Miss Maryland visits Fort Meade
Miss Maryland Joanna Guy signs her autograph on fifth-grader Joseph Whipkey's shirt during her visit to Pershing Hill Elementary School. Guy signed autographs and answered questions about her reign.

When Miss Maryland arrived at Pershing Hill Elementary School on Friday morning, no one was more surprised than Jake Neslony.


The 10-year-old had written a letter to the pageant winner, inviting her to the school. Little did he know that she would accept the invitation.

"I'm excited," the fifth-grader said after taking photos with her.

Jake wrote a letter to Joanna Guy, the reigning Miss Maryland, last month.

"You're the reason I'm here," said Guy, 21. "Thank you so much for inviting me."

In his letter, Jake said Guy was a nice person and he admired her charity work. He also said he wanted to meet her so he could tell her what it is like to be a child with autism.

After receiving the letter, Guy said she had to meet Jake.

"I get lots of letters. ... His letter really inspired me," she said.

After meeting Jake, Guy read "The Giant Jam Sandwich" by John Vernon Lord, a book her father read to her as a child, on PHES TV, the school's in-house television station. The reading was broadcast in every classroom.

Jake and his parents, Lorin and Capt. Timothy Neslony of the 7th Intelligence Squadron, then escorted Guy to more than 25 classrooms so she could say greet students.

The children were thrilled to see Miss Maryland, jumping out of their seats and gasping with surprise. One student asked if the diamonds in her crown were real, while another asked if she lived in a castle.

Six-year-old Sanaa Maberry asked Miss Maryland if she could have her crown.

"Why don't we ask her, 'How did you earn that crown?' Because we know you have to work hard to get what you want," said Jennifer Darby, Sanaa's first-grade teacher.

Guy said she decided to compete in pageants because she wanted to earn money for college. Unlike the little girls who compete in pageants -- such as the stars of the cable television show "Toddlers and Tiaras" -- Guy did not start competing until high school.

As a freshman, Guy won the title of Miss Teen Maryland. Last June, she decided to compete for the title of Miss Maryland.

In January, she competed in the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas and placed in the top 10, receiving $15,000 for college.

"As a matter of fact, I graduated from college last week," she said.

Guy earned a bachelor's degree in government and American studies, with a minor in music from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

After visiting Pershing Hill, the Neslonys escorted Guy to MacArthur Middle School. Lorin Neslony is the incoming president of MacArthur's Parent Teacher Student Association.

Guy spoke to a group of 200 sixth-grade girls about how she was bullied in both middle school and high school.

"I came home from soccer practice every day crying," she said. "I did go through very had times. It was difficult."

Guy said she dealt with the bullying by joining as many school activities as possible so she could make friends.

One sixth-grader asked Guy why she was bullied.

"A lot of people were smoking, and I didn't do that. People were using drugs, and I didn't do that. People were having sex, and I didn't do that," Guy said. "A lot of these influences were going on around me and were part of the reason why I was bullied."

Guy said the best way to handle bullying is to be true to yourself.

"You need to stick to your beliefs and do things that make you feel comfortable," she said.

Miss Maryland told students that taking personal responsibility for your actions and respecting yourself and others are what is most important as they grow into adulthood.

"I thought it was inspiring," said Nevaeh Browne, 11, who said she has been bullied. "If you reach out to a friend and go for help, it can make you feel better."

During her presentation, Guy sang "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miserables -- the song she performed during the talent portion of the Miss America pageant.

Guy later posed for a group photo with students and signed autographs.

"She reminded me of a lot of great people in history," said Allison Louderbough, 12. "She had so many goals and ambitions and achieved a lot of them."

Page last updated Thu June 13th, 2013 at 10:53