“All I could really feel was gratitude. I have worked really hard for this moment.”
Hannah Edelen is Miss Kentucky 2022.
The Covington teacher and graduate of Northern Kentucky University won the pageant’s crown in Bowling Green over the weekend and will represent the commonwealth at the Miss America pageant in Connecticut later this year.
The Springfield, Ky. native adds another significant accomplishment to her impressive resume.
“I wasn’t always able to participate in the program because of financial resources,” said Edelen, 24. “I always wanted to compete and decided to take a chance on myself a couple years ago.”
When the crown was placed on her head at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, “I couldn’t help but think about all the people who really helped me to where I am today,” she said.
The unlikely journey to pageant queen and sought-after teacher began in a troubled household in a small Kentucky city where her mother’s battle with a brain tumor and her father’s disability led to financial and domestic strife.
“My brother and I, we saw a lot of how that affected their livelihood and well-being,” said Edelen. “It really hurt us growing up, and we had our own challenges.”
Looking for something new, Edelen decided to head north to attend Northern Kentucky University where she won election as president of the student body and became her family’s first member to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Through the program Teach for America, Edelen took an alternative path to becoming a certified teacher and taught sixth grade at Holmes Middle School in Covington after previously serving as an instructional assistant at Covington Independent Public Schools.
Now she has a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky where she is continuing her education, working towards a Ph.D.
She is also currently a candidate for the Covington board of education in the November election this year.
And though pageants are widely known for fancy gowns, sashes and make-up, for Edelen, Miss Kentucky is also an opportunity to extend her work in education.
The Miss Kentucky pageant is, after all, a scholarship program.
As part of the program, contestants make a “pitch”, and Edelen outlined the program Read Ready Kentucky, a literacy effort encouraging young learners to take up books. (A similar effort exists as a city initiative in Covington as ‘Read Ready Covington.) At Miss America, Edelen will expand her pitch as Read Ready America.
And while education is her professional and pageant focus, Edelen’s knack for clogging also boosted her score in the talent portion of the evening.
“I’m hoping for my students that they see this as an example of how to look at their own life,” Edelen said. “A lot of our students have a lot of adversities. All throughout my time at Covington, I always told my kids to never let their environment define who they are or what their future will look like, but to define it themselves.”
She became emotional thinking about her students in talking to LINK nky about her win. Edelen hopes that by sharing her personal story of overcoming obstacles and adversity in her early life and then succeeding as a student and professional inspires others.
“Someone like me who came from small town Kentucky to be on a national stage and what that kind of narrative says for all kids across Kentucky, I’m fully aware of societal barriers we have in place that restrict kids from accessing certain spaces and I think it’s so important that we have representation of young people who have overcome obstacles,” she said.
Edelen wrapped up her final year with Covington schools this month and has fielded offers from other districts and businesses. But for the next year, she will serve as Miss Kentucky, a full-time job which includes promoting the Kentucky Proud state program that certifies products made in the commonwealth.
It’s a position that other women wanted, but Edelen said that those competitors on stage with her over the weekend bonded closely and supported one another, even though only one would wear the crown.
“Oftentimes, when we think of pageantry, we think these women were cut from these perfect lives, and that’s just not true,” she said. “I think this past Miss Kentucky class that I competed with were just shining examples of female empowerment, through and through. I had the most amazing week with the most encouraging women.
“It brings joy to my heart to see the smiles on their faces in support of me. When I turned around and looked at the girls, it was just a really special moment for me.”
Edelen is also a children’s book author and in March published Hank the Horse and the Case of the Missing Eggs, a tale about information literacy. Her second book is titled Hank the Horse and Kentucky Proud which will be a story about Kentucky agriculture.