Meet Miss Louisiana 2022 Gracie Reichman: Preparing future leaders is her goal for this year
Blue is a theme for Miss Louisiana 2022 Gracie Reichman.
The 21-year-old is a member of the Regal Blues dance team at Louisiana Tech University.
And this week, she won the red carpet preliminary — and took Miss Louisiana 2022 crown — in a navy gown. And she won both the talent preliminary and overall talent award clogging to "Blue Suede Shoes."
On Sunday, she carried out her first interviews wearing the crown in a chic navy sheath dress.
Blue is Gracie's color. Her personality is anything but.
"When people look at me, they can see big hair, lots of makeup, cute clothes, all of these materialistic things, but once they have a conversation with me they know and realize that I want to get to know them at a basic human level — what they're passionate about, what they hold true to their heart. That's one thing I hope to accomplish as Miss Louisiana is every person that I come in contact with knows Gracie comma Miss Louisiana not Miss Louisiana comma Gracie."
She's been preparing for the job since she was a child. On Saturday night, the former Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival achieved the dream on stage at the W.L "Jack" Howard Theatre in the Monroe Civic Center.
She said at the pivotal moment, she was just trying not to ugly cry.
Sunday morning, she hit the ground running with ambitious plans to reach all 64 Louisiana parishes during her reign. A large part of holding the title is working with kids in school and community organizations, and she's eager to get started.
"I think my favorite part about it is really connecting with them. ... Yes, they're going to be in awe of the sparkly crown and the sparkly sash. But I want to connect with them as Gracie as well and have a conversation with those children about how important it is to develop the thoughts and the opinions that they want to have and not what anyone else is telling them.
"I feel like my one of my most important jobs as Miss Louisiana is to prepare our youth to be our future leaders."
Her social impact initiative, she said, started as an anti-bullying initiative but evolved into a reminder that we all need to speak positively to ourselves because how we talk to ourselves affects how we feel. It's not enough to only be kind to others, we should give ourselves the same grace.
"Think twice be nice, really, is just thinking about the words and the thoughts that you're feeding yourselves because that directly affects your emotion," she said.
She practices what she preaches.
"There comes a time almost every year that I take a moment — or honestly a couple days — and self reflect: my emotions, how I felt, what I could improve on," she said. It all ties into her social impact initiative. How are you talking to and about yourself?
"So self reflection was one of my biggest things going into the next year's preparation, especially this year. I mean, I really solidified who I was, what I stood for. And I think it just really propelled me into a different mindset competing in Miss Louisiana this year."
Years of preparation, a lifetime of friendships
Gracie, of Colfax, started competing in the Our Little Miss pageants and developed friendships and connections that have helped her to this day.
Then, she participated in the Fleur De Lis Princess program under Leisel Oestriecher and Nancy Peck. The initiative pairs young girls with Miss Louisiana contestants for mentoring to build confidence with skills like public performance and speaking.
Gracie planned to compete in the Miss Louisiana's Outstanding Teen when she was older, but when she was 12, Liesel's mother, Sandy Oestriecher called and said she wanted Gracie to come to a local pageant in Lafayette just to get the feel for it.
Gracie won and competed at the Miss Louisiana's Outstanding Teen level for the first time at 13. She said it was "the start of a wonderful journey."
She competed at that level for five years and won the state title in 2018.
In 2021, she was second runner-up to Miss Louisiana.
Now, she's in the catbird seat, and she's going to work to get more young women involved with the institution that's benefitted her so much.
Participating in the Miss Louisiana Organization, she said, has not only helped her develop skills and confidence, it's also offered a tangible springboard to a better life. In this year's pageant alone, Gracie won more than $12,000 in scholarships.
"And while stepping on a stage and competing in so many different phases of competition might seem scary, the support system that you gain from your class of candidates really supports you and uplifts you, so that you are able to stand on that stage, be the best version of yourself win scholarship dollars to further your education and further your career."
She thinks a lot of young women don't understand how large of a platform being in the pageant system can be. It's about developing the next generation of female leaders.
Family skill leads to talent win
Gracie said some things came full circle for her this year when a Fleur De Lis Princess said she's learning clogging from Gracie's aunt.
Gracie is the daughter of Jim and Edna Reichman. She has three siblings, and five nieces and nephews.
"My mom's side of the family has learned it for years. I mean, traveling. I like to say my mom's side of the family dabbles in a little bit of everything, so clogging was something that they went in full force with."
Growing up, Gracie learned clogging from her aunt, as did her siblings. It's a skill that Edna's side of the family picked up and made their own.
She said the winning talent routine was choreographed by her older sister, who didn't hold back on the difficult moves, and was in honor of her whole family.
"I've been clogging ever since I can remember. It's really a special thing because it's something that my family has taught me to do," she said.
"I would not be who I am today, and especially not the clogger I am today without them pouring into me, so it's very special."
Overcoming injuries to dance again
Twice, Gracie has had to overcome huge obstacles to literally get back on her feet.
The dancer and athlete had to have two major surgeries on her right knee. The first time, she fractured the tibial plateau and bruised her meniscus. The second time, tore her ACL and her meniscus.
"We said 'go big or go home' when it comes to knee injuries," she smiled.
"So I went through two orthopedic surgeries. Thankfully, my high school dance coach, her husband was my orthopedic surgeon. So it's kind of a family affair.
Miss Louisiana 2021:The lessons Julia Claire Williams has learned being "unapologetically" herself
"But after I came out of surgery, the most important part to me was getting back to dance and soccer, my sports that I loved the most, as quickly as possible. And my physical therapist and his entire team in his office got me there not only physically but emotionally as well."
She wants to help others do the same and is an incoming senior at Louisiana Tech, majoring in kinesiology and health sciences with an emphasis on sports medicine.
What's next for Miss Louisiana
On Sunday afternoon, she was planning to pick up her dog Gypsy from the spa.
"She's a material girl," Gracie laughed.
The year ahead isn't without sacrifice. As she moves about 30 miles east to live on the University of Louisiana Monroe campus, Gypsy is moving in with Gracie's parents.
Right now, Gracie's focused on being the best Miss Louisiana she can be — and she wants your input.
"This year of service is what I make of it. But it's also what I can do for the state of Louisiana.
"Traveling all 64 parishes sounds really great. But it's something I want to do with my heart because I know that with those connections, I will get so so much feedback and so many different opinions on not only society issues, but the Miss Louisiana organization and my platform.
"I really love feedback and learning more about other people and learning what I can do better."
Support local journalism by subscribing at https://cm.thenewsstar.com/specialoffer/.