I cried at Miss USA 2014, and I wasn’t even competing

I interviewed with Visit Baton Rouge the day after Donald Trump announced Baton Rouge, La. would host the Miss USA 2014 pageant. My interviewer and I talked about the opportunity that presented itself to our city, and how I could help Visit Baton Rouge, if hired. She asked me what set me apart from other candidates. Being born and raised in East Baton Rouge Parish, I told her that I am passionate about Louisiana and about Baton Rouge. I know what this great city has to offer, and I can bring that to the table.

And here I am, the morning after one of the most spectacular nights in Baton Rouge history, cheeks hurting from smiling for three hours last night during Miss USA. I was hired as the communications intern at Visit Baton Rouge, and I’ve had the most amazing first weeks on the job, helping the contestants feel at home here. I’ve been to tours and photo shoots and meet and greets, and it all culminated last night when Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez was crowned Miss USA 2014.

The six Miss USA 2014 finalists

The six Miss USA 2014 finalists

The River Center transformed into a glitzy and glamourous worldwide live telecast, and all eyes were on Louisiana. The opening montage was quite the hat tip to the Capitol City. The video showed 51 beautiful and confident women posing in front of Baton Rouge landmarks – the State Capitol, the Old State Capitol, the Old Governor’s Mansion – all places I first visited on elementary school field trips, and have visited again many times since. I could not contain my excitement when the video showed the Mississippi River, and Baton Rouge’s ever-changing skyline. It might sound silly, but tears welled in my eyes. I was incredibly proud of Louisiana, and specifically Baton Rouge. The world was seeing what I’ve known my whole life: my home is beautiful.

I’ve met my fair share of know-it-alls from other areas of the country, or even the state, who constantly put down Baton Rouge for reasons I cannot understand. They say we don’t have culture. They say we don’t have anything to be proud of. I really don’t understand why they think that way, unless they are the type to judge before exploring. Our backyard is bursting with music and art and food and architecture and yes, culture! Our people are hospitable and warm and welcoming. I really wasn’t all that surprised when Mr. Trump announced he’d take the Miss USA contest here.

We are, after all, the one and only Red Stick.

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It’s Louisiana’s birthday, and here’s why you should be proud

Today Louisiana celebrates her 202nd birthday.

I have found that I am one of the few students at LSU who is proud to be from Louisiana, and wishes to remain here. My classmates bash her all the time:

We’re fat, uneducated, ignorant, and close-minded. We have awful roads and mediocre schools. Our politicians are corrupt. Our crime is staggering and our health is shocking.

My classmates dream of living in glamourous places like Los Angeles, or New York, or London. It is there, they say, where opportunities of success thrive.

“Why would you ever stay in a failing state with more problems than you can list?” they ask me.

Here’s my reply.

Louisiana is home. This place is filled with good, decent people who care about the well-being of their neighbors. This place is filled with warm, welcoming people who know how to have fun. This place is filled with caring, loving people who protect their communities.

I care about these people. I don’t want to see them living in poverty and living with diseases. Louisiana deserves better. We’re not perfect. But I want to stay here to fix the problems of those good, decent, warm, welcoming, caring and loving people. My fellow Louisianans need help. We need money and resources. We need leaders who are driven by passion instead of power. We need bright ideas.

I believe in these people. And I believe that I can help them. And I believe that they can help themselves if they are given the right opportunities and resources. But how will they ever get the opportunity if the best and brightest young people lend their valuable talent and skills to states already overflowing with entrepreneurs and engineers and thinkers and leaders?

I challenge my classmates to stay! Love your home! Fix it, better it, be the change! Stop complaining about our issues and use the blessings God gave you to show the world that Louisiana is not a place to be ashamed of, but a place to be proud of.

Happy birthday, Louisiana. I wish you 202 years different than the ones we are leaving behind. I wish you a future where your homegrown people cling to you and help you and build you up to your fullest potential. You are beautiful and wonderful and mysterious and fun and eccentric and hospitable, and I don’t ever want you to lose those traits. I wish for you that your sons and daughters use those characteristics for the good of your being. Here’s to you, Louisiana. Grow and flourish.

What I Have Missed And What I Will Miss

Beside my friends and family, here’s a list of things I’m most looking forward to enjoying again when I’m stateside.

9. Dollars.
DOLLAH DOLLAH BILLZ! Counting Euros is no fun and too complicated.

8. Mustard.
Yup. No mustard to be found in Ireland. I’ll never take it for granted again!

7. The Accent.
Oh the Irish lilt is great, but I miss the Southern accent terribly! Howdy y’all.

6. Burgers.
I never thought making a burger took such talent, but after trying a few here, I’ve come to the realization that Americans are simply better cooks – or maybe Louisianans are better cooks. Yeah, that’s probably it.

5. Hair Straightener.
I haven’t straightened my hair for a month because there’s simply no point for putting in effort. It’s going to rain all day anyways! On the bright side, my hair is healthy again.

4. Ice.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GIVE ME A GLASS FULL TO THE BRIM OF ICE. If you ask for ice here, you’ll get TWO ice cubes – and that’s if you’re lucky.

3. A Routine.
I’m a very particular person, and I will be so thankful when I can do my morning and evening routines the way they’re supposed to be, not jumping from hostel to hostel sharing a bathroom with 8 other girls.

2. Air Conditioning.
Yeah, yeah, they don’t really need it here because it’s so cold. But, if it gets just slightly warm outside, that means it’s stifling inside. No AC + no ceiling fans = a sweaty mess of tourists.

And the thing I’ve missed the most about the U.S. of A.?
1. TEX MEX. Yes, that savory, spicy, ooey gooey, cheesy, crunchy wonderful thing that is Mexican food. Give me chips and salsa, give me a burrito, an enchilada, empanada, flauta, chimichanga, anything! I’m sick of potatoes and just want something Mexican!

And here are a few things that I’ll miss about Ireland:

9. Bueno Bars
Okay, so this might be German and not Irish, but we should definitely bring these back to the US!

8. Walking Distance
I love driving, but it sure is nice only having to walk a block to the grocery from your hotel.

7. The Accent
I just said that I missed the Southern accent back home, but I’ll also miss the Irish accent! Won’t miss potatoes, though Niall. Think I’ve had my fair share… for life.

6. Adventure A Day
Something exciting happened every day here!

5. Bulmer’s
Delicious cider – enough said!

4. Gelato
I know it’s Italian, but IT’S EVERYWHERE IN EUROPE AND AMAZING.

3. Mountains
They’re BEAUTIFUL!

2. Cool Weather
No sweat, no problems.

1. Trad Music
I want to dance and sing and shout and cry all at the same time.

Thanks, Ireland for such great craic! You’ve treated me so kindly, but now is my time to go home.

The Little Way

I have a book addiction.

I have a book addiction.

I consider myself a well-read 20-year-old. I’ve read Shakespeare, Bradbury, Rowling, Orwell and Austen. My top bookshelf teeters this way and that. Because all the shelves are packed, the only way to stack is up. My childhood summers consisted of me staying indoors reading The Boxcar Children and The American Girl series. Some of the only times I’d leave the house was to walk down McHugh Drive to the local library – only one block from my front porch – to check out multiple novels at a time. The librarians knew me by name, and they didn’t worry when I came in without adult supervision. I treated the books with respect and care. After all, the characters were my friends, and the yellowed pages were their homes.

I love reading because it’s an escape from reality. I can travel from sweltering Louisiana to mysterious Narnia, Neverland or Oz. I like to read because I can forget about my own life for a few hours.

But every once and a while, there will come a book that will plunge into your soul and make you uncomfortable. It’s not a train to another land, but an intruder that trespasses into your own home, into your personal life, forcing you to ask deep questions about the betterment of yourself and society.

At 1:32 a.m. this morning, I turned the last page to The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. It was one of those rare intrusive books.

Here’s a quick synopsis: Ruthie Leming is the author’s sister. She was born and raised in West Feliciana, just a few miles north of my home in Zachary. Ruthie lived a simple, country life and Rod Dreher, her brother, tells her battle of cancer and the fight for faith, family and community.

Mr. Dreher isn’t afraid to stray to difficult scenes of passive aggressive quips, and theological discussion of God’s will. It is simply fantastic writing around a wholesome and real family.

You know you are reading good writing when you have to sit back, put the book down, and ponder questions like: do I tell my momma I love her every day? Do I question God too much? How can I be more welcoming to others?

A common theme of the story is God has something bigger for us than what we want at the time, and sometimes we can’t see what good will come out of tragedy until long after. Mr. Dreher, I believe this book is one of the things God wanted to come out of this. The Little Way isn’t just an archive for your descendants; your account of your sister made me think about the way I’m living life, and how I can be a better person. It also gave me hope that one day I, too, could be a writer from unknown Zachary.

Thank you and your sweet family for being brave and selfless for sharing your Ruthie with the rest of the world. Just like you said Ruthie touched everyone she met, she will touch even more souls from heaven in the pages of your book (I know she inspired me). So, thank you for the read. I loved every page.

Thanks for reading,
Danielle

Adventure

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My boyfriend Grant says there’s no middle ground with me. Either it’s one extreme of the other. Maybe he has a point since I consider our non-dinner-and-a-movie dates “adventures.”

Yesterday we went on an adventure.

We started the day off by roaming Barnes and Noble and picking up a few summer reads. On my list were The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Grant bought The Best Short Stories of O. Henry and The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

After a pit stop at the LSU Student Union, we headed to downtown Baton Rouge to visit the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium. We were the only two viewers of the 2 p.m. showing of Digital Universe, which was quite mind boggling. When I think of the size of our world within the known universe, I feel small and insignificant. Anytime I marvel God’s creation is humbling. It was also a surprise when I read in the credits that family friend Bob Courtney had voiced the film!

Then we drove north three miles along the river levee to the towering beauty that is the Louisiana State Capitol. We entered the magnificent entrance hall and turned right toward the House of Representatives. My ZTA sister Missy met us in the peanut gallery above the bustling chamber to fill us in on her job as a page. She told us about the myriad of gifts the legislators receive: flowers, fruit and one day bushels of fresh tomatoes from a local farm. Missy scurried back downstairs before it was found out she was missing, and Grant and I listened to the questioning of the bill on the floor. The representatives spat out data and numbers, bounced from desk to desk, and asked leading questions to throw off the bill author. Grant was on the edge of his seat, his right leg jittering like it does when he’s concentrating. His eyes were wide and his lips pursed.

It was adorable.

“This is what I want to do,” he said.

Thanks for reading,
Danielle

So you want to write a blog

Hello world,

This is Danielle Kelley, logging into yet another blogging website. Let’s see how WordPress does. I’ve tried writing in multiple outlets, but I can’t seem to maintain the digital trail all my professors have been harping on me for. I study at the Manship School of Mass Communication at only the best college in the country – Louisiana State University.

Geaux Tigers.

I began my days at LSU wanting to be a journalist. I snagged a job at the campus paper, The Daily Reveille (which by the way, just won SPJ’s Best Daily Student Newspaper). I loved the adrenaline rush of deadline. I burned inside when I came up with a great question for a source. The Reveille was great, and my journalism classes were wonderful, but there were just a few thoughts that kept annoyingly buzzing in my brain. I tried to swat the pest-y questions away, but ultimately my brain beat my heart in a senseless battle.

What if I was assigned the crime beat my first few years at a “real” paper?

One of my honest instructors sat the small print news editing class down, and gave us a heart-to-heart. “Your first job will be the crime beat. No one wants the crime beat, so the editor gives it to the newest reporter on the job. You will have your cell phone on loud at night, in case you have to cover a murder in the early morning hours. You will have to interview weeping mothers, sobbing wives. You’ll have to ask them intrusive questions that go against instinct.”

Then he told us about a recent story he had to cover: a man on bath salts attacked his pregnant wife with a knife and cut the fetus out of her. The baby did not survive, and she barely did.

“How do you write that? How did you interview those sources?” I asked him.

He told me he’d built up a defense wall to the emotions. This is why editors give young reporters the crime beat; if you don’t learn to desensitize, you mentally and emotionally won’t be able to write hard news.

That week, my boyfriend’s fraternity brother was killed by a drunk driver. The Pike boys asked me to write his obituary. I interviewed his pledge brothers about Miles’ personality, hobbies and legacy. It was difficult to witness these boys try so hard to act like their idea of men. Some spoke softly and stared at the ground in disbelief. One laughed and smirked as if I couldn’t see the despair in his eyes.

I went to the newsroom and sat down at the computer. Everyone smiled at me halfheartedly as I entered; they saw my puffy eyes. After deleting the fourth draft of a lead, one of the editors moved my direction. He opened his mouth, paused, furrowed his eyebrows and turned around. No one could help me, and no one wanted to. They all knew one day they would have to write their first obituary.

I knew I could never build up my professor’s wall to pain, grief and emotion. I’m not sure if I would even want to not feel anger that a young soul was taken because of drunk driving.

After the obituary ran, I met with my counselor to ask her to switch my concentration from journalism to public relations. I would still write, but without the crime, death and destruction.

Writing is cathartic, but only if you write about your own life.

Thanks for reading,
Danielle