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Miss Alabama speaks to students

The title of Miss Alabama means more than a sparkling tiara and a glistening evening gown, Amanda Tapley said. It is about leadership, responsibility and lending a helping hand.

Tapley, Miss Alabama 2008, spoke to a group of students Tuesday about how to use their skills and talents to become leaders in the community. Tapley, who finished in the top 15 at the Miss America 2009 Pageant, said anyone could lead, no matter what age they may be.

“Being a great leader starts with having the heart of a servant,” Tapley said. “I was completely surprised but incredibly grateful for this opportunity.”

Tapley fielded a variety of questions from the students, from what kind of pet she had growing up (hamster) to her favorite movie (A Beautiful Life). Tapley could hardly keep track of all the hands that shot into the air inside the Larry D. Striplin Performing Arts Center.

“I’m so impressed with the students’ enthusiasm,” Tapley said.

The students in attendance were members of the Selma-Dallas County Youth Leadership group, which consists of students from seven public and private high schools across the county. A group of juniors from Selma High School also attended. After Tapley spoke, students lined up to take photos and thank Tapley for visiting Selma.

“She’s really an example of a leader in Alabama,” said Jay Gilmer, a senior at Morgan Academy. “She’s a model of dedication.”

Gilmer said Tapley’s speech made him think of different ways he could serve his community. He said every little bit counts when it comes to community service.

“It’s something I think we can all take a lesson from,” Gilmer said.

Tapley, who will pass the crown on to another young lady in June, spent the last year traveling across the state. She spoke to many different organizations, clubs and schools while putting her academic studies on hold. It has been a once in a lifetime opportunity, she said. But the junior majoring in pre-medicine and music at Samford University said she is ready to return to the small campus tucked on a hillside just south of Birmingham.

“This is a great break for me,” Tapley said of her times as Miss Alabama. “But I’m ready to go on and finish school.”

Selma High School juniors Maya Rudolph and Christy Harris enjoyed their peek behind the crown. Both said it was refreshing to meet a forward-thinking young woman.

“She inspired me to do more with my community,” Harris said.

Rudolph nodded her head and agreed.

“It was very inspiring,” she said.

Some of the students were surprised to discover they had more in common with Tapley than they thought. Landon Nichols, a junior at Meadowview Christian, said he enjoyed hearing Tapley talk about football and music. It turned the image he had of Miss Alabama into something more tangible, he said.

“She was such a down-to-earth person,” Nichols said.

As students filed out the door to a yellow school bus, Nichols stood in the aisle and talked with friends from across Dallas County, people he might have never met without the leadership group.

“It’s a nice opportunity to interact with students from other high schools,” he said.

Tapley watched the students exit and contemplated the path that brought her from a high school student in Birmingham to Miss Alabama. She would not want it any other way.

“Everything I’ve gained from this experience has made me a better person,” she said with a sparkling tiara atop her head.