Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Angela Baraquio adjusted the crown on her head
during a news conference held last October after
she became the new Miss America.

Miss America
proud of her reign

Angela Baraquio stays humble as
she works to promote schools and teachers

By Pat Gee

Angela Baraquio uses her Miss America crown as "my microphone" to try to improve education and raise teachers' salaries, she says.

Baraquio is "really proud" of her efforts to secure a $50 million allotment from Congress to fund character education programs for 2002 and future years, she says. She used character education in her classes at Holy Family Academy, teaching students "to be good people and contributing citizens."

Baraquio has talked to students of all ages and testified before legislators and other professional groups to "champion education and teachers," she says.

She will be in town Friday to host the Miss Hawaii pageant, her springboard to the national title. The nation's first Asian and teacher to be named Miss America, her reign will be over in September.

But Baraquio, in a telephone interview yesterday from Atlantic City, N.J., will not be among the former queens to lament becoming "a nobody" after her year of service is over. After all, "the reason we won the crown is we're somebody. ... The crown should not define a girl. The girl should define the crown."

As she looks at the Miss Hawaii hopefuls, Baraquio would like to tell them that being Miss America was not a year of modeling and posing for pictures wearing a crown, as many a contestant has dreamt.

"It really is a job, making a difference. ... (When her reign is over) I'd hope I left it better than I received it, that I made a mark."

Baraquio, who taught physical education and was the athletic director at the academy, would "love to go back" to teaching and "just being me," but "it's never going to be the same." Since being crowned, everyone in Hawaii treats her differently, even her students, who point to her in awe and whisper, "She's Miss America!"

"I want to say, 'Hel-lo? I'm Miss Baraquio. Remember last year, P.E.?'" she said. "And I'm not used to being stared at in Hawaii" when she is just going to the movies.

In the first year after her reign is up, Baraquio plans to travel around the country fulfilling requests for appearances -- she already has 30 post-year appointments. She wants to go back to teaching, preferably elementary education, but not before getting her master's degree. She wants to be a principal and eventually a school superintendent.

Over the last several months, being Miss America has made her "stronger, more assertive, more opinionated. I know what's important in life, and I have a greater appreciation for what I've been given.

"My faith has grown a lot," and it has helped her to stay grounded through all the hoopla that makes her appear "larger than life."

Baraquio did not hesitate when asked what she missed most about home besides her family and teaching. "The food!" she declared.

Once when she arrived at her hotel room in Utica, N.Y., she was greeted with a basket containing "three Spam musubis, mochi crunch, li hing mui and two big manapuas" homemade by a woman formerly from Aina Haina who lived in Utica, she remembers.

"I started grinding right there."

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