Doane students Shultis, Baird place first and second at Miss Nebraska competition
The stage was set.
After a weekend of competition, the field of 16 local titleholders competing for Miss Nebraska was narrowed down to two.
Jessica Shultis ’18A and Allison Baird ’20 were standing on stage, side-by-side, nervously awaiting to hear whose life was drastically about to change.
Shultis, a former Doane undergrad student and current Doane graduate student, and Baird, a junior theatre & vocal performance major at Doane, were the final two standing when the announcer said, “The first-runner up is...”
The two embraced, as Baird congratulated Shultis, who then received the crown and sash from the previous Miss Nebraska winner, Allison Tietjen.
“It was a really special moment to stand up there with her,” Shultis said. “Allison and I qualified at the same local pageant - I was Miss Lincoln and she was Miss Star City. She was already my ‘sister queen,’ so to stand up there with her I was at peace with whatever they said.”
Being crowned Miss Nebraska is something Shultis never could have imagined growing up in the small town of Dannebrog, Nebraska, where she had the dream of one day becoming a WNBA player.
“I never heard of pageants growing up,” she said. “I didn’t think about competing in pageants until a friend reached out to me and said, ‘You have a message. You have something that you can teach other people who are maybe never going to experience what you have.’”
That message, is a powerful one. Shultis was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer her sophomore year, forcing her to quit basketball after one year at Doane. Doctors are unable to identify the cancer with one particular diagnosis, she says. “I’ve become kind of a lab rat because I’m a medical anomaly of sorts.”
Shultis’ body is predisposed to form tumors - meaning she is more susceptible to them. Tumors have grown on multiple parts of her body and she goes in for scans every 3-6 months as a regular checkup. Shultis says there is no cure for this rare form of cancer.
“Being able to volunteer, give back, and spread my message of never losing hope is what drew me to the Miss America organization,” Shultis said. “I don’t want someone to wait until they’re diagnosed with cancer or go through a near-death experience to appreciate life as it is.”
Now that Shultis is Miss Nebraska for the next 50 weeks, this becomes another full-time job for her, on top of her already busy schedule as a full-time Human Resources Manager and graduate student in Doane’s Master of Arts in Management program. Shultis is currently in the capstone portion of the program and is expected to graduate in December.
“I’ve already put nearly 2,500 miles on my car the last couple weeks but I’m loving every second of it,” she says. “Anytime someone reaches out for an appearance request, I’m more than likely not going to turn it down. I want to reach as many people as I can and be very influential as Miss Nebraska during my tenure.”
As Miss Nebraska, Shultis’ platform is “Hoops for Hope,” supporting the Children’s Miracle Network. Drawn from inspiration as a former basketball player who has persevered through battling cancer, “HOPE” stands for Hardship, Opportunity, Perseverance, Excellence.
If Shultis is crowned Miss America or is unable to fulfill her duties, fellow Doane student Allison Baird would become Miss Nebraska. To have two Doane students standing on stage at the end, is really special, she said.
“I feel a sense of pride representing Doane. To have the Tigers up top was pretty fun. It just proves that even though we’re a small school, we do really big things. It pays to go to a school where people invest in you.”
Shultis added, “Doane really encompasses what being Miss Nebraska is about -- serving and inspiring others. What I love about Doane is when people ask you how you’re doing, they genuinely care.”
Both Shultis and Baird received scholarships for their 1-2 finish at the competition. Shultis received over $10,000 in scholarships while Baird received $5,000.
Shultis and Baird hope they can be an inspiration to other girls across the state. “Any girl can be Miss Nebraska,” Shultis said. “You just have to have a purpose and a passion for your message and the things you want to share with people.”
Shultis will represent Nebraska at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City this fall. The finale will be televised nationally on September 9th on ABC.