(U-WIRE) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – For Erika Harold, entrance into Harvard Law School will have to wait one more year — until her reign as Miss America 2003 comes to a close.
The conservative abstinence advocate claimed her crown with tears of joy and surprise at the Miss America Pageant.
Robert Harold, Erika’s father, made the trek from Illinois to Atlantic City to support his daughter in the event. Tired by two days of endless interviews, Harold wearily described his daughter’s big win.
“When Erika made the top 15, we were already really excited. When she made the top five we were taken down to the floor … the rest is a blur,”; he said.
“I was rushed up on stage for the top two and when she won, she immediately started to cry. I gave her a kiss and she was whisked off.”
Harold said his daughter has been so booked by press engagements since her win – in one day alone she made appearances on the “Today” show, “LIVE with Regis and Kelly” and “The Late Show with David Letterman” — that he needed a copy of her itinerary to keep her schedule straight.
He said Erika Harold will meet with the heads of five or six agencies, which may include the Anti-Defamation League and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to map out a plan of action for the upcoming year.
Harold’s primary focus will be working to empower youth against violence and bullying, her father said.
Harold has worked for the past four years with Project Reality, an organization that encourages youth to avoid risk behaviors like sex, drugs and alcohol.
On behalf of Project Reality, Harold has given speeches to students and legislators.
“Erika is motivated by her own experience of being bullied in school. Many of her choices, including abstinence, has helped her to get to where she is, and she wants to share that with others,” said Libby Gray, the public relations director of Project Reality.
Praise for Harold also came from Bruce F. Michelson, director of the Honors Program at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana, where Harold graduated from in 2001.
“Her selflessness is not an act, it is a genuine value,” Michelson said. “I have confidence she will survive this year. If she can’t make it, nobody can.”
According to Gray, Harold defies the stereotypes of a pageant winner.
“She’s not a fluffy Miss America; she has a lot of depth, a lot of character,” Gray said.
Harold was accepted to a number of other prestigious law schools in addition to Harvard, her father said. Robert Harold said Erika settled on Harvard because she “loves the tradition, the notoriety and simply loves to be the best.”
Several current law students said they were not surprised by the prospect of going to class with a former Miss America in the fall of 2004.
“The school has always tried to attract an interesting array of students, so the possibility of having Miss America in class really doesn’t surprise me,”; said second year law student Jerard Gibson.
After completing law school, Harold plans to run for public office and institute new policies to further her mission of youth empowerment.
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