Cinderella CookWhen midnight strikes, Miss Virginia turns back into a peasant
Although Jacqueline Cook ('97) didn't win the Miss America crown on Oct. 14, just competing was a fairy tale. The reigning Miss Virginia found herself among 51 young women, all vying for the national title that represents the pinnacle of all-American beauty, brains, talent and ambition.
And, win or lose, Cook exemplifies them all. The accomplished ballet en pointe and jazz dancer majored in English and minored in communication arts. She taught aerobics at the recreation center and joined Sigma Kappa sorority. After graduating in 1997 with a 3.0 G.P.A., Cook worked as a paralegal and began volunteering as a court- appointed special advocate.
She has been accepted to the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond, but has to defer entrance until she completes her duties as Miss Virginia in July.
And although Cook is a seasoned pageant competitor and is enjoying her year as the reigning Miss Virginia, she isn't fooled by the pageantry or the perks. Being Miss Virginia is a full-time job for the Colonial Heights native.
"Each week or so I'm given a schedule of appearances and where I'm supposed to be and when," Cook says. "If I want time with my family or a little time off, I have to schedule it. That's been hard for me."
But Cook recognizes that this is a tremendous opportunity. As Miss Virginia, she won $16,000 in scholarship money, as well as a number of free perks for the year, including a Lincoln-Mercury Cougar, an apartment in Roanoke (state pageant headquarters), a cellular telephone and dry cleaning. She also won the right to talk about a cause that is important to her.
"My work with CASA has been very rewarding to me. CASA volunteers investigate the life of a child who has been abused or neglected and report their findings to the judge," Cook explains. "The judge is grateful to have the information to make the best decision for that child."
Cook thinks she'd like to specialize in child advocacy law but is not ruling out anything yet. Law school shouldn't be too difficult after the Miss Virginia and Miss America competitions. After preparing a ballet en pointe routine for more than a year, Miss Hampton/Newport News injured her Achilles tendon and changed to a jazz performance just two weeks before the Miss Virginia pageant.
Despite the quick change, Cook was crowned Miss Virginia in July, then had less than two days to pack her bags and move to Roanoke for the year. In between autograph signings, speaking engagements, mall appearances and parades, the petite young woman also prepared for last month's Miss America pageant.
"They don't tell you how busy you're going to be nor how much paperwork is involved," Cook says. "But I grew up watching Miss Colonial Heights pageants with my mom and I knew I wanted to do this. I've danced my whole life, and I knew I wanted to use that to perform."
Miss Virginia has come a long way. At her very first pageant when she was 4 years old, she didn't hear the signal to go on stage for her performance and missed the chance to compete altogether. And in 1993, she fell on a wet stage while performing a jazz en pointe routine while competing for the Miss Richmond crown at Paramount's Kings Dominion. But when she heard her name called as second runner-up even after falling during the talent competition, she was hooked.
Cook's parents are supportive without being "pageant parents." But they couldn't be more proud. "It's always wonderful to see your children's dreams fulfilled," says her mother, Beverly Cook. "This has been a blessing, and Jacqueline has a lot to offer the state of Virginia as a spokesperson. CASA is a wonderful organization."
To prepare for the Miss America pageant, Cook worked out, rehearsed her ballet en pointe routine and practiced answering questions that she thought she might have to face during the interview portion of the competition. She comes across poised, confident and articulate.
"I'm really excited and not at all nervous yet to think I will be in Atlantic City [competing in the Miss America pageant]," Cook said last summer. "My thoughts have never gone to the idea of actually being in those shoes."
Miss America was awarded (among other prizes) $50,000 in scholarships -- an amount that would have taken care of much of Cook's private law school tuition. It's part of the reason she competed.
"Some of the girls will go out and buy $2,000 evening gowns for these competitions, but many of my dresses have been borrowed. It defeats the purpose if you spend a lot of money to win a pageant. I'm like Cinderella. I turn back into a peasant when midnight strikes."Story by Sande Snead Fulk ('82)