TUSTIN : Education: the Jewel in Her Crown

Wearing the Miss Tustin sash may have been the only way Carmella Vann had to parade her victory. Now, she says, it is nonstop academics.

Vann recently became the first black woman to win the city's 4-year-old beauty pageant. However, the 17-year-old is quick to say that winning is not the start of a climb to a higher title. Instead, it is just one more way to secure her goal to attend college, then medical school.

Vann received nearly $3,000 in prizes, including a $1,500 college scholarship that she will likely cash in at UC Irvine. Vann competed against eight other Tustin women ages 16 to 21 for the title, said pageant coordinator Margarete Thompson. This was the first year any black contestants--Vann was one of two--entered the contest.

A junior at Tustin High School and the second of six children, Vann leads the life typical of a suburban teen-ager. She juggles academics, a spot on the school's flag team and family life. She said she is not concerned about being overwhelmed with the added responsibility of being Miss Tustin.

As Miss Tustin, Vann will spend the next year smiling and shaking hands at business openings and community events.

"I love doing community work. This is the best way for me to serve my community," she said.

But Vann said her education comes first. An honor student, she plans to be a doctor, likely a neurosurgeon.

During the pageant when contestants were interviewed, Vann stressed the importance of communicating with political leaders by voting or writing letters to elected officials:

"I feel that a lot of people, especially my peers, have a lot to say to the government. But when they are old enough to vote, they don't. They just complain and wonder why nothing has changed."

Vann believes that it was her attitude that won her the title.

"I just acted like I belonged in the position," she said. "I looked at the judges square in the eye . . . and the feeling I got back was positive. They weren't just sitting there with their minds already made up."

Vann said she hopes more minority contestants will participate in future pageants.

"If anything, I hope I showed others that it can be done, but you have to try," she said.

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