Excitement, anticipation, hope and pride were some of the feelings coursing through Samantha Walsh as she traveled in a convertible down Wantagh Avenue in the community’s 81st annual Fourth of July Parade, she said.
At the end of the event, Walsh, 16, stood nervously on the steps of Wantagh Elementary School while local officials gave speeches about the holiday. In just a few moments, she would find out whether she was the next Miss Wantagh.
After what she said felt like hours, the runners-up in the annual contest were called to the podium. They would form the 2017 Miss Wantagh Court. Finally, Walsh was named the winner — and she burst into tears.
Since 1956, the Miss Wantagh organization has crowned a Wantagh High School sophomore or junior. According to Director Ella Stevens, Wantagh is the only hamlet in Nassau County that has maintained a community-based pageant for more than six decades. She explained that Miss Wantagh is not a beauty pageant, but a competition focused on recognizing young role models.
“The judges chose [Walsh] because they saw qualities in her that would best fit the role of Miss Wantagh, and I couldn’t agree more,” Stevens said. “Samantha has a positive outlook, is a hard worker, helpful, very personable and I believe she will go very far.”
A week after she received the title, Walsh was ready to work. Every year, Miss Wantagh plans a community-service program, and members of the court help her carry it out.
Walsh said she was excited about her project called, “It’s cool to not be cool.” She said she would encourage young people in the community to resist peer pressure.
Walsh, who will be a senior at Wantagh High this fall, will work alongside her fellow students and members of the court: first runner-up Grace Anne McKenna, second runner-up Savannah Palas and third tunner-up Jackie Corbin. Brianna Breslin, Elizabeth Byrnes, Kayla Burke, Brittany Genovese, Melissa LoPiccolo and Juliet Watstein were also named ambassadors to the court.
“I just really want to help people and give back,” Walsh said. “So many people have helped me — people who I look to as role models. I hope I can be like that for younger students in our community.”
Walsh moved from Bayside, Queens, to Wantagh in 2010. She said she was proud to call the community home.
“I couldn’t be more thankful to have moved to such an amazing place that has offered me so many opportunities,” Walsh said. “I don’t know if I would be the person that I am today if it weren’t for the pageant and, of course, Wantagh.”
Walsh is president of the National Thespian Society and has been active in the high school theater department, starring in “Legally Blonde” and “The Little Mermaid.” She is also a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, the National Honor Society and the Foreign Language Honor Society.
She can often be found at St. Frances De Chantal Roman Catholic Church, where she is a junior lector and volunteer. The parish welcomed her family when they moved to Wantagh, she said.
Stevens said she looked forward to seeing what type of legacy Walsh would leave. “Sam, as all the girls, have so much to offer, not only to Wantagh, but to any path they choose,” she said. “She is very intelligent and very grounded, and I know that she will be a shining star this year as she starts to discover how much she can really do.”