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Jones committed to living her dream

Tessie Jones decided when she was 13 years old that she wanted to be Miss America. After capturing the Miss Fargo title last month, she is getting closer to living out that dream by advancing to the Miss North Dakota pageant June 14-16 in Williston, the steppingstone to the Miss America pageant next January.

West Fargo born and raised, Jones is a 2005 graduate of West Fargo High School and presently a sophomore at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where she is pursuing a double major in Art Photography and Mass Communication. She is also an honors apprentice scholar, spending five hours a week in the mass communication field anchoring the schools news show on Prairie Public Television at 7 a.m. Saturday mornings. In addition, she is employed in the typesetting and graphic department at Valley Printing; dabbles in freelance photography; and is a model with Ultimate Model Talent Management.

Her busy schedule doesn't leave much time for anything extra, nonetheless, Jones is committed to pageantry and determined to find the right balance necessary to attain her longstanding dream.

Consequently, her life has become a juggling act, and she's quickly learned that the more pressure she's under, the better she performs. "I look at competing as a journey. I've been doing it for quite some time so I know that I have to continually improve myself to reach my goal. The pageants are a vehicle in making me the person I've become and they have helped me evolve into the person that I want to be in life."

"Competing in pageants forces you to be at your best," Jones said. "You have to be physically fit, be able to communicate well one-on-one or with groups, and have poise. It's important to be knowledgeable and to peak in all of these areas."

Her focus right now is on preparing for the Miss North Dakota pageant which means a regimen of working out constantly, keeping up on current events to be well-informed to offer well-rounded opinions, and practicing her piano-playing skills for the talent portion, "Kitten on the Keys," a Liberace ragtime tune, which she describes as "the most challenging number I've ever attempted to play."

If she does persevere and win both the Miss North Dakota and the coveted Miss America crown, a personal platform as national spokesperson will become extremely important, which in Jones' case will be "Life Awareness Improving Mental Health and Preventing Suicide." Her topic is inspired by an individual close to her who has been struggling with depression. "I'm fortunate to be able to say this person is still with us. I have seen positive changes come about in the last year, so things do get better. This is the message I want to share, because more people need to hear it and realize it. This is a huge issue with our youth in North Dakota, but it is preventable with the proper information."

Jones is no newcomer to the Miss North Dakota pageant. This will mark her third appearance - her first right out of high school; and last year she was named third runner-up.

With this pageant experience to her credit, Jones plans to do everything in her power to bring home the title this June. "I did go through a period asking myself, 'is this realistic or a childhood dream that I have that will never come true? Then I ask myself, why has this stuck with me for seven years?' Because this is something I really want. I don't ever give up, because deep down I know that if I do what I'm capable of doing, it's possible and not some far-off thing."

Her main stream of support comes from family - brother, Josh, 22, and her parents Ken and Kathy. "They are definitely my biggest fans, sometimes too much so, but that's their job," Jones said with a laugh. "Just knowing my mom is out there is cool. It is sort of our bonding activity over the years. When you compete, you need someone behind you, and they have always been there for me."

Just to show how far her family is willing to take it, Jones' dad was unable to attend her first Miss North Dakota pageant, but last year was so determined to be there, he rode his motorcycle all the way from a meeting in Steamboat Springs, Colo. to Williston - literally through rain, sleet, snow and hail - to watch the finals.

Her boyfriend, Tyler Schwanke, who is attending school in New York, has also been a grounding factor. "He has been excellent about keeping me motivated and in the right frame of mind," Jones said. "He knows how important this is to me." Schwanke too will be attending the Miss North Dakota event, accompanied by his mom and two sisters, traveling all the way from Burnsville, Minn.

Jones said she is totally dedicated to giving it her best shot. "My strategy is not to give them a reason not to pick me. If I'm so prepared in every category, they won't have a reason not to select me. And if I don't win the Miss North Dakota title, then the person who wins will be better prepared. I'm a firm believer that things absolutely happen for a reason, even if we can't see it at the time."

Scholarships become a really important draw of the Miss North Dakota and the Miss America pageants. Jones noted that Miss America is a large supplier of scholarships to young women. Just for competing in Miss North Dakota last year she received a $1,500 scholarship that was applied to funding her education.

Someday Jones hopes to operate her own photographic studio. Winning the Miss North Dakota and ultimately the Miss America pageant would go a long way in bringing that vision to a healthy reality sooner, rather than later.

"Winning these pageants is an opportunity you receive, and if I want it badly enough, I'll achieve it. I'm committed to putting in the time and the effort. After that it's in God's hands."