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The Ten Minutes that Changed My Life: From California to The White House

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

Soaking it in in front of the West Wing

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being the next Kennedy in The White House.

As a child, I looked up to my mom and grandmother, who modeled charity and compassion through their commitment to serving others. Service quickly became ingrained in my life. Saturday mornings meant serving breakfast at Loaves and Fishes, summer afternoons were spent tutoring with Super Stars Literacy in Oakland, and August meant stuffing backpacks for Foster a Dream. Nothing gave me more joy than using my own two hands to serve others in my community. I was constantly seeking out bigger and better ways to make a greater impact.

When the President comments that he loves the glitter...

When the President comments that he loves the glitter…

In eighth grade, our class began to learn about the federal government and how leaders in Washington, DC had the ability to appropriate funding and direct efforts to support their constituencies. It was then that I became determined to work in The White House, where serving others could be a full-time job.

Through high school and college, I chased opportunities to lead, grow, and serve. During my junior year at UC Santa Barbara, I decided to apply for the UCDC program, which allows University of California students to live and work in Washington, DC while receiving units and taking classes at night. I remember going in to meet with the program advisor and listing the internships I was applying for. When I brought up The White House Internship Program, he laughed.

I shared the dream that I’d had for over ten years, and the response was laughter. The advisor told me that my chances were “slim” and that I should “explore other options.” Leaving the office, I refused to feel defeated – instead, I shook off his doubt. I resolutely decided that I would rather try and fail than not apply at all.

Two months later, I received a call from a blocked number while walking home from class. The voice on the other end of the phone said that it was “Jessica, calling from The White House.” I just about fell over.

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

Surprise! I got to welcome Jessa and the Miss America class of 2017 to the White House!

With little time to think, I pulled it together and ran off the busy walkway into a grove of trees. Jessica asked if I had ten minutes to interview, and I exuberantly responded “Of course!” For the next ten minutes, I interviewed like my life depended on it. I told Jessica about my leadership on campus, my passion for working with young women, and my involvement with the Miss California Organization. After just 10 minutes and seven seconds, we ended the call. I stood in that wooded area off the path for a few moments, thinking that those ten minutes may have been the best ten minutes of my life. I had interviewed for The White House! Little did I know, it was only the beginning.

Three months later, I walked up the steps of The White House for the first day of my internship. I spent those months working harder than I ever knew possible, leading speaker series events with senior staff, writing memos, organizing community service events, mentoring high school students, and so much more. A highlight was getting to present President Obama with a birthday card on behalf of my intern class!

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

One of the best days, South by South Lawn

After my internship, I was extended the opportunity to stay through the fall as an Associate. Those next four months afforded me the chance to work with the Presidential speechwriting team, assisting with five speeches for the President and First Lady. I also worked on major events, including Halloween, the Italian State Arrival, and South by South Lawn. After eight months, I came home to California a changed woman – still determined to live a life of service, but far more empowered and confident in my ability to do so.

The detail that my interview for The White House was ten minutes is not lost on me. I had just completed my year as Miss Ventura County 2015, and had spent countless hours training to rock a ten-minute interview. Without this experience, there’s no way to know if I could have closed the deal and secured my dream job. The Miss America Organization has given me the tools to succeed and the strength to believe that I am capable of anything I can imagine. This program empowers us to step out of our comfort zones, to embrace challenges, and to do it all for the sake of service.

Each of us is called to serve, and I’m endlessly grateful for the opportunities afforded to me through the Miss California Organization. As Miss Yosemite Valley this year, I am determined to make every moment count and to use this platform to encourage others to do the same.

Thank you for reading – go out and chase those “crazy” dreams because you never know what might happen!

Jane Kennedy
Miss Yosemite Valley 2018

Miss Ventura County: My Spring Break

After eight long months of fundraising and waiting, like many other college students I was finally boarding the plane to spend my spring break in Mexico. However, unlike most of those college students, I wasn’t on my way to a crazy seven-day beach party. I was traveling with 19 other students and missionaries to Mexico City, where we would be serving and living with the poorest of the poor. With my most reliable duffel bag and a cozy neck pillow, I was ready for whatever this trip had to throw at me. But I never truly could have prepared for what awaited me in Mexico City.

The focus of our trip was to work with women who had been abandoned by their families on the streets of Mexico City. Most of these women were elderly, in their seventies to nineties, and life on the street would have been too much to bear. The government of Mexico set up a place for them to live, where they would receive meals and shelter. But after spending our first day at the Villa de Mujeres, it became evident that what these women really needed was love. That became our mission: to bring love and peace to the women who felt alone and abandoned.

The second day at Villa de Mujeres, I came armed with that mission. With hot pink nail polish in hand, I set out to build personal relationships with the women, while also providing them with fabulous manicures. With the help of four years of high school Spanish classes, I was able to learn about their lives. Some of the women had had professional jobs, some had traveled the world, and some spoke to me about their adventures in ‘Los Estados Unidos.’ All of the women had families, and they spoke about their children with pride. I struggled to comprehend how these women could have so much love for the people who had abandoned them. As the day went on, it became increasingly more evident that these women were teaching me about love and peace more than I ever could have expected.

normaDuring our final day at Villa de Mujeres, I knew that it was time to say goodbye to the women. It truly did not seem fair that we would be returning to our own worlds, complete with loving families, fantastic college communities, and abounding opportunities, while they would be here for the rest of their lives. It was hard to not be sad as we hugged them farewell. However, on our way out of the compound, I saw one of the women who I had come in contact with many times through the week. Her name is Norma, and her most prized possession is a portable radio that she wears around her neck at all times. Norma was listening to her music on full blast, and dancing like a child on Christmas morning. I was struck by how light and free she looked, and I couldn’t help catching her contagious smile. I stopped to dance with her for a few moments before wrapping her in a hug. Despite her circumstances, Norma demonstrated incredible happiness and hope. She radiated with the knowledge that she is loved, even when her surroundings seemed so bleak. How many times in our lives do we feel frustrated, or upset? When classes get rough or we feel defeated, it can be so easy to walk away and give up. But I know that Norma’s enthusiasm is enough to keep me going. Her smile is something that I will never forget.

As I boarded the plane for California (after 24 hours of delays, but that’s another story), Norma’s face was imprinted on my mind. I had come to Mexico to serve, to teach, and to love. But in reality, I was the one who gained so much. The women that I met served me, they taught me, and they loved me. I left Mexico as a different person, full of a deeper understanding of what love truly is. Now that spring quarter is underway, I can’t help but think back to Norma and the effortless joy she possesses. I strive every day to spread that happiness and love that the women showed me at Villa de Mujeres, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have experienced something so profoundly impactful. I hope to return to Mexico City soon to visit with the women again, but until then, I will keep my picture of Norma and me on my wall as a constant reminder to celebrate and seize the day.

Thanks for reading!

Jane Kennedy

Miss Ventura County 2015

 

Miss Ventura County: Sisters At Last

IMG_9933Growing up, all I wanted was a sister. When I was four years old, I got a little brother named Jack. I did my best in the most important job I had ever had: being a big sister. I hugged him and kissed him constantly, just to make sure he knew how much I loved him. Three years later, my mom was pregnant again. I hoped and prayed that it would be my sister. I dreamed of playing dress up with our dolls, braiding her hair, and playing fairy princesses in the backyard. I couldn’t wait to teach her everything I knew and share my excitement for life with her. When my mom came home with another boy, I refused to lose hope. I loved Matthew just as much as Jack, and I quickly moved on from the fact that he wasn’t a girl. Three more years, and it was my last chance. I remember gathering up all of my favorite girlie toys and books and blankets, and waiting eagerly for the arrival of what I was sure to be my perfect little sister. You can probably guess where this is heading- my brother Cooper was born in 2004. With three little brothers under my belt, I pushed aside my dream for a sister and focused on being the best role model I could for them. I played soccer with them (until they were too big and way better than me), I encouraged them to pursue theater and music, and I strived to set the most positive example I could in all aspects of my life. My dream of a sister was pushed aside in favor of loving and appreciating the gifts of my amazing brothers.

house2When I headed off to the University of California, Santa Barbara in the fall of 2013, my lost dream of having a sister was quickly fulfilled when I joined the Delta Gamma sorority. Instead of just one sister to dress up with, I had 140. It was pretty evident that God had planned this all along, by giving me beautiful brothers growing up and inspiring sisters when I left home. Delta Gamma has given me opportunities to pursue service, engage with alumnae, and grow as a college student. Being surrounded by women who support and care about one another has transformed my college experience. Now, living in a house with 43 of these ladies, I can appreciate the family that we have created. I cherish each one of them, and I know that our friendships will last many years after we throw our caps at graduation.

IMG_7326On January 17, I was welcomed into another sisterhood: the Miss California Class of 2015. From the moment I was crowned Miss Ventura County, I have been surrounded and supported by amazing women, all of whom exemplify what the Miss America Organization has to offer: service, style, scholarship, and success. If we could add another point to the crown, I have no doubt that it would be sisterhood. Each of us has a story, and we each have a passion. Every woman who carries a title has a dream and we are willing to work towards it- together.

10420777_814473555256170_3956833175279335967_nWhat is most incredible is the fact that I have met women who bring my two sisterhoods together- my Delta Gamma sisters in the Miss California family! I am so lucky to be a part of two sisterhoods that promote service, determination, scholarship, and leadership. My sisters are motivating me to live with passion and work tirelessly towards excellence. Years ago, I never could have imagined the unbelievable impact sisters have made on my life. I wish I could go back and tell that little girl how one day she would be blessed with more than 200 sisters.

Or maybe not, because I learned a valuable lesson: sometimes life works out in unexpected and incredible ways.

Thanks for reading!

Jane Kennedy

Miss Ventura County 2015