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Mitchell native can be 'Tessa again' after year as Miss SD

Miss South Dakota Tess Dee, of Mitchell, will give up her crown this weekend. (Photo by Ann Louisa Photography)1 / 3
Miss South Dakota Tess Dee, of Mitchell, will give up her crown this weekend. (Photo by Ann Louisa Photography)2 / 3
Miss South Dakota Tess Dee, of Mitchell, will give up her crown this weekend. (Photo by Ann Louisa Photography)3 / 3

Tessa Dee got fired over the weekend.

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That's how the 2013 Miss South Dakota title holder jokingly referred to Saturday's contest finals in Hot Springs, where she passed on her crown to the new Miss South Dakota.

"I will be done the end of (today) and just be Tessa again," Dee told The Daily Republic late last week as she prepared to leave for Hot Springs, where the 68th pageant took place.

It was a bittersweet moment for the Mitchell woman, who said she loved her year as Miss South Dakota, promoting the organization and her platform, Project Bookworm, which seeks to encourage childhood literacy.

"I'm really sad, but really excited and happy for the next young woman," Dee said. "I'm buying waterproof mascara today for the first time, because I know I'll be crying all week. I already cried once this morning. I tear up at the littlest thing, so I feel like that's going to be a good investment for me."

As Dee re-capped her year, from being named Miss South Dakota to her competition at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., last fall, to preparing to pass on the crown to this year's winner. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: We can't believe it's been a year since you were crowned. How fast has this year gone for you?

A: I know. I really can't believe how fast it went. I still remember on this day a year ago, I was getting ready packing, and I went out to Hot Springs. It's kind of crazy looking back and seeing how far I've come in a year and how much has changed.

Q: What would you say are some of the biggest things that have changed?

A: I've learned a lot. If you want things done, you have to do it yourself. I've learned how to have better communication skills. Basically it's a master's degree in communications without the paperwork. It's hard to sum up in a few words. It's been so beneficial to me as a person. It goes so much deeper than wearing a crown and a sash.

Q: How do you feel as you get ready to pass on the crown?

A: It's really emotional. I didn't think I would be this sad about being done, but I've had such a good year that I guess that's the normal feeling, to feel very bittersweet about it. It's really different this year, but it's also a great opportunity, because now I get to mentor the contestants and I get to be a part of their journey, and one of them will get to take my job, so it's really special to be on this side where I get to help them along the way.

Q: On Facebook, you started a 30-day countdown of your year as Miss South Dakota. What have been some of the big memories you've re-lived?

A: It's been kind of neat to go look back over the last 12 months and get to see everything I've done, because you forget. I've been so busy that it's easy to forget some of the little moments that I've had. But I think working with Children's Miracle Hospital has made a huge impact on my year. Getting to know the families, not just the children, but the families and hear their stories and their journey has been a huge part of my personal journey. Promoting Project Bookworm and traveling all over this state to schools and classrooms and getting to know so many children and their teachers and their stories, as well. Children have made a big impact on my life.

Q: So what's next? Will you sleep for a week?

I probably will make some brownies. I've really been craving brownies lately. (laugh) I will go back USD; I'm getting my master's in communication studies, and I'm going to be a teaching assistant for an introductory speech class. I've had a lot of practice with public speaking this year, obviously, so I'm really looking forward to that, and to be able to go back to school.

Q: How have you seen Project Bookworm have an impact during your time promoting it?

A: Something neat was, I would go to classrooms and I would always ask, "who likes to read?" Some hands would go up, and some hands would stay down and kids would just shake their heads, they don't like to read. So then we'd talk, and I would read them a story, and they would get excited and get involved with it and they would participate. And at the end I would ask the question again, and all the hands would go up. That's what's been really inspiring about it, is seeing these children change their opinions on just this little subject of reading that can make such a big difference in their lives.

Q: What was the best part of being Miss South Dakota?

A: Even on days when you don't feel like going to things, you get there and you see the children's eyes light up, and it completely makes what you're doing worth it.

Q: What was the worst?

A: When people recognize me or want to congratulate me, and I'm just in my sweats and no makeup on, and I'm completely not ready to be Miss South Dakota in that moment. I'm just being Tessa, and all of a sudden I have to be Miss South Dakota with my hair in a bun on the top of my head and my makeup not done at all. So that's been kind of bad and funny at the same time. You always have to be on and ready, so that's been the most difficult part. And my Miss SD license plates have definitely made for an interesting year on the road.

Q: How do you feel your time as Miss South Dakota will affect what you do from now on?

A: I've learned so much and I've grown so much, It's funny looking back at that girl who won, because I don't even recognize her. I've been through so much since then, mentally and physically, and I feel like I'm just coming off of it a stronger woman, and I'm ready to face whatever life throws my way.

It's really taught me how to be brave in situations where I don't necessarily feel the most confident. Now that I have been through this really difficult year of my life, this struggle of being Miss South Dakota, and the success of being Miss South Dakota, I really feel like I can face anything now.

Q: How would you describe your role as the state title holder?

A: It's been really unique, everything I've been able to do, and it's a really unique position to be Miss South Dakota. It's something from the outside looking in you can't really understand it, and from the inside looking out it's kind of hard to explain it. It's kind of hard to explain the feelings that you have and the people that impact you. I'm sure I've made an impact on some people, but the impact that everyone else has had on me is so much bigger.

Q: What was it like to be one of the few Miss South Dakotas from Mitchell?

A: This entire year, I've just felt so supported by the community, without even having to ask for support. And that's what's been great about being from Mitchell and representing not only Mitchell, but South Dakota.

It's been a while since anyone from Mitchell has had it, so I was glad to be able to represent our community and bring some awareness to what the organization really is about. A lot of people don't know that Miss America is the leading provider of scholarships to young women in the world. It's a great organization, so I've been really grateful to explain what it's all about to people in Mitchell what it's all about.