This is serious business in Oklahoma," said Kathy McCracken, OCU's Cultural Projects Director at the time the statue was unveiled. "It has been a huge recruiting tool for the University."
The plaza was funded with a quarter-million-dollars from the family of Edward L. Gaylord, who at one time owned The Oklahoman newspaper and the TV show Hee Haw. A plaque next to the statues calls Gaylord, "an icon not only in Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma, but in the entire nation as well."
The trio of bronze Miss America statues stand in a group, radiant and supreme classical goddesses. They display perfect posture in their heels and gowns, each cradling a winner's bouquet of roses, with pert crowns perched on their heads. Their smiles are big, their eyes focused on distant horizons and the audience at home, and sculptor Shan Gray has given each one a little bronze tear. "You can't win Miss America and not cry," said Kathy, "even if it's just in relief that it's all over."
All three OCU Miss Americas attended their statues' dedication. Jane Jayroe, then 57 years old, told The Oklahoman, "There's something about being frozen in time that's just kind of weird."
Was the plaza built to accommodate, perhaps, a fourth statue? Kathy said that she was told by the University president that there might be room for as many as ten Miss Americas. This is not wishful thinking. OCU contestants came in second in the 2012 pageant, and third in 2013 and 2014. Another OCU Miss America is almost inevitable.
Even the young women who fail to win the ultimate crown are honored at OCU, enshrined in the Hall of Queens in the University's Fine Arts Center (It's a public space, and visitors are welcome). Here are displayed photos of the dozens of OCU students who've competed in the Miss America pageant. It's a testament to the fame of OCU that many of these women represented states other than Oklahoma, but attended OCU anyway because of its reputation for pageant success (and those generous scholarships).
Kathy told us that every Halloween three students at OCU -- not necessarily women -- dress up as the statues and appear on campus as a symbol of good-natured support for the University's claim-to-fame. Are the statues themselves a focus of campus mirth? Are they accessorized with Santa caps in December or lip gloss at pageant-time? Kathy didn't think so. "You don't mess with Miss Americas."