Miss Teen Canada

Madison S.

Coronation

South Surrey’s Miss Teen Canada puts focus on special needs acceptance

While all the lights and cameras in the room were pointed toward Madison Stewart standing on stage, the 16-year-old South Surrey girl had her eyes focused on her family in the crowd.

“When my name was called and I won, the first place I looked was to them,” said the newly crowned Miss Teen Canada 2017 of her March 4 coronation and pageant win.

“They’ve always supported me.”

It’s a significant achievement in what’s been a whirlwind crash course in pageantry for Stewart, the Grade 11 Earl Marriott secondary student who began walking pageants just one year ago. The latest title is her biggest win to date, and was awarded at the end of a four-day pageant that took place in Laval, Que. earlier this month.

“I’m really new compared to a lot of other people. A lot of people have been doing this since they were a kid so it’s pretty amazing to have gotten as far as I have in such a short amount time,” said Stewart, adding she signed up for her first pageant to help conquer her fear of public speaking, to challenge herself and to promote a cause close to her heart.

Stewart’s younger sister Jada, 13, struggles with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and a learning disability. They’re what Stewart calls invisible disabilities and she wanted to secure a wider stage from which to promote special needs acceptance.

“I didn’t want her to feel like she was left out. I didn’t want this negative stigma to surround children or anyone with special needs because a lot of people, I feel, are still uncomfortable around it or aren’t really sure how to approach it,” said Stewart. “I want to teach people that it’s OK.”

Through Miss Teen Canada, Stewart can direct some of her newfound audience toward causes she cares about, but at the end of the day, the goal is always to ensure her sister Jada feels accepted.

“She’s honestly one of the most amazing people. She’s taught me how to be compassionate, patient, really kind and be accepting of people from all walks of life,” said Stewart. “When I won, she was in tears. I’ve never seen her cry out of happiness like that.”

But pageants aren’t just a passing phase for Stewart, who said it’s something she wants to continue pursuing and who hinted at bigger things in store this summer, now that she’s been crowned Miss Teen Canada.

She also shared a few words for those who are quick to dismiss pageants as “parading around” in dresses and heels.

“Going out in the first place and signing up for something like this is not easy. It takes a lot of bravery and I want people to know a lot of these girls are very intelligent, they work hard, and that’s what’s made me so close with pageant girls — we all have something we believe in and we’re all very strong about it,” she said.

“We erase the stigma that pageants are just pretty girls parading around. That’s why we go out into the community and show that we’re not just a pretty face up on stage, that we actually have a cause behind what we do.”

Miss Teen Canada win ‘like a dream’

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South Surrey

South Surrey’s Madison Stewart reacts to being named Miss Teen Canada March 4 in Quebec.

— Image Credit: Stephane Leroux/Miss Teen Canada Photo

A South Surrey teen determined to promote acceptance of youth with special needs has earned a wider audience for the cause, after being named Miss Teen Canada.

“It feels like a dream,” Madison Stewart said Monday, of her March 4 crowning in Laval, Que.

“That night was a blur.”

Stewart, 16 and in Grade 11 at Earl Marriott Secondary, said she was asked in January to enter the pageant, which she said drew approximately 30 contestants from coast to coast.

Each was judged on everything from their attitude during activities in the lead-up to the crowning – including an interview with judges – to public presentation on stage.

Online, the pageant is described as “first of all and foremost a personality contest.”

Stewart said she was “shocked” just to be named one of five finalists for the title, never mind Miss Teen Canada.

“I was not expecting that,” she said. “I met so many amazing people there. It would be so hard (as a judge) to choose.”

Stewart’s focus on kids with special needs is rooted close to home – her younger sister, Jada, has an “invisible disability.”

In an interview with Peace Arch News last spring, Stewart described how some people react to Jada – because they don’t realize she has special needs – as “frustrating.”

“She’s the sweetest girl… but they maybe exclude her because she acts just a bit different.”

Seeing her sister win the crown clearly struck a chord with the younger girl, Stewart said.

“Jada started crying. It was so sweet,” Stewart said.

In the lead-up to being declared Miss Teen Canada, Stewart said the five finalists were given a mystery question to answer; challenging them to identify their greatest strength and weakness.

“I said my greatest weakness was my perfectionism, because I can always be pretty hard on myself,” she said. “My greatest strength is… I’m determined. I’ve always been a go-getter.”

The latter trait will come in handy as Stewart – who won the title of Miss Teenage South Western B.C. last April – continues on her quest to raise awareness.

In addition to promoting acceptance, she wants to talk about bullying. She hopes to share both messages in presentations at schools and other community venues – as well as at an international pageant this summer – and invites anyone who would like to have her speak to their group to email her at missteencanada2017@gmail.com

Looking ahead, Stewart – whose volunteer efforts include working with the Variety Club and fundraising for Free the Children – said she plans to pursue a career helping others.

She has her sights set on becoming a doctor and working with an organization such as Doctors Without Borders, which provides urgent medical care to victims of war and disaster.

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