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

100 days as Miss California 2016

Wow. 100 days as Miss California. The past 100 days have been a whirlwind. A whirlwind full of priceless memories, unbeatable experiences and incredible people. Let me break down these 100 days for you, starting from July 2nd.


crowning-by-doug-hikawaJuly 2nd, 2016 is when it all began. After a week of fun in Fresno with 48 women that all would serve as an exceptional Miss California, it all came down to one moment. The moment when I found myself as one of the final three contestants left on the William Saroyan Theatre stage, waiting to hear the judge’s selection of Miss California 2016. Then it happened, Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015, announced me as the new Miss California. Immediately the feelings of shock and excitement rushed in and I knew that all of my hard work preparing for the competition had paid off and my seven-year journey in the Miss America Organization was coming full circle. With a new shiny accessory and $22,300 in scholarship money, which means no more student loan debt, I was (and still am) so grateful that the judges put their trust in me to represent the Miss California Organization for an entire year.


liliana-footwearThe day after the crowning, still running off of adrenaline, I immediately sat down to begin my paperwork, and essentially my preparation for Miss America. Next, I spent a few days in Northern California for the annual RWC 4th of July parade and celebration in Redwood City. Then I was on my way to Orange, California to relocate with my host family, the lovely Harris’. For eight weeks my days were action-packed, full of meetings with our Miss California sponsors, gathering essentials for Miss America, meeting new people, practicing my new talent routine, traveling and making appearances. One of the highlights of my prep was my family and friends “sending me off” to Miss America at my send-off party in my hometown, Santa Clara. In those eight weeks I took 10 flights, travelled over 22,000 miles, stayed in 5 hotel rooms and drove 4 different cars. It was exhilarating!


core-artsI was in pristine hands in my first weeks as Miss California. Patricia Murray, Russ Gladden, Donna Jones, Sherry Cain, Connie Oliver and the rest of the Miss California board of directors and leadership made sure I was more than 100% ready to take on my time in Atlantic City.

Not only did I have the support of the Miss California leadership, but I was also lucky to have the support of so many phenomenal sponsors! Core Arts Pilates bricsworked me into tiptop shape for the Miss America stage. The Pink Door Salon made sure my hair looked like silk. Tamara’s Skin Care and DMK had my skin glowing like it never had before. Linda Ontiveros showered me with makeup to compliment the glowing skin Tamara gave me. Dale Carnegie Orange County gave me tips on how to communicate with diplomacy and tact. Haute Shot by Shana and Makeup by Maskara did a phenomenal job of capturing my Miss America headshot. BeachCandy Swimwear guaranteed my Miss America swimsuit fit just right. Eva Varro, Paige Denim, Lorna Jane and Liliana Footwear gifted me with the perfect pieces for my Miss California and Miss America wardrobe. Mia Bella Couture and Jovani created my stunning and ideal Miss America Evening Gown. Savinar Luggage and Brics USA provided me with a BEAUTIFUL 5-piece luggage set so I could travel to Atlantic City in style.

I am incredibly thankful and grateful for these businesses and their support of our organization.


miss-america-shotsThe time had finally come. My bags were packed and I was off to Atlantic City for 14 days, where I would bond with 51 unbelievable women and compete for the job of a lifetime. We toured Atlantic City, embraced the humidity, rehearsed for hours at a time, slept in unusual places, filmed in a hurricane, danced to no music, ate too much dessert, formed sister-like friendships, laughed at everything and competed in this thing called Miss America. I am so grateful to have placed in the Top 10 out of what started as 8,000 women across the country. But, most importantly, I am grateful for $7,000 toward my higher education, the experience only very few people get to have and for the friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

arrival-ceremonyThe PEOPLE

building-a-healthy-futureAlong this 100-day journey, I met some of the most impressive, accomplished, caring, giving and selfless people. My absolute favorites out of the bunch were the children. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and share #BuildingAHealthyFuture with nearly 3,000 children at schools, daycares, boys & girls clubs, children’s hospitals, appearances and youth programs.

One of the many reasons why I wanted to serve as Miss California was to share my story and message with the youth and see their faces light up when they see the sparkly “hat” I sport. These are my favorite moments.



lincoln-memorialBeing Miss California, I feel like I am Miss America! I have been able to travel our country and our diverse state in the last couple of months. Some of my travels have included Washington D.C., New York, Orlando, Atlantic City, Northern California, Southern California, Fresno a couple of times and my latest adventure in Blythe! It is my goal as Miss California to travel to as many cities in California as possible and meet as many people as I can. We Californians are lucky and extremely fortunate to live in a state that has so much to offer, including a unique, diverse population of people.


The night I was crowned Miss California, I stated in my speech at the gala that I will live my year by my personal philosophy: Value the present. Live free of tension, full of love, happiness and laughter. Be a lifelong learner, Embody dedication and uniqueness. Create.

For 100 days I have reminded myself of this philosophy and have embraced every day with these words and will continue to do so.

Throughout every venture in my life I have always strived to #BeExtraordinary. No matter what you are doing, where you are going or who you are with, I believe that you should always have the goal to be extraordinary. My mission as Miss California 2016 is to share this with California. This is what I want my legacy to be.


It has only been 100 days, but I have already made memories that I will cherish forever and accomplished so many things that I wanted to accomplish as Miss California. My year doesn’t stop here. I will continue to travel our state and country, meet as many people as possible, advocate a healthy future for our youth, share the Miss America Organization and strive to be an extraordinary Miss California. I cannot wait for the rest of the year ahead of me. Adventures are coming! Stay tuned!



Miss California 2016

You can book Jessa for an appearance by visiting our Book Miss California page.