By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent
While many of her classmates headed back to campus during the last week of August, University of Delaware senior Chelsea Bruce traveled from her home in Manasquan to Atlantic City to represent the state of Delaware in this year’s Miss America pageant.
The graduate of Red Bank Catholic High School’s Class of 2013 entered the competition equipped with 15 years’ experience as a dancer, a reputation for excellence, diligence and compassion, and a family legacy of deeply rooted faith.
“We are so proud of her. This contest opens lots of doors for her,” said her mother, Marie Connie Bruce, a parishioner in St. Denis Parish, Manasquan. “When her friend suggested that she enter the contest, I told her the best thing to do was to pray and ask what God asks of her. A week later she told me, ‘I prayed on it, and I want to do it.’
“She believes God has a plan for her,” her mother continued. “Even when she was younger, she wanted to help others. When I dropped her off in Atlantic City, she said, ‘Mom, if I win this title, I can do so much good for others and change the world in a positive way.’”
Good Works & Causes
Chelsea Bruce said she became involved with the pageant because it is scholarship-based.
“About a year ago, a friend of mine told me, ‘I think you’d do well’ and encouraged me to try out,” said Bruce, who is majoring in economics and political science and plans to study law.
She entered a local competition, the Greater Wilmington Pageant, where she won the title of Miss Newark, Del., in October 2016. On June 17, 2017, she won the title Miss Delaware at the state pageant in Lewes.
She spent her summer making public appearances and participating in service projects, such as cleaning beaches and building playgrounds. All contestants raise funds for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a nonprofit based in Salt Lake City with which the Miss America Organization partners. Bruce raised $650 to benefit the 170 hospitals in the network, which provide treatment and medical research for pediatric illnesses.
Now she faces the exciting but daunting challenges of competing in the multifaceted pageant held Sept. 10 in Atlantic City. However, the preliminaries begin Sept. 6, and only the top 15 advance to the competition, Bruce explained.
In addition to a talent and swimsuit competition, there will be a 10-minute interview with judges on current events, and each contestant must present a platform – an issue the winner will promote if she wins the title.
“My platform is ‘De-Mystifying Mental Illness,’” Bruce said. “I will talk about the stigma of mental illness, what we must do about it, and how the health care act affects those who are afflicted.”
Her passion for that cause grew out of the suicides of three acquaintances. “I couldn’t believe how people called them selfish and weak instead of recognizing the pain they were in, that they had an illness. If we change the way we talk about mental illness, so will the way we view it,” she said.
She is already working with Delaware’s lieutenant governor, Bethany Hall-Long, on “Active Mind,” an advocacy program on college campuses to destigmatize and raise awareness for mental health issues.
“If I win Miss America,” she said, “I will go across the nation with this mission.”
Ultimately her dream is to create legislation to provide more help for those in need of mental health treatment.
In spite of her goals, accomplishments and opportunities, she revealed some trepidation as she faces the pageant. “I have concern about how I will answer questions during those interviews,” she admitted. “My faith has been guiding me through.”
A Life of Faith
The daughter of Elliott and Marie Connie Bruce, Chelsea looks upon her parents as her strongest role models.
“My parents were very poor, but they pushed themselves to achieve what they’ve become. My father is a doctor, my mother, a nurse. They worked hard for me and my brothers, Jordan and Stephen, and my sister, Bryanna, to go to college,” Bruce said. “It was important to them to educate their kids in Catholic school. My mom is a faith-based woman. Her faith is important to her, as well as her children’s.”
The news of Bruce’s good fortune has traveled back to Red Bank Catholic High School, where Mercy Sister Marge Scarpone remembered the student she taught as a freshman then as a senior in her religion classes.
“She was such a great kid,” Sister Marge said. “Thoughtful, respectful, but fun, a good worker, diligent, compassionate. In her senior year, Chelsea was in my honors class, called ‘Gospel Mission of the 21st Century,’ and was among a dozen students who designed a program to help younger students adjust to the school and realize they had people there who cared about them.
“For her to have an opportunity to present her platform and express what is in her heart is what she is being called to do. She will bring her poise, grace and spirit and will be an asset to the pageant and the Miss America Organization and will use her gifts to serve God and his people for the greater good.”
If Bruce wins, she said she will postpone her senior year to carry out her duties as Miss America 2018. No matter what happens, she said, “The entire experience will be once in a lifetime. I am thankful to be part of it.”