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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt alumna Addison Hadley wins Miss United States, uses platform to advocate for low-income communities

Hadley currently works as a professional mental health counselor while also engaging in community service.
Addison Hadley poses with her Miss United States sash. (Photo courtesy of Franz Orban with The Code Creatives)

After winning the Miss United States pageant, Addison Hadley (M.Ed, M.Ed ‘23) is pursuing multiple service initiatives to improve the lives of children around the country. 

Hadley has been competing in pageants for five years. Through her experience, she has developed networks and connections to further her service efforts working with children from low-income communities. Pageants were one of her main external commitments while she pursued her dual masters degree in clinical mental health counseling and professional school counseling from Vanderbilt. 

Time at Vanderbilt

During her time at Vanderbilt, Hadley balanced full-time doctoral coursework, two jobs, 1,400 internship hours, community service and pageants. Nicole Cobb, associate professor and director of the Human Development Studies Program, taught Hadley during her M.Ed program and commended her hard work. 

“Addison has a heart full of compassion and unwavering commitment to make the world a better place,” Cobb said. “Her passion for social justice extended beyond the classroom, as she actively participated in community service, organized awareness campaigns and engaged in meaningful dialogue with her peers. She used her voice to advocate for socioeconomic equity on campus meeting with leaders across the university.”

After graduating from Vanderbilt in May 2023, Hadley moved to Denver where she currently works as a professional mental health counselor. 

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity I had at Vanderbilt to explore various different internship placements so I could really get a comprehensive look at what my career might be,” Hadley said. “It’s definitely been a learning experience to jump off the diving board into the actual life of a professional mental health counselor, but I’ve got great support from the group that I’m working with.”

Pageant journey

Hadley was crowned Miss United States on Oct. 22 in Memphis, Tennessee, but her pageant journey began five years ago. Hadley began to compete in pageants in November 2018, and she said many of the other women with whom she has competed over the years had been competing for much longer. She has won over $19,000 in scholarships from pageants, helping her to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology, debt-free. 

“I was looking for scholarships available at Middle Tennessee State University where I was getting my bachelor’s degrees at the time, and on the third or fourth page of Google, I found a link to an article about Miss MTSU,” Hadley said. “I thought to myself, I have heels, I play the piano, I could do a pageant. So I competed in that pageant, and I won that pageant. It was my first pageant, and I just kind of got hooked on them.” 

Community service is an important pillar of pageants and one about which Hadley has always been passionate. She grew up in an impoverished family, often facing food insecurity and other hardships, inspiring many of her community service initiatives. In 2018, Hadley and her cousin cofounded the Children’s Neighborhood Program at the Nashville Rescue Mission — an organization that provides resources to the homeless. This program provided in-person socioemotional lessons to children aged 6-16. 

“We would talk about things like courage and setting boundaries and how to ask for what you need,” Hadley said. “We basically wanted to bring that same kind of kind, supportive adult presence that we have received from so many people when we were children, and we wanted to transform that into a program that we could introduce to children who are navigating living unhoused.”

This program eventually transitioned into her pageant platform: Volunteer to be the Village. This program focuses on children’s rights to wellbeing and happiness. Through Volunteer to be the Village, Hadley coordinates art supply drives, clothing, backpack donations and other initiatives to rural schools or schools with typically low-income communities. Hadley had a plethora of people surrounding her during her upbringing to support her dreams — she described this group as her “village,” and she wants to provide the same support to other children. 

“It’s really important to me to use this newfound privilege in a way that builds up communities that expands those villages for children everywhere who are in situations like I was in,” Hadley said.  

Miss United States, not to be confused with Miss USA, is part of the Mrs. United States Pageant, Inc., system. This organization’s mission is to “celebrate intelligent women of all walks of life.” At the Miss United States pageant, Hadley privately interviewed with judges and competed in Evening Gown, Swimsuit and Personal Platform Promise rounds. Hadley represented Tennessee in winning Miss United States and the highest scores in the Swimsuit and Interview events.

After winning the title, Hadley got to work with drafting a proposed bill for the Tennessee legislature that advocates for the addition of folic acid to corn masa flour and corn tortilla products. Per Hadley, typically families of color and of lower socioeconomic status consume these products and therefore may be folic acid deficient, which can cause babies to be born without parts of their brain, skull or spinal cord. 

“My first goal for the year is to raise awareness and start conversations about the need for folic acid fortification and an expanded number of grains,” Hadley said. “My second goal is to make at least one child smile in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. — I’ve checked off three so far. And my last goal is…to be able to look back on this year and feel that I have been truly deserving of the opportunity that I’ve been given.”

While Hadley no longer plans to compete in pageants, she encourages younger girls to get involved in the space and immerse themselves in the opportunities pageants offer. She also emphasized taking time to enjoy the journey and not getting wrapped up in the perfectionist tendencies pageants tend to bring out of competitors. 

“The most important lesson that I’ve learned through my years of competing is it’s not really about the competition,” Hadley said. “The competition is obviously a big part of the year…, but what matters most…is the impact that you can make with the platform and the voice that you’ve been given through your title and the connections that you can use to make real, lasting change.”

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About the Contributor
Rhea Patney
Rhea Patney, Managing Editor
Rhea Patney (‘26) is majoring in medicine, health and society and communication of science and technology on the pre-med track in the College of Arts and Science. She is from St. Louis and previously served as Deputy Data Director. When not writing for The Hustler, Rhea loves reading, starting new TV shows and struggling to finish them, playing sports and watching sunsets with her friends. She can be reached at [email protected].
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