Escorted by their sponsors, the Miss Exeter candidates of 2006 gracefully entered the memorial building for their coronation Monday night. Black, pink and yellow polka dot dresses hung elegantly from the young leaders of Exeter, consisting of future university students, doctors, journalists and one missionary.

Although each young woman was headed down a different path in life, they each had one thing in common, a desire to represent their beloved hometown.

&#8220With recent nation-wide school violence, what can be done at Exeter to prevent problems from happening?” asked Mayor Charlie Norman, who conducted the impromptu questions as emcee.

Calmly, Nishelle Smith said, &#8220Giving kids awareness of possible happenings and walking them through an escape route is very important. They need to be aware of their surroundings and the possible problems that may arise.”

As each Miss Exeter candidate took her turn answering a question, a sigh of relief came over them, as the series of questions proved to be the most nerve-wrecking aspect of the evening. &#8220I didn't expect the questions to be so intimidating,” said Smith.

&#8220In your opinion, what is the biggest problem our community faces today?” asked Norman.

&#8220Modernization,” said Amanda Brooks. &#8220Most people love Starbucks, but that is a corporation. It isn't a sweet hometown coffee shop. The big businesses take away from hometown community and family.”

Although schoolwork was probably the last thing on the minds of the candidates, Cassie Smith was asked about the benefits she has gained from the Exeter Union High School requirements. &#8220I've learned several things,” said Smith. &#8220But the most important is patience.”

After the questions had been asked, the girls returned to the dressing room, where they waited, practicing their patience, before being called back into the ball room.

Soon after dinner was served, the lights dimmed music played and a spotlight beamed down on each girl as she modeled clothing from local boutiques. Whether the attire was classy, spunky, or just plain sweet, each candidate wore her wardrobe with pride. &#8220Clothing expresses who you are,” said Grecia Madriz. &#8220In many cases, community members recognize who you are by what you wear. It is an outward illustration of your inward respect for yourself and others.”

Although the girls were judged on their first round of clothing, they were able to playfully return to the catwalk, enjoying newfound treasures from Pink Ladies, without being judged. It was an opportunity for the candidates to let their true colors show and as some waved to mom and dad, others giggled with delight.

&#8220Exeter is such a great town,” said McKenzi Hurick, who smiled towards the table where her supporters sat. &#8220The importance of family is evident everywhere.”

&#8220My mom is my biggest inspiration in life,” said Jessica Bettencourt. &#8220She has five kids and loves us all the same. I don't know how she does it, but she knows everything about each of us.”

Although fun colored polka dots seemed to be the theme of Lacey Jepma's evening, she also proved to the panel of judges and community members that she feels very patriotic about the country. &#8220Patriotism goes beyond our small community. Especially since 911, I am proud to be an American citizen. I've learned so much about other countries and knowing what goes on in the world, I feel so safe here. I think that patriotism is the act of standing up for what we worked so hard to establish 200 years ago.”

&#8220If I could share a meal with President Bush, I would talk to him about No Child Left Behind,” said Kim Hagin. &#8220I believe so strongly in that project.”

As the audience cheered for each candidate's answers, one young woman seemed to shake off her nervousness by charming every person in the room. With a bubbly and ever so giggly persona, Brittany Deathriage smiled and the judges, family, friends, sponsors and every other person within her sight. &#8220If I was a celebrity,” said Deathriage, &#8220I wouldn't want younger girls to copy a certain image. They need to find their own unique style and be comfortable with it.”

As each girl stood side by side and some, hand in hand, their love for each other was written all over their faces. &#8220The are some very important qualities that I look for in a friend,” said Rachel Speck as she warmly looked at the other candidates. &#8220A friend to stand by me, support me, but also let me know when I'm in the wrong. Someone there for the good and the bad. That's a true friend!”

Each candidate, with big smiles on their faces, stood in their ball gowns waiting to hear the big news. After Mayor Norman teased the young women with what appeared to be a commercial break, Miss Exeter was crowned.

Kelsey Tasjian, last year's Miss Exeter, handed a bouquet of flowers to Amanda Brooks, the runner up and proudly crowned Nishelle Smith as Miss Exeter 2006, who aspires to become a cardiovascular sergeant.

&#8220The best part about this whole experience isn't the crown,” said Smith. &#8220For me, this was all about the relationships. These girls are amazing. It was hard to wait in the dressing room while the community ate but the girls made me less nervous.”

Each candidate lovingly swarmed Smith with hugs, congratulations and bright flashes from cameras. Although Smith will wear the queen's crown, her entire court will serve the community throughout the year and forever be honored as young leaders of Exeter and perhaps someday, leading women of the world.

&#8220Being a leader means that you are an individual who stands up for what your believe in and support,” said Mattie Gary. &#8220You do your research, fallow through with your plans, meet your words with actions and never back down. Those qualities are all important but the most important part of leadership is loving those who you lead.”

The girls first appearance will be at the Pumpkin Carving Contest, today, Oct. 11, from 4-7 p.m. at Mixter Park in downtown Exeter.

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