Students win scholarships and crowns in Miss San Diego beauty pageant


Photo Courtesy of Christi Ransom

Marketing and business freshman Mary Kohaut won Miss San Diego and gained a lot from the experience.

by Catlan Nguyen, Staff Writer

The glitz and glamour of a pageant is enough to make anybody feel like Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality,” but there’s much more to pageants than the elaborate dresses and crowns.

The Miss San Diego 2020 Scholarship Competition was held on Feb. 22 at the Young Actors Theatre to help women build their public speaking skills and confidence, make new friends and win scholarship money.

Two San Diego State students took home top prizes at the competition. Marketing and business freshman Mary Kohaut won Miss San Diego and public health senior Melissa Cook won runner-up.

Public health senior Melissa Cook won runner-up in the competition and won $250.

“It overall is just a big way to boost one’s confidence and learn about how to be comfortable in your own skin,” Cook said. “It’s a lot of pressure to walk up in front of people and be judged about your appearance or how you speak. This competition helped with my confidence and my overall public speaking and interview skills.”

The first place winner won $500 in scholarship money and the second place winner took home $250. 

Each contestant could choose a movement or platform to promote during the competition or create one of their own. The red carpet outfit competition also included a 15-second elevator pitch about each contestant’s social impact initiative. 

Cook said she chose the campaign Stop Vaping, Start Living because she was alarmed at the high rates of vaping among high schoolers and young teens.

Kohaut said she chose Operation Gratitude and the Military Spouse Association because of her brother who’s in the army. Kohaut said once you win a title, the events and volunteer work can become time consuming. She said she put in about 24 to 30 hours a month for her previous title.

Cook said what inspired her to join Miss San Diego was her sister. Her sister had competed when she was in college in the Miss America Organization, and she made it very far and had a lot of success, winning more than $40,000 in scholarship money.

Cook said her favorite part of being a part of Miss San Diego was the support she got from her family and friends. Many made signs and paid $25 to see her in the pageant.

“Prior to the competition, I listened to Mel talk about it – all the training and preparation she was doing for it and I felt like it was this secret life she was living because I couldn’t imagine it,” Cook’s friend, Brianna Ruloma said. “Then to see her on stage, so confident and radiant, I was just in complete awe. I felt empowered by her presence and I just can’t wait to see all she does in her bright future.”

Cook said the Miss San Diego Scholarship Organization is the largest provider for scholarships for women in the nation.

Miss California pageants held within the state have undergone a lot of changes to their pageant rules such as eliminating the swimsuit category and renaming the evening wear section to the red carpet section to encourage alternative outfits options such as pantsuits rather than just dresses.

Kohaut has competed in the Miss California and Miss Canyon Hills pageants before and this is her second local title win.

“I’ve seen girls go in who started out so shy and by the end of it they loved it,” Kohaut said. “The environment and community – It’s not like ‘Toddlers and Tiaras.’ The stereotype that it’s a pageant and you have to be beautiful and you have to be confident. It’s like the complete opposite of that. It’s a scholarship organization.” 

In the past year Kohaut has competed, she’s won $2,600 in scholarship money, Kohaut said.

Miss San Diego had practices every week for roughly two months before the competition. There were seven contestants and they practiced public speaking and walking while bonding with the other contestants.

There were six judges and they judged each woman based 50%  on talent, 30% on an interview and 20% was based determined by on-stage questions. 

“The majority of the points are given for the interview process which is very intense,” Kohaut’s mother, Maureen Kohaut, said. “These girls need to know everything going on in politics, express their knowledge and opinion without offending anyone. It takes a lot of time and dedication as well as preparing for their talent and their appearance.”

Cook is a contemporary pianist and she played “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey for her talent portion. Kohaut sang “Feeling Good” by Michael Buble. Each woman only had 90 seconds to perform their talent. 

Miss San Diego 2020 and the way the pageant world is evolving gives women opportunities to connect with causes that matter to them and further their education. Both Cook and Kohaut look forward to entering future pageants and creating a better community through the connections they’ve created.