By GWEN SISSON
Miss Mississippi USA Keeley Patterson said reign has forever changed her life.
â€śIâ€™ve been presented with opportunities to meet everyone from our state of Mississippi House Representatives to Donald Trump,â€ť Patterson said. â€śI have made connections with people who will brighten my future. I could not be more grateful.â€ť
Last year, when her name was announced, she was completely shocked.
â€śI couldnâ€™t believe the excitement of the crowd, and having all of my friends and family there cheering me on was a blessing,â€ť Patterson said.
Throughout her reign, Patterson has spent much of her time traveling the Southeast promoting the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast and Ovarian Cancer.
The Mississippi State University Deanâ€™s Scholar will be wrapping up her year of service to the title in November when a new Miss Mississippi USA will be crowned. Patterson has returned to Starkville to continue her work toward an accounting degree from MSU. She expects to graduate in the spring of 2013.
But she has no plans to stop traveling anytime soon. Her work with Miss Mississippi USA sparked the travel bug and gave her a new opportunity to see more of the world. Patterson just signed with a modeling agency in Nashville, Tenn.
While the title has been a major accomplishment for Patterson, she said the job opportunities her service as Miss Mississippi USA provided, in addition to her academic work, has allowed her to pay her way through college. And that is something she sees as her biggest accomplishment. But along the way, she has learned a lot more.
â€ś(Through this experience) I have gained more independence than I would have ever imagined,â€ť Patterson said.
Ann Bailey, with MSUâ€™s Fashion Board said she knew when Patterson walked the runway at the 2010 MSU Fashion Board tryouts that she was something special.
â€śAfter we selected her for membership, I got to know her better and was thrilled when she decided to compete in the Miss Mississippi USA Pageant last November,â€ť Bailey said. â€śKeeley is beautiful inside and out and makes such a striking impression on the runway and in glamour photography.â€ť
After she won her title last November, Patterson took the spring 2011 semester off from school to prepare for the upcoming Miss USA Pageant in Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood. Bailey said Patterson represented the state of Mississippi â€śin a first class manner.â€ť
She is now re-enrolled at MSU for the fall semester and has re-engaged with MSU Fashion Board as a model.Â
â€śWe are thrilled to have her back on the runway and continue to be very proud of her,â€ť Bailey said.
In addition to her work with the MSU Fashion Board, Patterson is involved with the Sallie Kate Winters Home and Girl Scouts of the USA through her sorority, Kappa Delta.
Patterson loves to cook and while in Las Vegas for the Miss USA pageant, she had the opportunity to cook with two previous â€śTop Chef Masters.â€ť
She also loves to run and read. Her passion for reading comes from her great-grandmother who taught her to read as a child, and has had the biggest influence on Pattersonâ€™s life.
â€śAt 84, she maintains a strength and charm that I hope to one day display to my children and grandchildren,â€ť Patterson said.
The 2012 Miss Mississippi USA Pageant will be held Nov. 3-5 at Harrahâ€™s Event Center in Tunica.
For contestant or pageant information, go to http://www.missmississippiusa.com.