MURRAY — Before March 27, Hanna Irvin said she had never thought of entering a beauty pageant.
However, after her sorority at Murray State University, Alpha Omicron Pi, selected her, along with three of her AOPi sisters, to be contestants in the 2021 Miss Murray State University Pageant, she suddenly found herself in a new world. So she sought advice, learned, on the fly, what goes into competing in such an event, and entered the fray.
Winning was an afterthought .. until her name was announced as the new Miss MSU.
“I actually cried a little bit. I was really shocked. I was not expecting to win because the other top 15 girls were all incredible,” said Irvin, a 2019 graduate of Murray High. “It was really exciting and I was overwhelmed with a lot of happiness. But I also was really proud of myself that I had made it that far.”
In being named Miss MSU, Irvin became the eighth winner to have come from either Murray High or Calloway County High School since 1970. Murray State Advisor to Student Government & Student Organizations, Jeanie Morgan, said this week that 1970 is when the university’s Student Government Association began running the event. It is believed that the pageant was in existence before 1970, but there were no records available.
Irvin said it is an honor to represent her home community in this fashion.
“Wow! I honestly didn’t know that,” Irvin said of now being one of the local students to have won Miss MSU. “I was excited about being in it, being from Murray and that I already had that strong connection to Murray State. But it kind of surprises me that, in the past 50 years, that I’m one of eight locals.
“There were also, in this pageant, two of my good friends, and we all graduated from Murray High, so, just to have that experience together and be able to say, ‘Hey! We were in the Miss MSU Pageant together!’ means a lot.”
Irvin said she owes the majority of her success to two sources. First, she recognized AOPi because, without her sorority sisters submitting her name in nomination, her win did not happen.
Once nominated, though, and knowing this was an arena where she had no experience whatsoever, she said she received help from someone who did know how to play the pageant game.
“Whenever I went to go pick up my dress (at a Paducah establishment), the girl there who had helped me with picking out the dress had actually been in pageants since she was a kid,” Irvin said. “So when I told her I was in the Miss MSU Pageant, she said, ‘Hey! If you want to meet a couple of times, I can teach you how to walk and stuff.’ I said, ‘Sure, because I don’t know what I’m doing.’
“And I really didn’t know anything about this. I didn’t know how detailed this actually was. There was a certain way you had to walk while wearing your jumpsuit and there’s a certain way you walk for your gown, and I think having that training, I guess you could call it, made me feel more confident.”
So, in front of a very socially-distanced audience of about 30 at the Curris Center Ballroom, Irvin made her pageant debut. She had already advanced to the evening’s top 15 contestants after advancing through preliminary competition earlier in the day.
Then, she advanced to the top five and her last task was repeating her speech from earlier in the day about a topic of her choice.
Her topic surrounded her major — occupational therapy. It focused on the trials of her grandfather — Elroy “Poppy” Irvin — who battled both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases before losing his battle when Hanna was still at Murray High.
“He got to the point that he wasn’t even talking anymore,” she said. “That made me want to go into occupational therapy and help people who have suffered like he did and try to give them that quality of life that he didn’t have at the end.”
Through the shock of being named the winner, she said she was able to share the moment with her predecessor, Cassie Wooley.
“She is a friend of mine, so it’s kind of cool that she was the one that got to crown me,” Hanna said. “She is someone that I’ve looked up to and we will definitely keep in contact.”
Morgan said Irvin will spend the next year performing the duties of her crown. These will include making recruiting visits on behalf of the university, appearing at various university functions and, from time to time, appearing at events throughout the community.
Morgan also said Irvin will have one more pageant in which to appear, the 2022 Kentucky Mountain Laurel event in Pineville in which every public state university, as well as its private institutions of higher learning, sends a representative. The winner is crowned by Kentucky’s governor.
Morgan said that the Miss MSU title used to be a qualifier for both the Miss Kentucky and Miss Kentucky USA pageants, but Miss Kentucky Mountain Laurel is the farthest a Miss MSU now advances. She said that Chelsee Ryan (formerly Thompson) of Murray was the last Miss MSU to win the Mountain Laurel crown in 2005.
Miss Murray State University winners from Calloway County High School and Murray High since 1970 were:
• Linda Brownfield (Calloway) 1970.
• Jane Wagar (Murray) 1976.
• Leigh Ann Rayburn (Murray) 1989.
• Keri Bazzell (Murray) 1997.
• Lindsay Chamberlain (Calloway) 2001.
• Chelsee Thompson (Murray) 2004.
• Rachel Ross (Calloway) 2016.
• Hanna Irvin (Murray) 2021.