By Clint Kimberling
Starkville native Mary Elizabeth Stringer may have a gift when it comes pageants. She entered and won her first pageant in seventh grade. Then at Starkville High, she was named Miss Yellowjacket, and most recently, she entered—and won—Starkville’s Miss Hospitality Pageant
Continuing her undefeated streak, Stringer was crowned Mississippi’s Miss Hospitality in July. Stringer was chosen out of twenty-seven of Mississippi’s best and brightest young women. As Miss Hospitality, Stringer was awarded not only scholarships and prizes but a title that comes with a ticket to travel across the state of Mississippi and the responsibility of promoting Mississippi’s economic development and tourism industries.
Stringer has plans to seize the moment. “Ultimately, I’m going to make the most of the next year,” she says of her year-long commitment as Miss Hospitality. “This is an amazing opportunity, and I want to squeeze every bit of it. So I’m going to take advantage of it and enjoy myself.”
The Miss Hospitality Pageant is a two-night affair, where contestants are culled through a series of judged interviews and competitions. The interview questions focused on Mississippi as well as controversial topics. On stage, Stringer was asked, “What is the story of Mississippi?” Her answer focused on triumph and perseverance.
All of the contestants recited from memory a prepared 90-second speech on Mississippi that they had to prepare for the competition. She recalls, “That was my favorite part. I spent a lot of time writing my speech, making it meaningful, thinking about why I love Mississippi, and I think all that came across in the speech.”
When it came time to announce the winner she remembers feeling very calm during the buildup, but that all changed when she was declared the winner. “I was in shock when my number was called,” she remembers. “I realized that God’s plan is so much better than anything else I had planned for myself.”
Stringer is currently a senior at Mississippi State University where she is studying kinesiology with plans of being a physician’s assistant specializing in pediatrics. She has served on the executive council of her sorority, Phi Mu, and is actively involved in the Student Association.
Her studies at MSU will be on hold for the fall semester, as she has plans to intern this fall at Thad Cochran’s office in Washington, DC, and fly back to fulfill her Miss Hospitality duties. Stringer will spend the next year serving as a Goodwill Ambassador for the state, showing hospitality to everyone she meets. First up on the list of duties will be speaking at governor’s conference on tourism and she will officially open up the state fair in Jackson in early October. “I’m very much looking forward to it. I’ve already written out my goals for the year, and I’m so excited for the journey.”
She goes on, saying, “The pageant has allowed me to rediscover my love for Mississippi, and with the upcoming bicentennial, I want to encourage others to rediscover their love for Mississippi.” One of the ways she hopes to accomplish this is by promoting mini-vacations and day trips within the state. “I plan to take all those trips, share my experience on video and use social media promote tourism within the state.”
Stringer also wants to focus on economic development as it relates to the farm to table movement. “We have so many great restaurants utilizing the state’s natural resources, and I want to publicize that fact. I also want to visit schools and stress the importance of the local food movement. This is not only healthy but also puts money back in our state.”
One thing is certain; Stringer is not taking her new role lightly. “This is going to be really exciting and a fun job. But to me, it’s more than wearing a crown and sash around.”