Chelsea Gardner | Staff Writer
In 2010, Ashley Love-Mills walked across the stage of PNC Arena wearing a red graduation gown to receive her undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University. In June, 24-year-old Love-Mills walked across another stage, once again wearing a floor length gown. However, this particular gown was a white designer, covered in crystals, and the stage was that of the Miss USA 2013 Pageant.
The reigning Miss North Carolina USA, Love-Mills has fond memories of both N.C. State and the Wolfpack. Although now life for her is full of glamorous photo shoots (she is a model), beautiful gowns and other amazing opportunities, the alumna, who is a graduate of the N.C. State College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS), hasn’t forgotten the hard-work and dedication that helped her earn her degree, as well as her crown and sash.
“I wondered if I was ever going to get there,” Love-Mills said. “College is tough to get through and [so is] managing everything at one time. I worked three jobs while I attended N.C. State while having to maintain a good GPA, but it’s all about having a good work ethic.” Love-Mills attributes much of her success and accolades not only to her good work ethic but also her faith and drive to make a difference and achieve her goals and dreams. That drive led her to compete for the title of Miss North Carolina USA four times before winning it in November 2012.
Prior to winning the title of Miss North Carolina USA, Love-Mills kept herself motivated with daily reminders of her goal. “Probably for the last four or five years, I’ve had sticky notes posted all over my house, in my car, on my mirror in the bathroom telling me, every morning, that you already are her…you already are Miss N.C. USA. I truly believe that if you believe in something so much it has to come to fruition.”
Love-Mills’ dreams really came into fruition when she placed into the Top 10 at this year’s Miss USA pageant. Although she did not win the title of Miss USA, Love-Mills intends to go confidently into her future as a full-time model and actress “I just know that something is out there for me that’s better so I’m just anxiously but patiently waiting for that day to come,” Love-Mills said.
Love Mills spoke candidly with the Nubian Message about her pageant experience and also revealed what she liked most about her time at N.C. State.
Nubian Message: When did you become interested in Miss N.C. USA?
Love-Mills: “Probably at the age of 17. I received a letter from RPM Productions (they own the Miss North Carolina USA system), and they told me that someone from my high school nominated me to do Miss North Carolina Teen USA. I wasn’t initially interested; I actually threw the letter away. A couple weeks later, I saw the Miss Teen USA pageant on television and that’s kind of what sparked my interest. I [competed in Miss Teen USA] and didn’t win, but I placed in the top 10. I knew then, after getting through college, I wanted to come back and one day win Miss North Carolina USA. When I was 21, I was actually a senior at State, [and] I started competing again. And every year, I have placed in the top 10 and last November, I won.”
NM: Along with the Miss Teen USA pageant, what else or who else inspired or influenced you to persevere on this journey?
Love-Mills: “For me, the drive to become Miss North Carolina USA came from within myself. I saw a lot of the former Miss USAs and the type of service they were doing, and I think that was initially what the onset was. [Also] I was bullied in high school, and I knew that having the voice, as Miss North Carolina USA, would be what I needed to try to make a difference. I started an anti-bullying campaign this year called, “Reach for More: Be Better Than Average” in order to fight back against the bullying epidemic. [Its purpose] is to educate our youth about what it means to play the role of a bully or be the victim. And ,really, it’s teaching them [kids] that you have to love and respect another person despite any differences that you might have. And that’s really what stems from bullying – a lack of understanding of another person that might be different from you.”
NM: How have your experiences with Miss N.C. USA shaped you, personally and professionally?
Love-Mills: “Had I not got into pageants, I don’t think I would be as strong as I am. I am strong-willed, determined and ambitious because this industry is cutthroat. I was very relentless; it took me four times before I won, so it taught me perseverance and that no dream or no goal is out of reach as long as you continue to put in the work. God will honor that and do the rest. In general, everything about me is different. Even in the last eight months since I’ve won, I’m a completely different person. You know my values; in some ways have changed for the better, of course. I’ve experienced so many different things, and I’ve pushed myself in ways that I never thought possible. Career-wise, it’s definitely helped. I work full-time as a model, and my goal has really been to pursue more acting, and it’s definitely opened up some doors for that.”
NM: As a former victim of bullying, how did you get the confidence to overcome any fears of competing and doing pageants?
Love-Mills: “After a while, I realized in high school that what people had to say about me really didn’t matter – they are not taking care of me and they are not paying my bills. They are doing absolutely nothing [for me], so why should I care about what anyone else has to say? My confidence really started to build after I did my [first] pageant as a teenager. I knew then that I was kind of on a mission, and I needed to fulfill it, and it wouldn’t be fulfilled until I became Miss North Carolina.
NM: Do you have any advice for young women or girls who are interested in competing in pageants?
Love-Mills: “Know why you’re competing and have a vision going in, because the judges want to make sure that someone they give the job to is someone who is going to be dedicated to it and is going to be passionate about it and is going to be a good representative of the state…Don’t size yourself up against other girls, because you’re in a competition where everyone is beautiful, so something aside [from] your physical beauty has got to stand out. Your character has to stand out; that’s what this pageant really is about. This challenges you in every single way, so be prepared for that.”
NM: How has attending N.C. State and being involved on campus impacted you?
Love-Mills: “Well, of course, becoming an AKA really made a difference, because some of my line sisters have really made a difference in my life. We are still very close friends to this day. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is studying abroad – that is an experience I will never forget. It helped me grow, because it was a culture shock, when I went overseas to the Czech Republic. That was something that I had never done before. It put me in a position that I was really uncomfortable with, which is a part of life anyway. In this world, you need a college degree, and N.C. State is a great place to get an education. I met so many people while I was there, and so many of my professors made such an impact on me and truly inspired me. I even keep in contact with some of them now. One person I have to call up even though we haven’t spoke in quite a while is Mama Thorpe. She was my go-to person while I was at N.C. State. She was somebody who, when I was down, she encouraged me. She told me she loved me when no one else did. When I was going through a time when my friends turned against me, she was always there for me. She has such an infectious spirit. I think that’s what I loved most about State…the people who made my experience like no other.”