When asked why she entered as a contestant for the Miss Central Gwinnett program, Emily Creed, 15, said, “I’d never done it.”
An avid volunteer, vocational chef, and frequent traveler, Emily has done a lot of things — but winning Miss Freshman at the annual Miss Central Gwinnett Scholarship Pageant was something she had never done until now.
And as it turns out, Emily was a first for the school, too. Serving as both a learning experience and as a fundraiser opportunity, the Pageant is a tradition of 61 years at Central Gwinnett —and Emily was the very first special needs student to enter the competition.
In many ways, Emily is your typical teenager. She enjoys school. She loves the beach. Cooking and animals are her greatest passions, but she’s still not 100 percent sure what she wants to study or what college she will attend after high school.
But Emily has endured more physical hardships than some will experience in a lifetime. She was born prematurely at only 2.5 pounds. A few months later, she suffered severe brain bleeds and developed cerebral palsy, making it difficult for her to walk. In the years that followed, Emily underwent 13 surgeries to rotate her legs and stabilize her heartbeat.
Now in her first year of high school, Emily has a positive outlook on life. She helps out at her school cafeteria and she volunteers at Sugar Hill Animal Hospital through the Scouts of America Explorer’s program. And when she entered the Miss Central Gwinnett pageant, she was determined to do her best and to have fun.
There were challenges in the weeks leading up to the competition. All the contestants were required to attend meetings, interview with organizers (without their parents being there) and finally stand before an audience when the pageant finally started.
As required, Emily went to all the meetings, and she was the first contestant to get up on stage at The 61st Annual Miss Central Gwinnett Scholarship Pageant, held March 2, 2019, in the theatre of Central Gwinnett Highschool.
Additionally, each of the girls was assigned the task of selling advertisements for the pageant’s program, and Emily sold the most ads overall. Her mom, Mellissa Creed, jokingly calls it, ‘the book of Emily’, because it’s filled with so many ads she sold to local businesses, family friends and supporters of her cause.
“She’s a trailblazer,” Mellissa said. “I’m so proud of her. When she first told me she wanted to enter the pageant, I was concerned because of her special needs. But I didn’t stop her. I try to give her room to grow and enjoy her high school years.”
Melissa encouraged Emily and reminded her that whether she would win or lose wasn’t important – it was about having fun.
And Emily passed the message on to the other girls in the pageant. According to Teresa Blackwell, a Miss Central Gwinnett pageant coordinator of three years, Emily was like a cheerleader encouraging the other girls throughout the practices and while they were backstage.
“She was telling everybody that no matter what happens, they were all there to have fun,” said Blackwell who worked backstage during the pageant. “She went to every workshop and put in 100 percent. She was always excited to be there.”
When she won Miss Freshman, Emily was at first surprised, and then happy because of the message it might send to other girls her age and other special needs students in particular.
“When they see other kids are doing it, they will have the confidence so they can do it too,” Emily said.
“I feel special and proud because I tried,” Emily said of the experience which she celebrated with her favorite Mexican cuisine at La Cazuela. Trying new things is a challenge for most people, so Mellissa sees Emily’s initial decision to enter the competition as a huge testament to resilience despite her hardships.
“But I did win!” said an energized Emily, who has already marked her calendar for an upcoming special needs pageant for which she has selected a stylish grey dress.
Since the pageant, Emily has also decided to try out for the football cheerleading team. She used to cheer on her middle school basketball team, so she is confident she will make the team.
In a few months, she will take a trip to Italy to learn how to prepare Italian cuisine using alternative preparation methods conducive to special needs adults.
“She has a weakness in her right hand, so there are special ways to chop that are easier for her,” said Mellissa who advocates empowering her daughter and others with special needs to be self-sufficient.
As for the long-term, Emily still has a few decisions to make. She has considered going to veterinarian school, or possibly culinary school to become a chef.
And with the support of her family and her growing confidence, Emily can do all this and more. She even has the tiara to prove it.