"It's competing against the best version of yourself"

Graziano crowned Miss Rhode Island Collegiate America, heads to national event in June

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Johnston’s Allegra Graziano has worn the name of her hometown across her chest during numerous competitions, an enormous source of pride for the 24-year-old perennial pageant participant.

She will get to continue that honor this June when she competes for the Miss Collegiate America title in Little Rock, Arkansas. Graziano was crowned Miss Rhode Island Collegiate America this past November, an event held for the first time in six years. The national event will feature representatives from every state, as well as Canada, Guam and Puerto Rico.

Despite the challenges of completing the competition’s requisite community service goals during a pandemic, Graziano overcame those obstacles for the right to represent her town and state on the big stage.

“A lot of the things I’ve been participating in have been virtual,” Graziano said during a phone interview last week. “I have done different letter writings for different organizations that normally have in-person events. Instead, we write encouraging letters and we make sure they make it through to nursing homes, churches, hospitals…I’ve also continued my work with the Johnston Police Explorers as an advisor. Luckily we were able to do our toys for kids drive this year, it was a little different.”

Graziano said that donated toys were delivered to families rather than asking them to come by. She has also contributed to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rhode Island.

“I’m just going to continue my community service events,” Graziano said of prep for the national event. “I’ll be working with my director to prep for the interview, to prep for our stage questions, evening gown, as well as fashion. That’s a little bit different than most of the pageants that I’ve competed in, no bathing suits. [It has] fun fashion. We have fun on stage, wear something beautiful, outgoing, and rock it the best you can.”

Graziano is grateful for the pageant scene, saying it helped her overcome a fear of public speaking. She said she wasn’t quiet or shy in high school, but “very fearful” about job interviews in the future. Competition has helped her prepare and she said she owes her current position at Citizens Bank to the skills she’s honed over the years.

“[It] helped me get the position I’m in now,” Graziano said. “It gives people the opportunity to meet new individuals, to network, to grow that network to not only your state but nationally as well. I’ve met some amazing women that live all over the United States and we still keep in contact after pageants that I’ve done. That’s something people don’t have the opportunity to do and I don’t take that lightly.”

Graziano said there’s a misconception that pageant participants are “against each other,” but the bonds forged by competition create a “sisterhood.”

“Everything is trying to build you up, it’s not competing against anyone else, it’s competing against the best version of yourself,” Graziano, who has taken part in pageants since she was 18, said. “Honestly all of the pageants that I’ve competed in, there’s never been that sour apple you expect to be there, and I’ve competed in a lot. Everybody is super uplifting. Directors and parents have been supportive of all the girls who have bene competing, whether you’re a winner or not. People who don’t compete or experience the pageant system world don’t get the inside look of the support that comes through the community service.”

Graziano will spend the next few months gearing up for the national event in Arkansas, a state she has never visited. She said a trip to Georgia last year was cancelled by the pandemic, so she’s “really looking forward to getting a taste of southern cuisine.”

When she gets there, she will be “super excited” to represent the town that’s been emblazoned across her chest for years. She’s helped at events for Johnston High School, the Johnston Senior Center, Mastery Martial Arts and her beloved Johnston Police Explorers. This is her home, and she wants to bring the title there.
“We’re a town full of people that love community service and being able to promote that on the big stage [is] super, super important to me,” Graziano said.

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