Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Farewell Miss New York.

Can you say “Farewell” six months later?  Well I am. 

So what happened? How come my blog just stopped after my last appearance?

Things got a little busy.

As I finished up my year of appearances as Miss New York, I jumped right into the crazy Miss New York week, working hard to help prepare the contestants as much as possible, keep the website updated with photos, write and create my farewell speech and video, all the while keeping some sort of emotional stability. Then after Miss New York week, life happened.

The week was incredible and a great way to end my year, knowing that I was going to pass on my title to someone very deserving.  With a move to Staten Island, the pageant had a lot of unknowns. What we do know now is that moving was the best decision ever. We had incredible support from SI, fantastic appearances, a gorgeous theater and major promotion. The competition was very impressive with girls really stepping up to the plate.

Meanwhile, some other big things were happening in the state of New York—marriage equality was becoming a reality. On Friday night before I gave up my title, the House of Representatives passed marriage equality in NY. I was invited back to MSNBC with Thomas Roberts for a guest appearance to wrap up my year and share in the excitement of progress for LGBT people in NY.

On Saturday morning, the morning I gave up my title, the tears began. It was when I was describing to the girls what an incredible opportunity they all had in front of them. One was meant to be Miss New York 2011, others were meant to be doctors, teachers, students, wives and moms. It changed my life completely, and it was about to change one of theirs.

In true Claire Buffie fashion, I was so busy that I procrastinated on my farewell but of course wanted to make it PERFECT. Working up until the last minute (at the parade on Saturday), I finished it. In an empty theatre, I rehearsed my farewell: a short dance that included movements from each dance I’ve done in my five years in MAO, with photos of the four years before I won, followed by a slideshow and speech you’ll see below.  It was all to the music of Scott Alan “The Distance You Have Come,” a song I almost danced to at Miss America, a song that Scott sang live at my send-off party and the song that perfectly sums up my journey in the Miss America Organization. Walking out in my evening gown for that final walk was an incredible moment (no tears in the real show!), thinking back over the last year of wonderful memories, opportunities, and moments in which I witnessed real and lasting change.

Kenny Mack presented me with a beautiful proclamation from Governor Andrew Cuomo recognizing my commitment to equality and I was later sent a proclamation from the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. All of the legislators who wanted to be there to present it were in Albany, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. They were finishing up what all of our hard work was focused on. They finished what every child, every person, needs in order to be equal and fairly supported by our laws. The next week, one year after I was crowned Miss New York 2010, marriage equality passed in the state of New York.       What. A. Year.

That night I crowned Kaitlin Monte, of Rochester, NY, and she has been knocking my socks off ever since. I write this blog on the plane to Las Vegas where I’ll cheer her on at Miss America 2012 and have a reunion with my Miss America sisters.  Kaitlin has been an unbelievable Miss New York with a dedication to anti-bullying with her platform and a general mission to continue moving the Miss New York Organization forward.

I put all my words into my farewell letter and the slideshow/speech below. I hope that you enjoy.

Farewell Miss New York.

My mom said when she enlarges the farewell letter, she still can't read it, so making the very long blogpost I was trying to avoid, here is what the letter says:

Saying goodbye is something I’ve never been very good at, but it is something I have done a few important times in my life in order to chase my dreams and take every opportunity to achieve them. It’s what brought me here—here to New York and here to this stage. This year, I accomplished so many goals because of the incredible opportunities I had as Miss New York. It has been a year of a lot of hard work and dedication, some stumbles and falls, life-defining experiences, times of gut-wrenching laughter, the same extreme of tears, and undeniable growth as a person, a friend, a communicator – both speaker and listener – a sister and daughter, and of course as an advocate. I have found my passion; I have found myself; I have found so many others; I have found my purpose.  
All of these experiences and revelations could not have affected me to the extent that they did without the people who influenced me and impacted my year…
Over the last few years, I have kept a journal of random inspirational quotes. When I first open the first page, I see in large capitol letters, “I WON THE PARENT LOTTERY.” –Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture. Mom and Dad, (wow, cue tears…) I did.  Thank you for your immeasurable gifts as leaders, as servants, as friends and as backbones. You have afforded me opportunity after opportunity, but more importantly, you have provided me with the freedom to be independent, the values and upbringing to be a confident leader, and you have held me accountable for my actions and their effect on the world around me, constantly challenging me to use them for positive change.
Sarah, you have been my inspiration. Thank you for being so confident in yourself and open such that I—we—could have the maximum effect this year and throughout continuing advocacy.  I have been constantly motivated by your spirit and positive outlook on the world. Hannah, you have kept me grounded, reminding me that “Miss NY is not a title that guarantees great things or great change. It’s the person who does so.”  Sean and Danielle, you have brought something else into my life – balance and normalcy. Pride and excitement aside, your dedication to your family in the midst of building your own is inspiring, and Logan makes me smile every time I get overwhelmed or frustrated.
To the Miss New York Board of Directors: you keep me busy.  But in this, you have allowed me to give back in the way that you know I crave.  You have given me incredible freedom to make this year the most personal and the best for me as an individual, encouraging my authenticity in preparation for Miss America and in helping to lead this organization forward. Paul, you just have a heart that is unmatched. Linda, you have a humor that never fails to entertain as well as such a sincere dedication to this organization. Kenny, you were able to give me continuity in a rebuilding and transitional year and grow this organization with its exciting move to SI, and I will never forget the Hamptons. Faith, I know I owe you a phone bill and a stress-releasing massage for the hundreds of conversations we have had together – Dreamweaver and Photoshop aside. Judy and Diane, thank you for your countless emails and phone calls back and forth with so many different organizations and schools to help me spread my message to the maximum amount of people.  And to the number of other volunteers—Ken, Gene, Kelli, Barbara, Jim, Terry, Bill, Marylou, Jackie, Local Executive Directors and many more—you at times go seemingly unnoticed, but I am so thankful for the value that you bring to this organization and the support you weave into our sometimes tangled web.
Leigh-Taylor, you have truly covered the gamut from idol to friend, mentor, roommate and ‘sister.’ I am eternally grateful for your endless hours of support that went beyond interview preparation and back to our couch, day in and day out.  You challenged me to go so far beyond the goals I had in sight and to be a voice on behalf of those who are smothered by stigma and stereotype.  
Thank you to Kandice and Hannah – women who have understood the journey to Miss America and imparted their wisdom on my own…with fashion expertise (and champagne) along the way.  And to my roommates Carlie and Matt, thank you for putting up with so much pageant, believing in me and supporting me pride from the beginning – literally since my very first pageant when I wore your dress, Carlie.
I received the advice to keep my “team” small, just to the people who had the most positive influence one, and I did.  But my pageant family and my inspiration was large.  From years of involvement in MAO, I have developed the most incredible cheering squad from New York, Indiana, DC, Tennessee, New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia and constantly increasing to more.  I am so thankful for the light that you all bring into my life.  What grew even more insanely large was my group of allies and support of my platform Straight for Equality: Let’s Talk.  I cannot even begin to name all of the organizations and people with whom I have worked this year (see p. __)
but these numerous individuals and non-profits have been the foundation of my year and my channels for change, leadership and advocacy. Within the pageant world, so many said I should change my platform if I wanted to even think about winning, but every single one of the organizations I have worked with empowered me and reminded me of exactly why I could and should succeed with such a message of equality and fundamental respect and dignity.
To my Miss America sisters, Alyse, Katie U., Arianna, Adrienne, Emoly, Katie L., Cris, Pauli, Nicole, Loren R., Caroline & Ashleigh…we have experienced unbelievable things together, and I am forever grateful for our growing friendships. To my Miss Americas Katie Stam, Kirsten Haglund, Kate Shindle & Heather French Henry, thank you for being inspirations and giving invaluable insight into the realities of this ethereal yet seemingly attainable dream.
After reading countless emails and Facebook messages of thanks, sharing and inspiration, and beyond writing more than 115 blogs, I write my final farewell to a journey of actually five years: one I know is not ending but instead being redirected on a different path. I will never leave the Miss America Organization (sorry, you’re stuck with me!), because I want more than anything to empower every young woman to get everything out of this organization and experience that she can.  It can and will change your life, but I believe the world is cyclical – you get out of it what you put into it.  ‘Tis true about the job of Miss New York: “It’s not about how to achieve your dreams…it’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself.  The dreams will come to you.” 
“Wow, that is the epitome of a person appreciating this day and this moment.”  BE THAT PERSON.  This is how I challenged myself in my journal, and it is what sustained me throughout the year.  Even with that effort, because of the magnitude of the experiences I have had this year, I still do not think I have or perhaps ever will comprehend what and whom I encountered.  I may never realize the effect I had on others, but they will most certainly never realize the effect they have had on me. The legacy I hope to leave behind, holding authenticity in highest regard, is not because the stand I took this year in my advocacy was “groundbreaking” but instead because those actions, the compassion, the drive was all part of “the right thing to do.” 
As Miss Southeast NY, in my interview for MNY 2010, I said “Regardless of whether or not I win Miss New York, I will continue in my advocacy with or without the crown.” That is exactly what I plan to do by pursuing a Master’s degree and career path that will continually challenge my growth and strength as a leader in this fight for equality, riding on the momentum created by this sparkly headpiece that has taken me beyond what I thought I was capable of this year and into the hearts and minds of so many people beyond this place I call home, placing me at “the national dinner table” because after all, “Nothing was taboo at the Buffie dinner table.”
Claire Buffie
Miss New York 2010

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