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UCSD Junior Crowned U.S. Miss World

By Jan Jennings I October 10, 2005

The night she won the U.S. Miss World 2005 crown, Lisette Diaz almost fell off the stage — literally.

"The judges were to have a final look at the 32 contestants," said Diaz, a junior at UCSD. "As we paraded in front of them, the train of my dress somehow wrapped around my left foot and I stumbled forward." Panic? Embarrassment? Absolutely not.

"The audience laughed," said Diaz. "I just smiled at the judges and carried on. What else could I do?" Moments later, the poised young lady of 22 was crowned U.S. Miss World in the Continental Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in downtown San Francisco. In the background she recalls hearing her mother on a cell phone, phoning home, "She won! She won!"

Diaz will represent the United States in the Miss World Pageant in Sanya, China, and will depart for the resort city Nov. 14, joining 141 other contestants from throughout the world, with final competition and selection scheduled for Dec. 10.

The 54-year theme of the pageant is "Beauty with a Purpose," focusing on fitness and community service, and, over the years, it has raised more than $250 million in charitable contributions.

As U.S. Miss World, Diaz won a prize package of $20,000. The winner of the Miss World Pageant will receive a prize package of $100,000.

Diaz is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Jose Diaz of Chula Vista. Her father is a general practitioner in Tijuana and her mother is a program analyst for the County Housing Department. Her aunt, Irma Martinez Velasco, is director of Campus Relations in the UCSD Chancellor's Office.

"We are so proud of Lisette," said Velasco.

In addition to her formal education, including the private Midway Baptist High School, Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) in Waxahachie, Texas, Southwestern College, and UCSD, Diaz considers the experience learned from competing in pageants an invaluable education.

The U.S. Miss World Pageant is the ninth pageant and second title for the 5'7" brunette. She was Miss San Ysidro in 2003. In the other seven pageants, she was first runner up four times, third runner up once, in the top 10 once, and winner of the swimsuit contest once.

Preparation for a pageant includes physical fitness training, keeping up with current events as "ambassadors for women of our country," interview training, etiquette, and, of course, proper walking a la the guidelines of a coach, book on head et al. A stumble, ah yes, even that can be finessed away with experience, poise and composure.

"We are all winners," said Diaz, "speaking of the contestants. I am really competing against myself. The competition of a pageant forces me to look at myself, to strive for higher goals, to broaden my interests. My overall goal is to reach a level of personal satisfaction."

Diaz said she thought she had reached that goal when she was first runner up in the Miss California USA Pageant earlier in September. "I thought, 'This is Great! I've reached another level, and I am going to UCSD too. Life is Great!' "

But while at the Miss California USA Pageant, and when announced as first runner up, she was encouraged to enter the U.S. Miss World Contest coming up within weeks. Why not? She figured. Another experience.

The rest just fell into place. She quotes her pageant coach Gaspar Cruz: "What is for you, shall not pass you."

Diaz said she especially likes the Miss World Pageant because of its focus on fitness and community service. In addition to raising funds for the Red Cross, as part of their commitment to the pageant, contestants must present a four minute video highlighting their community service work. Diaz is a youth assistant at Bonita Valley Community Church where she is involved in community outreach, coordinating special events and in general helping "provide a good environment for safe, clean fun." She also volunteers with the Convoy of Hope in humanitarian relief similar to the Red Cross, the Read Aloud Program, and Voices for Children, where she is a community advocate for children and their proper placement.

"Mentorship is so important," Diaz said. "We must make a solid investment in the next generation. Education is a powerful tool and, first and foremost, children need to learn to communicate."

With such convictions, it is no surprise that Diaz is majoring in English and literature and hopes to become a teacher.

Her formal education after high school began at SAGU, a school strong in Christian counseling. While there she took a work study position with the head of the Education Department.

"I decided then that my passion is for teaching," Diaz said. She was advised by her mentors there to return to college in California to earn her degrees and teaching certificates if that is where she hoped to live. "I loved my year there," Diaz said, "but I also realized, I'm a California girl." Though on the Dean's List at SAGU, only two of her classes would transfer. "That set me back a year," she said, but matter-of-factly noted that "not all learning takes place in the classroom" and that the varied activities and the college experience of "going away from home" had been priceless.

Diaz enrolled in Southwestern College where she studied two more years, then transferred to UCSD, enrolling this fall.

"I have my books and I love my classes," said Diaz. Nevertheless, with the Miss World Pageant on the horizon, she will have to postpone further pursuing her UCSD experience until winter quarter. In the next month and a half, she will be preparing for the pageant: working with a voice coach, learning key Chinese phrases and etiquette, getting a passport, preparing her community service video and polishing her talent, modern Polynesian dance. The talent portion of the competition is roughly two minutes, which is just right, as far as Diaz is concerned, and she will do a "more contemporary and fun" form of modern Polynesian dance that originated in Tahiti.

When all the dust settles - both from pageants and from higher education - Diaz hopes to teach in high school, write children's books and eventually start a charter school in the South Bay, a school that would assure that students are learning English as early as possible, become fluent in it, and are prepared to tackle their classroom work in English and standardized tests required for higher education.

Meanwhile, Diaz's sights are on China - while her thoughts linger on the 40th floor of the Hilton in San Francisco on Oct. 1 where she was introduced as U.S. Miss World 2005 and was rushed by appreciative guests seeking her autograph. "I can still smell the beautiful flowers."

The Miss World headquarters is in London. More than 140 countries participate and the pageant is the most watched television event in the world, seen by 2.2 billion people.


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