LISLE – For 17-year-old Lisle resident and Miss Illinois' Outstanding Teen Grace Etzkorn, beauty pageants are about substance, not flash.
The Benet Academy senior, who in July traveled to Orlando, Fla. to vie for the title of Miss America's Outstanding Teen, took her state sash in a dress with a rip at the bottom that she had worn to several previous competitions and prom.
“You don't need a thousand-dollar dress to win,” she said. “They're judging the girl in the dress, not the dress itself.”
Instead, Etzkorn focuses on presenting herself as a well-rounded and informed contestant. She has participated exclusively in pageants affiliated with the Miss America Organization, an institution she said she was drawn to because of its focus on service and scholarship opportunities.
Since she began competing for crowns, Etzkorn has experienced her share of both.
As the teen representative for the Miss Illinois Scholarship Association, she advocates for her “Keep the Future Bright Substance Free Youth” platform, which she established after her uncle died of a drug overdose when she was 14. Etzkorn also works with the Miss America Organization's Children's Miracle Network platform.
She has received several thousand dollars in college scholarships, as well as sponsorships with coaches and retailers for her pageant duties.
“She works hard, and since she was really small, she's always had big dreams,” said Etzkorn's mother, Diane. “When she sees something, she just goes for it.”
That combination of work ethic and ambition is part of what brought Etzkorn the state title.
She entered the Miss Illinois' Outstanding Teen pageant last year after being crowned Miss Chicago's Outstanding Teen, but came in fourth.
Not one to give up, she re-entered in 2014 as Miss Windy City's Outstanding Teen and won in June – on Friday the 13th, no less.
“Grace is incredibly intelligent and mature,” said Miss Chicago Scholarship Program co-executive director Rachel Johnson. “She's someone that people want to talk to.”
Although she didn't take home a crown at nationals, Etzkorn will remain busy in the coming months fundraising, traveling and speaking as part of her state duties.
She is also an Illinois youth representative for the D.A.R.E. America Youth Advisory Board, a role she fulfills by appearing at schools and attending conferences, including the recent D.A.R.E. International Training Conference in Grapevine, Texas.
Additionally, Etzkorn is involved in Benet's school newspaper, choir, musicals and French club.
Her hobbies include dancing, singing, playing guitar and piano, and acting. Her most recent role was that of Ernestine in the Fox Valley Repertory's production of “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and she has done voiceover and commercial work in the past few months, although she said her pageant duties are her first priority.
With one year of high school remaining, Etzkorn is evaluating her college options. Finalists include New York University, University of California at Los Angeles, Pepperdine University and Auburn University.
She isn't yet sure what career she wants to pursue, but is considering acting or journalism.