A South Surrey teen determined to promote acceptance of youth with special needs has earned a wider audience for the cause, after being named Miss Teen Canada.
“It feels like a dream,” Madison Stewart said Monday, of her March 4 crowning in Laval, Que.
“That night was a blur.”
Stewart, 16 and in Grade 11 at Earl Marriott Secondary, said she was asked in January to enter the pageant, which she said drew approximately 30 contestants from coast to coast.
Each was judged on everything from their attitude during activities in the lead-up to the crowning – including an interview with judges – to public presentation on stage.
Online, the pageant is described as “first of all and foremost a personality contest.”
Stewart said she was “shocked” just to be named one of five finalists for the title, never mind Miss Teen Canada.
“I was not expecting that,” she said. “I met so many amazing people there. It would be so hard (as a judge) to choose.”
Stewart’s focus on kids with special needs is rooted close to home – her younger sister, Jada, has an “invisible disability.”
In an interview with Peace Arch News last spring, Stewart described how some people react to Jada – because they don’t realize she has special needs – as “frustrating.”
“She’s the sweetest girl… but they maybe exclude her because she acts just a bit different.”
Seeing her sister win the crown clearly struck a chord with the younger girl, Stewart said.
“Jada started crying. It was so sweet,” Stewart said.
In the lead-up to being declared Miss Teen Canada, Stewart said the five finalists were given a mystery question to answer; challenging them to identify their greatest strength and weakness.
“I said my greatest weakness was my perfectionism, because I can always be pretty hard on myself,” she said. “My greatest strength is… I’m determined. I’ve always been a go-getter.”
The latter trait will come in handy as Stewart – who won the title of Miss Teenage South Western B.C. last April – continues on her quest to raise awareness.
In addition to promoting acceptance, she wants to talk about bullying. She hopes to share both messages in presentations at schools and other community venues – as well as at an international pageant this summer – and invites anyone who would like to have her speak to their group to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking ahead, Stewart – whose volunteer efforts include working with the Variety Club and fundraising for Free the Children – said she plans to pursue a career helping others.
She has her sights set on becoming a doctor and working with an organization such as Doctors Without Borders, which provides urgent medical care to victims of war and disaster.