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Campbellsville native Emily Cox says competing in the Miss America pageant this past weekend was the time of her life.
Cox, 22, was named a Top 12 finalist in the competition.
"It was an incredible feeling to make it into the Top 12 at Miss America," Cox stated in an e-mailed response. "Just being on the Miss America stage was the realization of a dream that I have had since I was a little girl.
"To be recognized and chosen as a finalist from such an amazing group of intelligent, talented and beautiful women was thrilling beyond words."
Cox said that from the moment she stepped foot in Las Vegas, Nev., she knew she was making memories she would never forget.
"I had the time of my life participating in the Miss America pageant," she said. "Representing my state and competing for a national title is something that young women everywhere dream about, so I felt very blessed to get to live out that dream."
Cox said she and some of the other Miss America contestants arrived at the airport together and were picked up by a limousine and taken to a VIP entrance of the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.
"That was only the beginning of the incredible experience," she said. "We were taken on a special gondola ride in the Venetian. We saw a performance of the 'Phantom of the Opera' and got to meet the cast. I got to walk the runway in a Miss America fashion show and, of course, dancing with [Miss America host] Mario Lopez on stage was definitely a highlight!"
Cox became the second in her family to win the Miss Kentucky title after competing against 31 contestants from across the state last July. The win gave her the opportunity to compete against 51 other state titleholders at Saturday's Miss America pageant.
Cox, who competed in the Miss Kentucky pageant as Miss Bowling Green, is the daughter of Ricky Cox and Jenny Cox, both of Campbellsville. Cox's aunt, Nancy Cox Kenny, won the Miss Kentucky crown in 1990.
Cox, who now lives in Lexington, is the fifth Campbellsville native to win the Miss Kentucky title.
Though she didn't win the Miss America crown, Cox took home a preliminary award last Thursday, the Evelyn Ay Sempier Quality of Life Award, which honors her work with her platform, "Uniquely Me: Promoting Self-Esteem in Adolescent Girls."
She will receive a $6,000 scholarship.
Cox said eight finalists for the award were interviewed by former Miss America winners, who then chose this year's recipient.
"The Quality of Life award is very special because it represents the core ideals that the Miss America program is about," she said. "We want to show the world that it's truly about more than just a crown and a sash, it's about making a difference in the lives of others."
Cox said she began her platform program about two years ago because she wanted to help young girls who were struggling with the burdens of low self-esteem. She has spoken to girls and boys all over the state in schools, Girl Scout troops and youth correctional facilities.
"I share stories with them about my own issues with low self-esteem and how I was able to overcome those feelings," she said. "I encourage young students to discover their individuality and set goals for their lives. I teach them about identifying their key strengths and improving their weaknesses and I encourage them to do what they can to serve the people around them."
Cox said she was happy to receive the award, but more thrilled that her platform is reaching young people.
"I was so happy to receive the Quality of Life award for my service, but I was exceptionally thrilled because of the voice that it gives girls everywhere who are dealing with low self-esteem issues."
This Saturday's Miss America pageant wasn't the only time Taylor Countians could watch Cox on television.
Cox participated in the reality show "Countdown to the Crown," which aired in four episodes beginning Jan. 2.
"Countdown to the Crown" showed what happened when the 52 Miss America contestants lived together on the Queen Mary ocean liner in Los Angeles, Calif. and faced off in a series of individual and team competitions.
Now that the Miss America pageant is over, Cox said she will continue traveling and speaking at schools across the state as Miss Kentucky.
She will also continue to serve as the spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's "No Ifs ands or Butts" program and promote her platform.
"Miss America was an experience that I will never forget and I am so thankful for all of the people in my hometown of Campbellsville and all across the state who offered their generous support and encouragement," she said. "I am excited to return to my state and be a Miss Kentucky that everyone can be proud of."