Miss Kansas marches to beat of her own drum

(Photo courtesy of Taylor Clark)

Marching along as one of the bass drum leaders in The Pride of Wildcat Land is Miss Kansas. Taylor Clark, junior in music education, won the 2021 title and has spent the year away from school traveling and serving as Miss Kansas.

Clark began competing in pageants when she was five years old after her parents enrolled her in a non-competitive mentoring program called the Sunflower Program. The pageant had a positive impact on her from the start, so she decided to stick with it.

“I loved getting to meet Miss Kansas and all the girls who were competing,” Clark said. “It just made me feel so special and loved and excited to be like them, like women who were excited about their education, who were talented and well-spoken. So, I decided at age five I wanted to be Miss Kansas. I kept working for it. I was in our teen program for years. I started competing when I was 13, then on my last year of eligibility for teen I was Miss Kansas Outstanding Teen.”

Serving as Miss Kansas can be an isolating role, as only one person in the state holds the job for the year. However, as Clark competed in Miss America in December, she engaged in community with like-minded women.

“At Miss America, we’re all together and got to meet people with commonalities and going through the same thing,” Clark said. “That was a lot of fun, but now I’m back on the road in Kansas and enjoying the last half of my year until we crown our new Miss Kansas.”

Before her year as Miss Kansas, Clark spent her time in the drumline of the K-State Marching Band. From the perspective of Director of Bands Frank Tracz, Clark lives in two worlds sometimes, with two different looks.

“Every time I see her, I see her playing the bass drum,” Tracz said. “When I saw her in the Miss Kansas crown and all the very nice pageant clothes, it was different, it was very strange. Beautiful, but I see her with a bass drum and a hat with a feather on top.”

Tracz said it has been a joy to have Clark in the marching band and that the band missed her while she was away this past season.

“She’s very easy to get along with and a great leader,” Tracz said. “[Others] respected her and listened to her. She did a really nice job of taking them to another plane. She’s a good person: she’s very responsible, she’s very mature, she’s certainly intelligent, she’s hardworking, she’s talented, not to mention outgoing and the whole bit. This young lady has got it together.”

As Clark traveled to events and spoke at schools, she had many opportunities and unique interactions. Through it all, Clark said it can be difficult and feels as if she’s living “a double life.”

“I’m a girl from small-town Kansas, and now I get to be very blessed with all these wonderful sponsors: my vehicle and apartment are covered for the year, and my clothing and beauty supplies,” Clark said. “I was at a school right when I was coming back from Miss America and this kid came up to me and said, ‘Do people treat you differently as Miss Kansas as compared to when you’re just Taylor?’ … The crown brings lots of wonderful opportunities but at the end of the day, I’m still Taylor. I try to always let that show through and try to be myself at all times and in all situations so that I’m not changing into someone I’m not.”

The Miss America programs are the world’s largest provider of scholarships and are meant to positively impact and prepare the lives of young women, giving them a head start on potentially receiving debt-free education and readying to serve others.

“First and foremost, it’s very transformative,” Clark said. “It’s the opportunities that can be so transformative if you really take hold of the program and use it and reap it for all its benefits.”

During the rest of her time as Miss Kansas, Clark is looking forward to partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters with her social impact initiative of Sound for Common Ground: Music Connects.

“Each kiddo is going to have a bucket and a pair of drum sticks that they can go home with and play and make music whenever they would like,” Clark said. “It’s a tangible thing I wanted to do as Miss Kansas, and I’m excited to bring music to those kids that need it most.”

Clark is excited to return to school and the marching band in the fall to finish her last semester on campus before student teaching.