Miss USA brings message to Creekside

Published 9:48 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Witnessing the confidence and poise of Miss United States 2011 at Creekside Elementary School Monday, it was hard to believe Ashley Smith was once a victim of bullying.

The Old Dominion Uni-versity graduate and guest speaker at Creekside’s Parent Teacher Association meeting described her heartache in high school — and the turning point.

“I didn’t have many friends,” she said. “I was the quiet girl who sat in the back of the class.”

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But she would sit in the front of the bus and was constantly bullied by a group of kids in the back. “They weren’t very nice to me,” Smith said. “One day they thought it would be funny to keep messing with me … until I would say something back to them.”

Miss United States 2011 Ashley Smith delivers an anti-bullying message at Creekside Elementary School’s monthly PTA meeting Monday.

Then came the terrifying moment that turned her life around.

“One of the boys took a football and threw it at my head. I blacked out for a few minutes.”

After the incident, Smith said, she cried to one of her teachers, and that teacher delivered a life-changing message.

“She said, ‘They pick on you because you let them … because you are not confident enough in who you are,’” Smith said.

The teacher told her to “build up your confidence and believe you are better then those people … and you will be something one day.”

It was then that Smith got involved in pageants, starting with her high school pageant, which she won.

“The following Monday I had so many people come to me and say, ‘Congratulations! You looked so pretty — you did a good job.’”

The Chesapeake native went on to be crowned Miss Virginia Beach 2006, Miss Virginia Peanut 2007, Miss Norfolk 2008, Miss Chesapeake 2009 and Miss Hampton Roads 2010; to become a Miss Virginia finalist in 2006, 2009 and 2010; and to take the mantle of Miss United States in 2011, according to her Facebook biography.

Smith told the Creekside PTA audience to pass on the message to anyone enduring bullying that it is “their responsibility to believe in themselves.”

She also had a message for those who witness bullying and do nothing.

“We all know there are bullies, right? Bullies are not good people. But there’s somebody else who’s a character in the whole bully situation, and those are bystanders,” she said.

There’s a better way, according to Smith.

“When you smile at people and treat them with respect, they give you respect,” she said.

“You gain more friends that way, and better relationships.”

Before Smith took her place back in the audience next to her mother, she treated the auditorium to a soaring rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings.”