YUCCA VALLEY — Destinee Dewitt, an honor roll student who talked candidly about her difficult childhood, was crowned Miss Yucca Valley from a group of eight contestants Saturday night in the Joshua Springs Christian School gymnasium.
Katie Alexander was crowned first princess, Skye Hansen second princess and Trinity Dudra third princess. Alexander was named Miss Congeniality and Taylie Staten won Miss Photogenic.
The contestants, all juniors at Yucca Valley High School, were scored on speeches that they recited from memory during the pageant, as well as their answers to two questions, performance in a group dance and walk in formal gowns.
“Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us,” Dewitt said during her speech.
She talked about a family member’s struggle with addiction when she was a small child, and how it continues to affect her.
“Some nights I would worry where I was going to sleep,” she told the crowd.
Feeling abandoned and isolated, she worked hard to excel in sports and academics to prove that she was more than her past. The trials of her young life strengthened her, she said.
“At such a young age, I had already experienced so much heartbreak, abuse, abandonment and loss,” Dewitt told the audience and judges. “I now understand there will be setbacks and obstacles and I have to push through them with my head held high.”
In addition to wearing the crown as Miss Yucca Valley at the end of the night, Dewitt also won the essay contest judged before the pageant.
In all, 17 judges entered scores for the contest, assessing the girls in the months leading up to the pageant as well as the final night. They were scored on pre-pageant interviews, essays, how they interacted with their fellow contestants and their attendance and behavior at weekly meetings.
“The whole program is designed to take a 16-year-old girl and mature her at a fast pace,” John Babrowski, who runs the pageant for the Rotary Club of Yucca Valley, told the audience in his opening remarks.
All of the girls shared how they coped with trials and learned to put past hurts behind them.
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone,” Hansen said in her speech.
Several talked about what they had learned from their parents’ contentious divorces.
“Through compassion, we can end the cycle of being hurtful toward one another,” Alexander said.
After her parents’ divorce, Elaura Lopez said, her father faded from her life, leaving her with hard feelings.
“Who I am has been constructed from the ashes of my former life and is unbreakable, for I am wiser than I look and a lot stronger than I seem.”
Staten spoke about how she learned to live with her anxiety, which used to make her feel trapped between two brick walls.
“My anxiety is not an obstruction in my way anymore, but a stepping stone,” she said. She has learned, “The walls are not there to block your path, but to strictly remind you, you are stronger than you think.”
The winners of the pageant will receive scholarships from Yucca Valley Rotary. Nellie Gutierrez, the 2019 first princess, predicted great things from all the girls who participated, whether they went home with crowns or not.
“They are all brilliant young women who will accomplish so much in their lives,” she said.