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Miss America's New Mission

The newly crowned Miss America says she has a new mission: helping to lift the country's spirits in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

As Miss Oregon, Katie Harman said she would promote support for terminally ill breast cancer patients if she won the Miss America title. But in the wake of the attacks in New York and Washington, Harman has decided to expand her platform.

"This is an opportunity for Miss America to go and rally the hopes of the American people," she said Sunday. "I want to make sure that this tragedy does not bring down America. I want be that role model that says 'Yes, we are rising.'"

Fans at Saturday night's pageant were subjected to hand-held metal detectors, and bomb-sniffing dogs were at the entrances of the arena.

"Security is the greatest it's ever been, tragically," said Gail Sanders, of Liberty, S.C., who was attending her 28th consecutive Miss America Pageant. "I don't know if it's comforting. I don't know if it would stop anything from happening."

Although the show retained its glitzy pageantry, there was a somber, patriotic element to the ceremony. The stage set included images of waving flags, and the show opened with a monologue in which host Tony Danza mourned the lives lost in the Sept. 11 attacks and defended the decision to go ahead with the pageant.

"We don't carry on to make less of what happened. We carry on to make more of it, and to add resolve to our nation's voice," he said.

He appealed to viewers several times during the three-hour telecast to donate to The Sept. 11th Fund, a charity set up to raise money for those affected by the terrorist attacks.

When Danza ended his opening monologue by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, the crowd of 13,800 spontaneously joined in before erupting into applause when it ended.

Harman, 21, became the first Miss Oregon ever to win the Miss America crown. But it appeared for a while that contestants representing one of the cities targeted in the Sept. 11 attacks might win. Miss District of Columbia Marshawn Evans and Miss New York Andrea Plummer both made it to the Top 20, then the Top 10 and then the Top 5.

But Plummer finished fourth runner-up and Evans third runner-up.

Harman, a Portland State University junior, wowed the judges by singing a Puccini aria, "O Mio Babbino Caro" and outscored four other finalists during a "pop quiz" that was new to the pageant.

Harman took home $75,000 in scholarship money for her performance in the pageant. She plans to dedicate some of it toward earning a master's degree in bioethics.

By John Curran
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