Campus Spotlight: Sydney Nichole Jackson
By: Hannah Zozobrado
Outside of school, each college student lives a unique life. For 19-year-old Sydney Nichole Jackson, she lives two: life as a freshman Journalism major at the University of Maryland, and life as Miss District of Columbia Teen USA.
Before starting college in the Fall of 2020, Jackson took an eventful gap year. In January of 2020 alone, she gained her Miss D.C. Teen USA title was a guest for two shows at New York Fashion Week, and signed to a modeling agency. Jackson also founded her own platform “Girl Empire 202,” in which she aims to mentor young inner-city girls between ages 4 and 16. For this service and her title, Jackson appeared on WUSA9, Fox5 News, and Good Morning Washington earlier this year.
As a Journalism major, Jackson finds these experiences especially valuable and believes that being Miss D.C. Teen USA has opened the doors for these special opportunities: “I never knew how I could possibly do all that, but Miss DC Teen, in particular, gave that to me.”
HZ: How would you describe the balance between your schoolwork and pageant duties?
SNJ: It was super difficult at the beginning of the semester because I took a gap year. I didn’t really go into my gap year with Miss DC Teen USA in mind, but I was convinced to compete again and started my title reign back in January. So it was a really difficult transition. Even throughout the pandemic, I was still booked to do things virtually. I had to take half of that off of my plate to make time for all of my classes. But I’ve definitely figured it out, I just have to make sure that I do my DC Teen duties mainly towards the end of the week when I have more free time.
HZ: How did you start doing pageants?
SNJ: I had a really interesting pageant journey that wasn't typical. The previous director of the pageant knew my aunt, and she asked her “Would your niece want to be in my pageant?” Since I had never done pageants, I said no. But they eventually convinced me to do it, and so I did it for fun. I never envisioned myself doing something like that—I used to just watch it on TV. The first time I competed in a pageant, I was clearly and completely under-qualified because the Miss Universe organization is the most prestigious pageant system in the world. But I got second place amongst girls who had been competing in pageants since they were little. The current Miss USA, who was Miss DC previously, was there and said “Oh my gosh, you have to do it again.” And I was just like “Wow, Miss USA is speaking to me” [laughs]. I was convinced to do it again because it’s so rare for someone to get second place the first time competing. I guess it was just natural for me, I don’t really know how else to explain it.
HZ: What is your favorite part of being Miss DC Teen USA?
SNJ: It has to be working with younger girls. That’s my passion, for sure. I think it’s just seeing their faces when they’re looking at me and they’re thinking “Princess!” or “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re here”—I always hear that. Most of the time, I go to places that support them: different organizations, fashion shows for girls, and different community activities. I sit down with them, I do work with them, I play with them; I want to hear their stories and how their day was and what they did in school. I think it’s just having them realize that you don’t have to be or look a certain way to carry yourself like a princess. Just teaching them those values. That's definitely my favorite part.
HZ: Do you aspire to further pursue pageants or potentially become Miss USA one day? Miss Universe?
SNJ: Oh my gosh, that would be a dream, but I always get this question and I’m not quite sure. I started pageantry pretty late, and a lot of girls do, but I think that since I’ll be 20 next August, I’m very interested in seeing what my young adult life has in store for me, outside of pageantry. Not just being known as Miss DC Teen USA. I think I’m excited to start my adult life and see what happens without having to ask and answer to directors. I’d like to see what my life is going to be like on my own for a while.
HZ: What inspired you to begin your journey to where you are today? Is there a legacy you want to leave behind?
SNJ: Yes, absolutely! So I was convinced to do the pageant because I love community service. I was told that Miss DC Teen can pick a platform and make a Nonprofit—that’s what I did with Girl Empire 202! It was a way for me to give back to the community that invested so much into me. And I, of course, want to leave behind a legacy for the girls who come after me. I meet girls, and I don’t know if they follow me on Instagram or if they see me on TV, who come up to me asking for my autograph. There are so many girls looking at you when you don’t even know they’re looking at you, and I always feel like Hannah Montana because I can make a difference in someone’s life without knowing. Making a difference in the lives of others is the legacy I want to leave behind.