On Oct. 10, Northern Kentucky University senior Cynthia Thomas stood backstage in the auditorium of a Louisville high school texting.
She was asking a member of the audience – her dance teacher of 10-plus years, Michael Thomas, who is not related to Cynthia – how she was doing in the 2016 Miss River City pageant.
“I told her there was a lot of competition, but she was doing everything right,” Michael Thomas said.
When Cynthia’s name was called as the winner of the pageant, qualifying her to compete for the 2016 title of Miss Kentucky this summer, Michael Thomas jumped out of his seat. “I am very, very proud of her.”
About the journey
Cynthia Thomas’ title marks the eighth the Maysville, Kentucky, native has received since she started competing in Miss Kentucky preliminary pageants when she was 17, racking up honors such as Miss Heart of Louisville, Miss Richmond Area and Miss Fayette County in recent years. Eight sounds like a lot of titles. But Thomas’ 2016 Miss River City pageant title also marks the fourth time she’s qualified to compete for Miss Kentucky, meaning she’s never won the state title.
Each year, there are roughly 30 Miss Kentucky preliminary pageants around the state that take place between October and April. The winners of each of those preliminary pageants qualify to compete for the Miss Kentucky title in the summer. The winner of that title goes on to compete at the national level, for the title of Miss America.
If Thomas, 22, doesn’t win the Miss Kentucky title this year, she plans to continue trying for two more years until she reaches the cut-off age of eligibility. But she isn’t stressing about it.
“It’s all about the journey and the getting there,” she said. “Each loss I’ve had so far has just prepared me for the victories. I’m a firm believer that if I lose, it’s because it’s not my time, and God has a bigger plan for me.”
Learning to teach
Thomas started competing in pageants when she was young, shortly after she started taking dance and gymnastics classes when she was 2. It was something her grandmother decided would be good for her granddaughter to be involved in, and Thomas enjoyed dressing up and walking around on stage in a pretty dress.
As she grew older, though, participating in pageants became about much more than a pretty dress for Thomas. It became an opportunity for her to express herself and serve as a role model for the community.
Thomas’ platform in the Miss Kentucky pageant and its preliminary pageants is autism awareness, and she frequently visits elementary schools in Kentucky to speak with kids about helping children with disabilities feel accepted.
She also helped start an autism support group – called Tumble for Autism – at the Maysville dance studio where she has been teaching kids dance and gymnastics for the past six years. On the first Sunday of every month, the studio invites children with autism to practice gymnastics in a safe, accepting environment.
“I love working with kids, helping them grow and teaching them confidence,” she said. “And I really love talking to them about what they want to be when they grow up.”
Beyond the title
At NKU, Thomas is a dance major. She plans to graduate next December, but she’s not clear yet on what she herself wants to be when she grows up.
Right now, she’s considering teaching in a school, teaching at a local dance studio or auditioning for a ballet or modern dance company after graduation. She’s also considering turning an internship she recently began with America’s Natural Supreme Beauties Pageant – a pageant system focused on natural beauty and affordability that was founded in 2012 and based in LaGrange, Kentucky – into a job down the road.
No matter what she does, kids and the community likely will be involved.
“The crown is going to open a few more doors for Cynthia than if she didn’t have one, but she would find a way to be with kids in the community and do things in the community without it,” said ANSB Director Stephanie Warren.
Carol Beirne, adviser to NKU’s Student Alumni Council – of which Thomas is a member – agrees.
“Anytime I see a picture from one of Cynthia’s pageants, she’s always with a kid, so I know teaching young kids is really important to her,” she said.
For now, Thomas is content with focusing on promoting her platform and preparing as best she can for the 2016 Miss Kentucky pageant this summer, but no matter the outcome, she credits the experiences she’s gained with pointing her in the direction of her passion.
“I absolutely love to teach,” she said. “Anywhere I’m teaching, I’ll be happy with that.”