Shawnee Kaseman of Wishek, ND was awarded the title of Miss North Dakota for America 2020 this past September, but instead of preparing to hit the stage in a glittering gown under sparkling lights,she addressed pageant judges from her home via Zoom, a video conference system. Even though her interview was at home she prepared the same way she would have despite the pandemic. Her gowns were altered to a perfect fit and of course her hair and makeup were flawless.
“On a typical pageant morning, I usually wake up at about five in the morning, and then we meet at about eight. Interviews are in the morning. So I spend that time going over my information and then of course getting ready and just kind of preparing myself for the day.” said the 2019 Wishek High School graduate.
On top of all of that, this time she had to consider what her interview space looked like. She made sure the lighting was perfect and she hung up a sheet as a backdrop.“We definitely spent a bit more time preparing what the room looks like rather than myself.” she laughed.
She started doing pageants at the age of twelve. “What got me into pageants was the talent portion. I love singing, I love dancing, I love all things performance wise. Absolutely love it. And that was kind of like… my outlet to continue doing those things. That's why I started but I continue to do pageants now because of the platform and the community involvement that it has.” said Kaseman.
In regard to performance, Shawnee is a talented accordion player. “When my uncle passed away my fifth grade year, I got his accordion. Funny story... I taught myself how to play it through YouTube. And since you're watching videos, it's backwards-- like it's reversed. So I learned how to play the accordion the wrong way. In Wishek, they do Sauerkraut Day,that's when we do an accordion performance for the community. My seventh grade year is when I kind of started learning how to play the accordion the right way. So now I know how to do both.” she said.
There’s a lot of German pride in Wishek North Dakota and that heritage has remained pretty well intact from the music to its foodways. ”I grew up with all things German, my grandma would make German food. When I moved to Minnesota, people didn't even know what knoephla soup was! It's crazy how, how they can manage to keep that going here, especially with the younger generations.”
One of the challenges she faces as Miss North Dakota in the age of COVID is maintaining her platform and reinventing new ways to become active in her community during a pandemic. “It's really hard to kind of find places to volunteer at or-- you know, things to do. So, we've just kind of had to figure out how to do things online, like over Zoom. You know, it's been working out so far. But it is a little bit more challenging.” Kaseman said.
In the past years she has organized and participated in 5K walks or runs. This year her platform is Luggage of Love, an organization that provides foster children with backpacks or duffel bags with personal items or items to bring them comfort rather than having to show up at their new home with a garbage bag. In previous years her platforms have been based around child abuse. Currently, she is partnered with Together We Rise, a nonprofit devoted to foster children.
“The reason that I started getting into foster care is because the people that I live with now in Minnesota, they actually adopted somebody from the foster care system. And you know, they've had other children come and go, and it breaks my heart to see when they first come into these homes, they come in with a garbage bag filled with very minimal things.” She went on to say, “Like they don't have a toothbrush, or they don't have, like, just personal hygiene items that everybody should have-- They don't have. And that's kind of what the main purpose of those duffel bags are. I've seen firsthand what these children go through. And I don't ever want to see anybody go through that.”
Kaseman is currently pursuing a psychology degree and continue on to law school. “With that, I'd go into family law and, and hope to, you know, continue my life, and continue helping these children.” she said.
In January she will be travelling to Las Vegas for Nationals where social distancing and masks will be required for all pageant contestants. It is also recommended that all contestants are required to quarantine before their trip leaving Shawnee plenty of time to practice her accordion.
“This one in particular does actually not have a talent. However, I do bring it with me because people love to hear me play. The last national pageant that I competed at, I ended up playing it for one of the judges because they absolutely wanted to hear it. They've never seen anybody play the accordion at my age before, so I’ll definitely bring it with me.”
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