This is the SPP Spotlight, a feature on our blog that spotlights women who have become leaders in the community, made a positive impact on people’s lives, or is a great role model for women in some way. Our guest is Emily Hamack, the new Miss Thurston County. She’s also active with the Thurston County Coalition Against Trafficking.
SPP Spotlight: Emily, thank you for being with us. It is a pleasure to have you.
Thanks, Jeff! [laughs]
Congratulations on your new title as Miss Thurston County! How does it feel?
It is such an amazing opportunity. I feel like the luckiest person. The girls I got to compete with were phenomenal. Those are the girls to be watching, they really are the most intelligent, wonderful, and talented young women I’ve ever met and I adore them.
That’s a really great attitude, actually. I’m curious, you’ve competed before. Other than your win, obviously, was the experience different in any way this time around?
It was different in that most of the girls were new this year, whereas last year we had some girls that were new, some girls that weren’t. This year we had a much more consistent Board, much more consistent people running our workshops. The girls, we always wanted to be together this year. Last year… they were amazing girls; I love them and still keep in touch with them. This year we just happened to have a ton more in common, a ton more free-time to spend together. One of my favorite parts about the pageant really is the sisterhood you get out of it.
That’s really interesting to hear, because that’s not really what people would expect.
No, most people are like, “Who’s your competition?” or “Who are you going to take down?”, stuff like that. I honestly get distraught when I hear people talk like that, because my competition is myself. As far as those girls go, they made the entire experience better. We just lifted each other up and encouraged each other so much. My favorite photo is where I’ve got Tarin [Brascher] and Kalina [Springer] on both sides of me jumping up in the air. I’m the luckiest person ever to have an announcement moment like that where [two] of my contestants are in the air for me. It’s unreal and I feel so blessed to have that experience in the crowning moment. At the end of the day, we wanted success for ourselves and we each found it in our own way. I just happen to be lucky enough to take the title, as well. I’m really glad that I did it in a way that my fellow sisters can be proud of me. I wouldn’t have it any other way; I wouldn’t want to win if I didn’t like myself afterwards. That’s why winning Miss Congeniality really moved me; I almost cried when I won that.
That’s something that the girls voted on together.
Yeah, we anonymously vote for that. I was completely shocked. I was so thankful that’s what those girls thought of me. It was really moving.
Well, that is a glowing experience it sounds like you had. You know, pageants are often perceived as about being the most beautiful woman in the room. What do you think? Is that fairly accurate or would you say there’s a lot that people don’t realize about programs like Miss Thurston County?
I think, not to be cliché, but beauty really does illuminate from your heart. That’s why these girls are so gorgeous. I went to Spring Forum [for Miss Washington] and met the other 20 girls I’ll be running with for Miss Washington. They are phenomenal and they glow from the inside out. Yeah, I look at them and think, “Oh my gosh, you’re gorgeous”, because everything about them is beautiful; the way they carry themselves, the way they interact with each other. Only one of us is going to be crowned Miss Washington, but I promise you that every single one of the 20 contestants will go back home and make a difference. It’s who we are. We’re not changing ourselves to win this crown, we’re just being ourselves with a little extra make-up, maybe some heels, you know? We’re just being passionate about our community. Yeah, it is challenging and there have been a lot of areas of growth along the way and we might be more engaged in our community than we were before we were running. But this organization, Miss America, gives out more scholarship money to young women than any other organization in the country.
So, it does provide a financial benefit…
Absolutely. My school will be paid for next year, because of the scholarships I won for the crown and Miss Congeniality. I don’t want my parents to have to be supporting [my school financially], it needs to be on me and if this is one way I can do it then sweet!
What are your goals as Miss Thurston County? How do you hope to bring relevance and change during your time as a titleholder?
I think relevance hits it on the head. My biggest goal as Miss Thurston County is to really revamp the organization. We are the state capitol region and I want everybody to know about this. I got a $5,000 scholarship just for winning Miss Thurston County and we have some outstanding schools in the area. I want girls to know about this opportunity. I want them to have a healthy understanding of what we are, what we represent, what we stand for. I’m so thrilled about our Board. Stephanie especially helped make something from nothing. The entire Board, you guys all made something so amazing. [Full Disclosure: Jeff is on the Board of Directors as Recruitment Officer and Shanna is the Board’s photographer] People are working hard for this and it needs to be heard. You know, we’re making a difference here and I want our community to know about it. I want them to have the right perspective. If they’re going to have an opinion, I want their opinion to come from us. I want our voice to speak louder than other people’s voices about what pageantry is.
So, you definitely want to bring more exposure to it, but you also want people to understand what it represents. What does Miss Thurston County represent to you?
To me, the four points of the crown really sums it up: Style, Success, Scholarship, and Service. It’s really about giving to your community, earning scholarships so you can further what you want to do, being successful in life, and not being held back by our insecurities and all of the stuff that can go wrong. Saying, “I have gifts and talents, I have a voice and passion, and I’m going to step forward and use them, because I can.”
So, it sounds very empowering and helps make you well-rounded.
They give us a crown, it is empowering! [laughs]
Right, it doesn’t get more empowering than that! [laughs] Now, you have a platform about a cause that’s very important to you and not something that is probably given much thought in Western Washington. Would you care to speak a little about that?
Yeah, so my platform is education on human trafficking. Human trafficking, for the most part, people know the term and think third-world country – rightfully so. The first time I heard about it was in high school. I heard about Project Rescue, which is based in India. They actually go in and rescue girls and young women from brothels in India and give them a chance at life. They invest in them and work on giving them an education and work on restoring them as a person. That is phenomenal and really lit a passion in me. But the fact is it’s happening here. It’s much broader, but I like to focus on [the area] between Seattle and Portland. My goal is to let people know about it and then from there educating our legislature, our police force, our community so they can be aware first of all, that it’s happening, second, that there are ways they can discourage its presence in our community, and also that we can protect our youth. Youth that are run-aways and come from broken homes are more likely to fall victim to it. It can come about in the most innocent way, because the people who are behind the scenes are not stupid. They know what they’re doing, they know how to get girls’ attention – and it’s not just girls, it’s boys, too, and that’s awful. I tend to focus on girls, just because I’ve grown up investing in and mentoring girls. So, if traffickers aren’t stupid then we need to be smarter. There’s no reason we should be in the dark.
You talk about engaging with law enforcement and our political leaders. Are you coming across a certain degree of ignorance to the problem even on their level or is this something that is well-known that the public just doesn’t know enough about?
People are becoming increasingly aware of the issue. One of the judges [from Miss Thurston County pageant] was the [Chief] of Lacey police and he has interest in having me come and talk to his officers. One of the ladies on the Thurston County Coalition team is working to talk to law enforcement so they know what to look for. From there we can put bills in act, because you’ve got to cut it off at the source. If it’s harder for them to traffick girls and get them places then you’re cutting them off at the source. I’d love to say, “No more trafficking!” It’s easier said than done. What I can work towards is a community that says, “No! We will not have this!” Unfortunately, girls who are trafficked are bought and used by members of the community. Everybody has skeletons in their closet and unfortunately, young girls are that dark secret [for some]. This is no small matter. I have no fear in saying what people are uncomfortable hearing, because it’s not a comfortable topic. The girls who are stuck in it are not comfortable, they are not happy. Someone needs to say something.
What do you do for the Thurston County Coalition Against Trafficking?
So, I was introduced to Rose Gunderson, one of the founders of the Thurston County Coalition Against Trafficking and Washington Engage. My mentor Stephanie she introduced me, knowing my passion and looking for an organization to work with – especially knowing my platform. It has been an amazing experience just to learn from these women – that’s the most I’ve done is learn and take in. I was able to help organize and do some behind-the-scenes work for this amazing event that we had that brought local anti-human trafficking groups together and raising awareness for it. Being the person who sets the table or hands out flyers at events seems like a small, mundane task, but it makes a difference. You’re handing out a flyer with the information for somebody. I’ve grown up helping with things like that, so I understand I don’t have to be the speaker at an event to make a difference at an event. Everybody comes together and makes it happen. Those little things behind the scenes matter, I completely believe that. I accept that as how I can help right now.
When someone sees your picture, they’ll see a very pretty face with a gorgeous smile. What would you like people to know about that person in the picture that they might not get from the image?
I’ve always been a really happy, bubbly person. That’s just how people have known me and I love that, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a quote by Demi Lovato “Nothing is more beautiful than a smile that has struggled through tears.” I think it’s important for people to know that I’m not perfect – I don’t look at myself as [being] perfect. I have huge amounts of insecurities. I’m just thankful that I have people who don’t let me stay in my insecurities. I’m so thankful for strong parents who’ve gone through struggles. Resilience is one of my core values; the ability to come back from something, the ability to not let something keep you down. That’s who I am, that’s how I function. The crown isn’t my story; it’s a really exciting chapter that’s helping me reach more people. Does it help being pretty? Yeah, it does. Do I look at myself and think, “Oh, I’m so pretty!”? No, I don’t. You can engage people when you’ve got a pretty smile, but I’d never want that to be where people draw the line. If that’s it then I resent being called pretty; if people don’t want to know anything more. That’s not what I want people to know me as. I want people to know me as passionate, kind, involved… somebody that wants to make a difference. That’s the stuff that matters. Not that I have green eyes, am a brunette, have a pretty smile, can sing… that stuff fades, you know? I want my heart to speak louder than a picture can.
Who are some women who’ve inspired you over the years and continue to today?
Aside from my mom – my mom is amazing, the pinnacle of strength and grace. If we get into a fight or argument I feel terrible. But Stephanie Lund has been a mentor of mine since I was a freshman; she’s known me for as far back as I can remember. She’s someone I can go to about the things that aren’t always easy to talk to, stuff that’s caused me pain, and stuff that’s caused embarrassment. She’s been such a voice of wisdom and love and encouragement. And she’ll tell me the stuff that’s hard to hear. She’s an amazing wife and amazing mother. I look at her and want to be [her]. When I’m grown and have children and a husband I want people to look at me and be something they can model themselves after. She really does have a heart of gold. Krinda Regan, she lives in Missouri now, she’s like a sister to me. She was valedictorian of her class at St. Martin’s, she’s a runner – just an amazing woman; on fire for God, so loving, so inspiring. Her middle name is Joy for a reason, I kid you not. She has a fire for life, to live life to the fullest. Honestly, one of the most inspiring people in my life is my best friend Kelsey Hummel. She’s my best friend since second grade, a senior in UW, majoring in physiology. She’s just gorgeous, smart, and hilarious; she’s everything I want to be. She’s such a strong person, she’s driven, way more motivated than I am. I have to motivate myself to do things. When she sets her mind to something, she’s going to do it. She is my Person. It’s a [phrase] from Grey’s Anatomy that we’ve taken as our own. We are each other’s Person. I’ll never run out of things to be thankful for as long as I have her as my best friend.
That’s beautiful. You’re 23 in July, where do you see yourself by the time you turn 30?
I hate that question! People ask me, “What’s your five-year plan?” and I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I don’t even know what I’m going to have for dinner tonight.”
Well, you’re going to school. So you have a goal there…
[laughs] For a long time, I’d hit myself over the head, because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. There’s so much stuff I want to do. I love writing, so I’ve considered Communications. I was head of layout and design for our school newspaper and have considered Graphic Design. I’ve done [speeches] since 7th grade, which I’ve considered a route toward Public Speaking. I’ve done theater my entire life and am currently in a directing class at SPSCC’s theater program. So, I’ve considered pursuing Performing Arts. I get so upset that I have so many things I can’t make up my mind. I finally made a point of just being thankful. I have so many things that I enjoy and that I can excel at. Now which one do I want to pursue the most? That brings us back to Square 1. Right now I’m focusing on getting my AA [Associates of Arts]. I also have an interest in Psychology. See?
Well, theater can definitely tap into a lot those, right? Public speaking, psychology…
Right now, I’m really letting doors open. I fully believe that God will close the doors that I’m not meant to walk through. In the meantime, it’s my job to give my absolute best at what I’m doing. It’s my job to give my absolute best at school. It’s my job to give my absolute best at work. I’m a nanny, I love it. I do believe in trusting in God’s timing, but I believe while doing that you’re not just sitting around waiting. You’re being active and I want to be active in working towards all of these possibilities and seeing where life takes me.
What’s next for you? Do you have anything coming up as Miss Thurston County?
I’m really excited for Lakefair. I got to be in the Lakefair parade last year as a KAYO Girl; it was a blast. Miss Washington is the first week of July, so it’s crunch time. I’ve got several weeks left until that. I get to go on a tour with Boeing, which is so exciting. We get to go on a manufacturing tour. No cameras and that’s fine.
So, this is you and –
— me and the other girls who are running for Miss Washington from all over the state. That’ll be during Pageant Week. During the week leading up to Miss Washington we’re together doing rehearsals, practicing, engaging with the community, we get to go to the Seattle Farmer’s Market. The national platform is Children’s Miracle Network, so we get to go to the Children’s Hospital in Seattle. I’m so excited for next year’s pageant! I’m so excited to work with a new group of girls for Miss Thurston County. I’m not excited to give up my crown. I don’t have an emotional attachment to it, but I do take it with all seriousness that I have this year to make a difference as Miss Thurston County. I do take that seriously, but I’m so excited to work with another group of girls. I want them to have the experience I’m having. You don’t need a crown to make a difference, but if you have one, all the more reason!
Is there anything you’d like to impress upon little girls or young women who might see you as a role model?
Oh goodness, absolutely. I would hope that my character would always be something that they would want to look up to. I hope that I can be something worthy of them looking up to me that way. I also understand I’m not perfect, I make mistakes. I’ve also been subject to rumors that aren’t true. I’ve had to rise above that. I guess I would hope my heart would speak louder than other people’s voices. I don’t like leaving things to question or people to draw their own opinion. No, I would much rather carry myself in a way there is nothing left to wonder. I want to be approachable, inspirational, and encouraging. I think your first impression matters.
Yeah, I can’t find who said it, but there’s a famous quote that I think you’re essentially trying to live by – it’s a great message – “Live in such a way that if anyone should speak badly of you, no one would believe it.” That’s a great message for young women.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, I’ve been raised to live above reproach. I absolutely believe in that one hundred percent. I’ve gone through some stuff to the point where somebody [asked], “If everyone’s believes this about you, why did you stay?” And I said, “I stayed because I knew it wasn’t true and if I left who was going to defend my name?” If I believe something isn’t true about me, I’m going to stay and make sure people understand that, not by telling them their wrong, but being somebody that shows it can’t be true. Your reputation can take years to build and seconds to destroy.
That’s certainly true. Emily, you are an absolute delight to chat with and of such character worthy of your title. Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you so much!
You can find Emily at the official Miss Thurston County website.
This is the SPP Spotlight. I’m Jeff.