Scribner native Brooke Lodl saw pageants as a way to help further her biggest passion: advocating for children with disabilities.
Lodl graduated from Wayne State College back in May with a degree in special education. Next year, she starts her new job as a behavioral specialist at Norfolk Middle School.
“I love that demographic of student and kind of having to always be on my toes, and it’s just a really rewarding field,” Lodl said. “I was able to substitute teach throughout my four years of college. I taught everything from kindergarten all the way up to juniors and seniors. And the only place where I really felt at home was the special education department. I just love seeing those ‘aha!’ moments constantly.”
When she applied to participate in the Miss Nebraska USA pageant back in October—after being encouraged by her friend Jasmine Fuelberth, Miss Nebraska USA 2017—she wanted to push forward the platform of “taking the ‘dis’ out of disability.”
“Essentially, it’s looking at each other as we all have different abilities instead of looking at the labels that we are always given,” Lodl said. “Within the special education realm, there’s like 13 different labels that you have to be given to be able to qualify for a special education, and once you give that student that label, that’s all anybody ever sees.”
Lodl would finish as the third runner up in January’s Miss Nebraska USA pageant, whose winners go on to perform in the Miss USA and ultimately the Miss Universe pageants. But that didn’t end her pageant dreams for 2018—last week she participated in the Miss Nebraska competition, which feeds winners into the Miss America pageant. And while she didn’t advance into the top 8, Lodl won an award for her performance on the interview portion of the event, took home more than $1200 in scholarship money that will help her pay off her student loans and, most importantly, proudly carried her platform until the end.
“I stayed true to my platform,” she said. “Any one of my questions, I was able to relate everything back to my platform and exactly why I’m fighting for what I am. Every single one of the judges would have known by the end of the day that my passion is my platform, my passion is my students.”
To qualify for the Miss Nebraska competition, Lodl had to win a local pageant event and did so in February, when she was crowned Miss Heartland. Under that title, Lodl toured the state, visiting schools, raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network, visiting various Lion’s Club meetings and more.
She spoke about her platform of taking the “dis” out of disability, emphasizing the importance of inclusionary work and teaching people how to be an advocate.
“I was able to talk to all sorts of students about looking at each other as though we’re all different, but still the same in a sense,” she said.
That all led up to last week, when Lodl participated in the Miss Nebraska festivities in Omaha.
The event started on Sunday with an opening ceremony at the Platte River Mall. There, the 15 contestants introduced themselves to the public, spoke about their respective platforms, signed autographs and met up with their “little sisters”—younger girls who would spend time with the contestants as part of a mentorship program.
What followed was days of work and preparation ahead of the competition, which started on June 7. The contestants had to learn an opening number dance, a little sister dance, walking routines and more.
“Nobody gets to see all the actual work that goes into the three days of competition,” Lodl said. “There’s lots of work behind the scenes.”
The competition began on Thursday with the interview section.
“You go in and they ask you all sorts of different questions, anywhere between current events and politics to those fluff questions that are kind of just to see if you trip up on your words or how you hold yourself in a conversation,” Lodl said.
It was there that Lodl shined—she scored the non-finalist award for her interviewing skills.
Leading up to the event, Lodl says, it was imperative to stay fit and healthy—all contestants stay with a “host family” in the area during the event, and Lodl went on runs with hers. Equally imperative was keeping up to date on current events and news.
This year, one of the biggest news developments was about the pageant itself. On June 5, the Miss America Organization’s Board of Trustees announced sweeping changes to the historic pageant, removing the swimsuit portion of the competition in place of a conversation about each contestant’s goals in life, according to the Miss America website.
Also removed was the evening gown competition, and the word “pageant”—the new competition ensures that contestants will no longer be judged on their physical appearance.
Lodl said she approves of the changes, which have been met with mixed reactions across the country. She said the change will “open the playing field,” encouraging women who may be uncomfortable walking in a swimsuit or who couldn’t afford an expensive evening gown.
“Nobody likes change in general, humans are kind of creatures of habit,” Lodl said. “It’s going to be based on who you are as a person and who you are as your platform, instead of just how you look on stage.”
For the talent portion, Lodl gave a monologue to highlight her public speaking abilities, which she says stemmed from being a teacher.
“It was such a whirlwind of a week,” Lodl said. “It went by a lot faster than I thought it would.”
For Lodl, the best part of the week was meeting the 14 other girls, who came from many backgrounds and had many talents. She says they proved that there is no such thing as a stereotypical “pageant girl.” One was a corrections officer at a women’s prison. Another was on her way to Morocco to study abroad and hoped to end human trafficking.
“We’re all very intelligent women,” she said. “People don’t really see that. As soon as you put that label of ‘pageant girl’ on top of someone, they don’t really care to look too deep after that.”
For Lodl and the other women participating in the event, there were some somber undertones as well. The event was supposed to have 16 contestants, but Miss Alliance, Kaelia Nelson, who was slated to compete, committed suicide at age 21. Her platform was about “stopping the stigma” and dealt with mental health issues.
A memorial was held for Nelson during the event—it was a moment that stands out in Lodl’s memory.
“I’ve lost friends to suicide before and it really just moved me to know that there were all these people wanting to create this conversation, to help stop this epidemic,” she said. “I never actually personally got to meet [Nelson], but I was able to talk to her family and some of her friends, and just from how much they cared for her, she had to have been an amazing human being.”
Unfortunately, this year will be Lodl’s first and last run in the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska USA events—but it’s for a good reason. In June, she will marry Jeremy Hemmer, making her no longer a “Miss.” Hemmer is a mechanic from Humphrey and the “greatest supporter” that Lodl has had.
“He never once complained about having to drive to Omaha or North Platte for all my pageant stuff, and he even said that he’s going to kind of miss seeing me just do this stuff,” Lodl said.
“There is a Mrs. Nebraska that I might have to look into,” Lodl added.