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This year’s Miss Philadelphia not only has the beauty and poise needed to succeed in pageantry — for Elaine Ficarra, a Drexel University biology major and Pennoni Honors College student, “ambition can’t wait” takes on a whole new meaning.
That’s because although Ficarra identifies deeply with the Drexel branding campaign, her ambition to earn this honored title and represent Philadelphia in further competition on the path to Miss America had to wait one full year when last year’s Miss Philadelphia competition was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. Despite this setback, Ficarra — who also minors in theater and communications and is a performing arts scholar — used time to her advantage.
“I feel like I've grown a lot,” she said of her time navigating the pandemic and her first year at Drexel. “I was able to reflect on the person that I am, and what is super important to me.”
In the end, her preparation and presentation of her social initiative and talent won Ficarra the right to be called Miss Philadelphia in the competition’s centennial year, as well as scholarship funding and a chance to compete in the Miss Pennsylvania competition last month, in which she placed third runner up.
Ficarra spoke with DrexelNow about this journey, her plans for her year of service as well as her future, and how her Drexel education came to benefit her pageant success.
Q: Tell me about why you chose to come to Drexel and what have been some highlights of your Drexel career so far?
A: What attracted me about Drexel University was that I would not only be within the city of Philadelphia, but I also had the ability to major in biology. I've always heard good things about the STEM and science programs at Drexel. I loved the biowall and the research opportunities. I'm definitely taking advantage of the labs and the classes that I can take. I'm taking max credits every term because I'm very interested in doing everything I can to prepare for medical school.
… I also loved the co-op program, obviously. And I'm actually going to be on co-op in the fall/winter. I’m going to be doing medical scribing through Scribe America. I love the idea of utilizing those six months to get that internship experience and really diving deeper into the type of career that I might want to pursue and then returning back to my classes.
For the performing arts program at Drexel, I know we've definitely been very much impacted with COVID. We haven't been able to do those mainstage shows in the Mandell Theater and the Black Box. But I've become an influential part of the marketing and social media for our program. I've always really been into social media and marketing — especially as Miss Philadelphia, I learned a lot about social media and how to market. I am actually a social media marketing assistant for theater program at Drexel. I perform often in the cabarets.
Q: When did you decide to and what was the process like when entering the Miss Philadelphia competition?
A: This competition was supposed to happen in March of 2020. Two days before the competition, it was postponed until further notice. That was [around the same time] that Drexel decided to send all of us home as well, so that was a really sad day.
…Then the Miss America organization decided to postpone competitions and pageants for all of 2020 and save them until 2021. Then, about a month prior to the competition [this year], they said they were going to have it. So we had the Miss Philadelphia competition May 1st of 2021 at the CEG Performing Arts Academy in Philadelphia. It was a private competition, so only candidates, judges, and staff could be there and there was no audience. So unfortunately, my friends and family couldn’t watch, but we were able to have the competition in person and compete in all phases of competition. So that was very, very exciting. And on May 1st, I competed and I was crowned Miss Philadelphia.
Q: What was it like going through that disappointment last year, and then preparing for the competition once again this year and juggling all that with school?
A: I was very upset to see that it was canceled because I was preparing and Miss Philadelphia is a title that I really, really wanted. To be able to serve this diverse, historical, beautiful city of Philadelphia is something that I really wanted, and finding out two days before the competition that it was canceled was very upsetting for everyone. But also, through this year of the pandemic, I feel like I learned a lot.
… And I think that spoke for itself at the competition, how much I wanted to be Miss Philadelphia and use that title and that opportunity to be a voice [and advocate my social initiative] for adolescents who are having difficulties with their mental health, for the Asian-American community because I'm Filipino American, and for the diversity of Philadelphia, I want to represent them and advocate for them.
When I was preparing back in March of 2020, I was very busy with school because I was a freshman, but I was doing the best I could to prepare. I think I really, truly prepared in the coming year with the pandemic because I was home, I had time to focus on my health and nutrition and fitness, which has become a new passion of mine. I've also been working on becoming more well-spoken individual because being a titleholder is not all just about wearing a dress and heels and curling your hair. It's about being a role model for young girls at home who might want to be Miss America one day, being a voice and having that platform.
Q: Tell me about your social initiative of suicide prevention. Why is this an important cause for you?
A: I have the opportunity to advocate for my social impact initiative throughout the year as Miss Philadelphia, which is suicide prevention, and I specifically call it “The World Is Better With You In It.” I advocate for suicide prevention, especially for adolescents, because I know that is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 34. I've seen it in my school district. I had a close family friend that I lost a few years ago. So this is very special to me.
…[Throughout the pandemic] I also learned more about how suicide prevention is a platform that I want to advocate for, because there was so much uncertainty and isolation and disappointment and [impediments to] mental health. I feel that it is very important, to work toward maintaining and helping our community. I think my passion for everything that I stand for and who I am just really grew.
Q: And what about your music career, and using this as your talent?
A: I'm a very passionate singer, and it's something that I've always wanted to do. I love performing and I love singing. I sang a song called “I Who Have Nothing” for the talent portion of the Miss Philadelphia competition. This is actually the first song that I ever learned to perform ever in my life. I was like 12 years old, [and it was] for my dad because my dad loves to sing too and he loves music. He taught me that song many years ago and that's why it's super special to me, because it jumpstarted my passion for singing. And so I also sang that on the Miss Pennsylvania stage for my talent. I had 90 seconds to sing for the judges and show what I like to do, and that was really special because singing is something I love. I'm actually working on releasing an album this summer because I'm trying to be a recording artist as well.
… I love STEM, I love science, but I also love the performing arts. Even though they're very different, I also think they're pretty similar because it all cultivates creativity and perseverance. I just do both and see where life takes me.
Q: What was it like to go on to compete in the Miss Pennsylvania competition last month?
A: As Miss Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to compete at the Miss Pennsylvania competition, which took place in York, Pennsylvania at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts. Me and a total of 22 young women competed for the title of Miss Pennsylvania, and all of these young women represented an area within Pennsylvania.
We all had the opportunity to compete for the job of a lifetime, which is Miss Pennsylvania. Miss Pennsylvania won a $10,000 scholarship and then they also have the opportunity to go to Miss America. And I was fortunate enough to place third runner up.
… It was just an honor to be there and not only learn from the other candidates, but I feel like I learned so much and I made so many connections and I had so many opportunities and great events during our week of Miss Pennsylvania. There were a few days of rehearsals and events and fun activities, and then we competed from June 17th to 19th. I won a $1,750 scholarship placing third runner up. I also made a lot of new friends. I really had a great time being there.
Although I didn't win Miss Pennsylvania, I came home to be Miss Philadelphia. And not only that, but [during] the 100th anniversary of Miss Philadelphia. Miss Philadelphia was actually one of the first titles that was a preliminary to Miss America years ago. But now I Miss Philadelphia as a preliminary to Miss Pennsylvania.
So it's just an honor to be the 100th [Miss Philadelphia] because I get to represent 100 years of young women who were an influential part of Philadelphia and advocating and scholarship and service. So this is a great opportunity.
Q: Does anything about your Drexel education help you in your pageant appearances or in fulfilling your Miss Philadelphia responsibilities, or vice versa?
A: As Miss Philadelphia 2021, I want to do as much as I can to spread the message to young girls at home who want to achieve but are not sure if they can. And as a woman in STEM, I think it’s super special that I am majoring in biology and I have ambitions to go into the medical field. People see that Miss Philadelphia or any titleholder within Miss America is not just someone who might be pretty or wears dresses, but they’re someone who's educated and spread a positive message and is a hardworking woman who is ambitious in life. And that's why I love the message of Drexel University, “Ambition Can’t Wait.” I feel like that's a saying that really describes me. And I want people to understand that Miss Philadelphia and the Miss America Organization are a lot more than that glamour. It's also being an advocate and being a role model.
Also, someone like me who's Filipino American, I can show that that there's no certain image that they’re looking for her. Drexel University has always pushed me to be ambitious, and I want to do that and show that as Miss Philadelphia to everyone who is watching my year.
Q: What are your hopes for the future, both at Drexel, in your career, and following these pageant accomplishments?
A: Well, during this entire year as Miss Philadelphia, I'm going to be furthering the message of my social impact initiative of suicide prevention. I want to really be an advocate for Asian Americans as a Filipino American and the first Filipino American Miss Philadelphia. I truly want to reach out to the Drexel community and all of Philadelphia and all of Pennsylvania and just really spread a positive and empowering message for all people of all different backgrounds, races, careers, ambitions. And after Miss Philadelphia, I know that this year is definitely going to open so many doors. I want to walk right through them. I want to use the connections I'm given as Miss Philadelphia to aid my academic career. I think it is really important to utilize those scholarships and the connections you make so you can get that further education and be successful.
… I want to go into the medical field and I'm actually thinking of a career being a medical correspondent, so I’d be talking about public health on TV networks. I think that would be such a cool and fun career that I would be passionate about. And I think all these interviews and speaking events that I'm doing as Miss Philadelphia is preparing me for the future. So, it kind of goes hand in hand. I honestly feel like I'm doing a two-in-one, being Miss Philadelphia and preparing for my future career.
Ficarra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, and is interested in attending Drexel events, supporting activities/clubs, and advocating for mental health, suicide prevention and the Asian American community.