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Tracy Frank, Published July 30 2013

Her Voice: Fargo woman & MSUM alumna crowned Miss Montana

Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at tfrank@forumcomm.com.

MOORHEAD –Minnesota State University Moorhead alumna and Miss Montana 2013 Sheridan Pope is using her experience with bullying to encourage today’s students to help each other.

Pope, who grew up in Sidney, Mont., lived in Fargo the past three years while attending MSUM.

She is taking a year off of school to fulfill her year of service as Miss Montana but plans to return to finish her degree in elementary inclusive education.

Since being crowned, Pope has been traveling around the United States for photo shoots and appearances, she said. She will compete for Miss America 2014 this September in Atlantic City.

After that, she plans to tour schools in Montana and make various appearances promoting the Miss America Organization and her platform, “Possibilities for Disabilities: Inclusion Education.”

Pope grew up with an older sister with severe autism and said she experienced bullying because it.

“I was so misunderstood. I felt very isolated,” she said. “Nobody else could really relate to what I was going through.”

Now, she works to promote inclusive education, bringing special education and general education students together to break down barriers.

“Special education is a service, not a place,” she said. “While my life was a struggle, the blessings by far outweighed the struggles that I dealt with.”

Pope said she loves lobbying and being around politics. Her dream is to be the face of education reform.

“In America, we are trying to solve all of these problems for kids by controlling our classrooms and then they’re not getting critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” she said, adding that students should be encouraged to help each other, especially if they see someone struggling.

Pope competed in her first pageant, Miss Montana’s Outstanding Teen, in 2008. She said she was hesitant, but after being named first runner-up, she was hooked. But after a string of runner-up titles, Pope took a break from pageantry.

“I went to school and got a better sense of who I was,” she said. “I let myself grow up a little bit.”

Contestants are judged on talent, interview, lifestyle and fitness (swimsuit), evening gown, and an on-stage question.

Pope’s talent is tap dancing, which she has been doing for 18 years.

“I feel like it’s a lot more relaxed and easier to connect with the judges when I’m myself,” she said, adding she often relies on her sense of humor in competition.

That trait also helps when talking about inclusive education, which can be a heavy topic people don’t like to talk about, she said.

Fundraising is a big part of the Miss America organization, and Pope is raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network, Miss Montana Scholarship Program and her pageant-related expenses. To help, visit her website, http://sheridanpope.wordpress.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526