Melissa Boden has plenty of reason to stand tall these days.
The Grade 11 student at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary was recently crowned Miss Teen Surrey 2011.
This summer, she’ll represent the city at the Miss Teen Canada Pageant in Toronto, competing against teens from across Canada.
But first, she’s heading out on the fundraising trail in support of Free the Children, the pageant charity (each contestant has to raise $400), and plans to play a more active role in the community by participating in events like the upcoming Cloverdale Rodeo and parade – something she’s looking forward too, even if it’s a bit daunting to put herself ‘out there’.
“I think it’s definitely going to be scary the first few times,” she says, breaking into a wide, friendly smile.
She describes her hometown of Cloverdale as “a very small but big-hearted community.”
Boden also plans to raise money and secure sponsors for her platform charity, the Canadian Cancer Society, a cause that’s near and dear to her heart.
Last spring, she lost her grandfather to the disease. “Having someone close to me pass away from cancer has made me more aware,” she says.
He passed away on June 30, after battling leukemia. He had been diagnosed the year she was in Grade 7. But he took a turn for the worse last March and was hospitalized.
“He passed away about 30 minutes after I left the hospital.”
Raising money and awareness is not a requirement for the pageant; it’s just something she wants do to honour her grandfather’s memory.
“He was always there,” she says, briefly pausing, “And I definitely want to help raise awareness.”
Like many teens, Boden has a part-time job after school. She works at a store in Willowbrook mall. Before that, she worked at the McDonald’s Restaurant in Cloverdale for two-and-a-half years.
After high school, she plans to attend university and to one day become a news reporter.
But first, she hopes to come back from Toronto with a title, and continue helping out in the community.
“We’re always handed things,” she says. “I feel like a lot of us need to give back what we’ve been given, to have that opportunity to help others.”
For Boden, a brunette with expressive green eyes, that’s more than a platitude. She’s had her share of knocks.
It seems hard to believe, but boys picked on her in Grade 8 and 9, “For being so small and so skinny, I was always made fun of. People just judged me for it.”
Fortunately, she realized there was a way to deal with the situation.
“I just ignored it, and eventually people just stopped. When someone sees that you don’t care, they just back off.”
A lot of her former tormentors have since matured, she says.
She’s grateful to her big brother for giving her great advice on how to cope with the bullies.
“He always said, just ignore them. Don’t feed into it. Don’t let them have what they want from it.”
She hopes to share what she’s learned with other girls.
“I hope to bring awareness to teenage girls who are going through that phase in their life where they don’t think that they’re that beautiful. They taught us [at the Miss Teen B.C. pageant] be your own kind of beautiful. Don’t let anyone bring you down or judge you.”
The Miss Teen Canada Pageant is July 9-17.
Entrants are judged on personality, ability to communicate, stage presence, charm, academics, commitment to the community, beauty, fitness and confidence.