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UC student Kirsten Haglund crowned Miss America 2008

2008 Miss America Kirsten Haglund

2008 Miss America Kirsten Haglund. The 19-year-old musical theater student performed "Over the Rainbow" as her talent.

UC College-Conservatory of Music student Kirsten Haglund won the 2008 Miss America crown, following in the footsteps of former Miss America, Heather Renee French Henry, DAAP '97, who was crowned in 2000.

Growing up in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Haglund, 19, represented the state of Michigan. The musical theater student, who was hoping to land on Broadway one day, shared her skills with the world during the talent competition as she sang an impressive rendition of "Over the Rainbow."

During her one-year reign, Haglund used the crown to raise awareness of eating disorders, which she has had to overcome. In addition, Kirsten served as the official National Goodwill Ambassador for Children's Miracle Network.

The title included a $50,000 scholarship and a speaking tour that took her to every corner of the country. Pageant officials estimate that Miss America travels 20,000 miles a month.

In October 2008, Haglund returned to UC to serve as grand marshal of the annual homecoming parade, sing the national anthem before the football game and speak to high school students about anorexia.

Read about and see video from her visit below.


Kirsten Haglund speaking into a microphone

Reigning Miss America Kirsten Haglund spent a day speaking with teenage girls from St. Ursula Academy and McAuley High School about eating disorders. Photo/Dave Collins.

Kirsten Haglund singing

Kirsten Haglund sings the national anthem at Homecoming.

Haglund slows frantic pace for Homecoming, mentoring on anorexia

by Deborah Rieselman

Until Miss America came off the UC football field and hugged the two male students watching from the stands, it had pretty much been a typical workday for Kirsten Haglund. It was 1 p.m. on a Friday, and she had already talked to two auditoriums full of teenage girls about eating disorders, received a standing ovation, posed for dozens of photos, been interviewed by the press, changed her clothes and practiced singing the national anthem for the next day's homecoming game.

She was testing the Nippert Stadium sound system when two backpack-toting young men stopped at the upper railing to listen. In surprise, they turned to each other and asked, "Doesn't that sound like Kirsten?"

Not that they could see the face of the vocalist in the middle of the field. What they recognized was her crystal-clear, stylized voice. Turns out they had been classmates in the College-Conservatory of Music musical theater program in 2006-07.

Their mini-reunion gave the morning more meaning. After all, singing in stadiums, speaking in crowded auditoriums and being interviewed is something that Kirsten does daily. Actually, multiple times a day. Few people may understand it, but Miss America is literally a job. A job with rare days off.

In August, she worked all 31 days straight. In a good month, she might get two days off. Not consecutive, of course. Traveling 20,000 miles a month, she has only returned home to Farmington Hills, Mich., twice since being crowned in January.

"It's a lot of hard work," she said, "but I'm not complaining. Everyone is so exhausted these days. People are doing too many things, and some people work two jobs because of the economy. There's too much stress in life today, so who am I to complain?"

Besides, she enjoys the work, and the variety keeps it interesting. At UC's homecoming on Oct. 11, she led the parade as grand marshal, sang the national anthem at the football game, crowned the homecoming king and queen and attended several VIP functions. More common schedules include speaking at conferences, serving as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children's Miracle Network, taking part in numerous military functions and meeting with parents and coaches. She also has rang the closing bell for NASDAQ stock market, lobbied Congress on the mental health parity bill (requiring health plans to provide more generous coverage for treatment of mental illnesses) and spoke at a Congressional briefing on eating disorders.

The latter subject is a personal one; she suffers from anorexia. "Eating disorders are an epidemic killing millions of girls, but health insurance doesn't cover it. I'm campaigning for education and treatment coverage. This is an illness, not a choice."

On the day before UC's homecoming, she shared her story with packed auditoriums of young women at St. Ursula Academy and McAuley High School. UC sponsored the programs and brought along nutritionists from the Academic Health Center to answer questions.

Kirsten said that her message may not have been new to everyone, but hearing it personally from someone who has dealt with it often has a powerful impact. "Actions speak louder than words," explained the poised young woman, who is only a few years older than her audience members. "Hopefully, they walked away feeling better about themselves afterward."

Her story of anorexia started at age 9 when she fell in love with ballet, a craft she practiced six days a week. "At 12, I went away to a summer ballet camp and noticed that the girls who were 'making it' were very thin. Thinness equated success to me. I had an incredible fear that I wouldn't be successful until I looked like that. I had to be perfect."

She started a severe diet at camp, yet slowly returned to more normal eating through the school year. Then when she returned to camp the next summer, the disease returned. "I started hating my body and mistreating it," she said.

Eventually her food intake dwindled to the point that it affected her energy levels and mental health. "I didn't have the energy to make it through a class. I had no concentration, no friends, no passion for ballet anymore. I was so depressed and losing control of my life."

One day when she was 16, her mother did an intervention, calling her out of school and taking her to a doctor's office. "I felt betrayed by my mother. And then I felt this rage — an uncontrollable rage like I had never experienced before. I knew that wasn't me, that I had become someone else."

It took a team of medical professionals and long, hard work for Kirsten to regain her health. But she hopes to enlighten other teens before they fall in the same trap.

"When you look at photos of models," she told the students, "you have to understand that those people are 2-D, plastic and fake. They digitalize those photos. They lengthen necks by 2 inches, recolor skin tones, make cheeks thinner and reshape eyebrows. And that's after the models had a team of professionals working on them for hours before each photo shoot.

"Chose 3-D role models — living, breathing people— for yourself," she continued. "The person you are is unique. Love who you are."

Although Kirsten presented with a passion that held hundreds of teenagers silent for an hour at a time, she admitted that her own dark story wasn't something she intended to share with the world. It was the result of entering the Miss Oakland County pageant right after high school graduation. With little time for forethought, she had to choose a topic to be her "platform." She selected eating disorders, not only because it was personal, but also because "I never thought I'd win," she told the auditorium.

"So I thought I'd never have to talk about it. I really wasn't mentally prepared for what was going to happen."

What happened was: She won. Then she won Miss Michigan, which her grandmother also won in 1944. Then she won Miss America. Three titles in a row when she never imagined one.

"I only entered to win some scholarship money. I never expected this to turn into a life journey. This was never in my plan."

For the rest of the year, she has thousands of miles to travel, thousands of smiles to share and thousands of questions to answer— always while wearing high heels and her trademark crown.

She might get a little tired of telling people how the crown stays on (simple hair clips), but she has a passion for working nearly 350 days a year. "It's very empowering to have a message that people listen to," she said. "People come up to me all the time and tell me how glad they were that I talked about this. Having the opportunity to do this nearly every day is one of the best parts of the job."

Read about UC's other beauty queens.