By Laetitia Clayton - email@example.com
When Rebecca Gogue decided to compete in the Shenandoah County Fair Scholarship Pageant last year, little did she know she not only would win that competition, but would also go on to take the state crown.
The 19-year-old from Mt. Jackson said she was surprised to be chosen as Miss Virginia Association of Fairs 2010 at the state pageant, which took place last month in Portsmouth.
"There were so many girls there, and everybody was so pretty and everybody was so smart," she said.
While Gogue herself is a beauty -- tall and slender, with long dark hair, olive skin and a dazzling smile -- she stands for much more than that. She is a pre-pharmacy major who wants to help stop prescription drug abuse among teens.
Gogue's platform -- Smart Teens, Smart Choices -- is one thing she believes helped her win both pageants.
"For the local fair pageant, you have to have a platform," she said. "I was looking for something different. I didn't want to do what everybody else was doing."
So, Gogue, now a sophomore at James Madison University, decided to go with what she knows best. She's had an interest in medicine since as far back as she can remember, and has worked in several area pharmacies, beginning when she was in high school at Stonewall Jackson in Quicksburg.
"I wanted [my platform] to be something I worked with every day," she said. "I saw some abuse of prescription drugs by working in pharmacies. It's something nobody else was talking about."
Gogue has created a pamphlet that lists misconceptions and facts about prescription drug abuse among teens. Some of the facts are startling: Every day, 2,700 teens abuse prescription drugs for the first time; eight out of 10 teenagers who abuse prescription drugs either stole, bought or asked a relative for the medication; and fatal consequences can result from just one misuse of prescription drugs.
The pamphlet includes a chart of some of the drugs, what they are used for and signs and symptoms of abuse. There also is a section to educate parents on what they can do to help stop the abuse.
In addition to having a great platform and a winning personality, Gogue has the natural ability to get her message across, said Linda Huntley, the director of the Virginia Association of Fairs Scholarship Pageant.
"She just absolutely did an excellent job," Huntley said. "She has the knowledge, the beauty, she's sweet and genuine. She has the entire package."
In fact, she was only one point away from earning a perfect score on the interview portion of the pageant, Huntley said.
Public speaking counts for 65 percent of the overall score, and that includes a private interview where contestants give an overview of their platform in one minute, then answer judges' questions for four minutes. Contestants also are required to give a speech of 25-30 seconds about their area or fair. The remaining 35 percent of scoring includes personality wear and an evening gown competition.
"A very important part of our pageant is the platform," Huntley said. "[Gogue's platform] was just something that was really important to everyone. She's done so much study and work on the topic."
Betsy Conley, the director of the Shenandoah County Fair Scholarship Pageant, agrees that Gogue's platform and speaking ability make her a force to be reckoned with.
"Everyone that's met her is like, 'Wow!'" Conley said. "She is a unique young woman. And the [state] judges absolutely fell in love with her."
Huntley and Conley also noted that Gogue was competing against girls with much more pageant experience, further enforcing the fact that she has natural speaking ability and a "genuineness," which they feel will help her get her message across.
"Her platform side of it is the most exciting part to me," Conley said, who added that she would like to see Gogue compete in the Miss Virginia pageant next year.
Gogue said that's something she is considering. Meanwhile, she plans to concentrate on fulfilling her duties as Miss Virginia Association of Fairs, which includes traveling to fairs all over the state this summer -- helping to judge pageants, performing as an emcee and getting the chance to "reach more people with my platform," she said.
Gogue also hopes to speak to teens in this area, and is working out the details to do so at Stonewall Jackson High School.
"It's really difficult to talk to teens about it," she said. "You have to be really careful with the approach so they don't get ideas."
The main thing she wants teenagers to know is that everyone's body reacts differently to medications, and taking prescription drugs -- especially those that weren't prescribed for you -- can be extremely harmful.
"You really have to be aware of what you are putting into your body, because everybody is different," she said. "You just really have to know what you are putting in your body."
For more information on prescription drug abuse in teens, visit these Web sites listed on Gogue's Smart Teens, Smart Choices pamphlet: www.drugfree.org, www.teendrugabuse.us, www.talkaboutrx.org and kidshealth.org.