At age 18, Ella Strickland doesn’t have a lot of regrets about her life choices. The newly crowned Miss Virginia Outstanding Teen said, though, that she did go back to watch her reaction when her win was announced. “Why did I make that face?” she laughed.
Strickland was crowned Miss Commonwealth Outstanding Teen in December of 2019 at Taylor Middle School in Warrenton – when she was 16 -- and normally would have competed in the Miss Virginia competition in 2020. But because COVID put pageants on hold, she held on to the title for an extra year.
On June 18 in Roanoke, she finally took the next step to win the state title. Parents James Strickland and Tiffany Hall and grandmother Vickie Hall were there to offer their support. “They carted me all around Roanoke. It was great,” Strickland said. Next month in Orlando, Florida, she will compete in Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant.
Strickland graduated in December from Kettle Run High School and will attend Hollins University on a full scholarship. She will also take with her to Hollins $6,000 in scholarship money won through the pageant. She has her eye on a communications major with a minor in French.
A vocal student at Allegro Community School of the Arts for four years, Strickland performed “The Wizard and I,” from “Wicked” for the talent portion of the pageant. “It was different for me. In the past, I’ve performed classical arias. This was a lot of fun.”
And the departure seemed to have paid off. Strickland placed first for her talent, for which she thanked her vocal teacher at Allegro, Randi Puckett.
Most of Strickland’s performance experience has been earned on the stage at Fauquier Community Theatre and at Kettle Run. She was supposed to play Cathy Selden in her high school’s production of “Singing in the Rain” this spring, but COVID cancelled that opportunity.
Like so many high school seniors, the outstanding teen’s final year of school was quashed by the pandemic. But instead of letting it define her, Strickland cut her losses and moved on. “I learned that I’m really bad at learning online. I just didn’t see a future in high school that would end on a non-COVID note. I decided to graduate early, and it was the best decision I ever made. I took the semester off and worked at Tropical Smoothie, made some money and had a great time.”
Strickland seems to have a knack for taking adversity and turning it into opportunity. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, she turned it into a natural platform for her pageant career. She works with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, fund raising and working with children to help them cope with the disease. She explained, “They have summits in Maryland and D.C. The parents will go upstairs and listen to doctors; I’ll do arts and crafts and color with newly diagnosed kids and talk to them about what it means to have type 1 diabetes. They worry because they don’t understand what’s going on with their bodies.”
She believes that having type 1 diabetes – although at times difficult – has helped her mature. She has to deal with insulin pens and glucose monitors, but says, “I’m more aware of what’s going on in my body. I’m more active because of it too.”
Strickland credits her pageant experience for helping her to be calm and collected. She said, “When I first started competing in pageants, there was a lot of anxiety. This year, I have been really at peace. I prayed for calm and found that peace.”
She said that the talent portion of the competition was particularly stressful. She said, “That was the part I was always really anxious about. But this year, before the talent portion, I was really calm. I was just ready to go out there and do it.”
Strickland marvels at the difference in herself. “If you had seen me at 12, my people skills and communication skills … the pageants have made a huge difference.”
Reach Robin Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org