Persistence pays off: Miss Mississippi Vivian O’Neal shares thoughts on win

Published 9:49 pm Sunday, June 18, 2023

Vivian O’Neal was on the fence about entering the Miss Mississippi Competition for the fifth time, but it’s a good thing she gave it another shot.

The Hattiesburg native was crowned Miss Mississippi 2023 last weekend. O’Neal said it was a combination of things that kept her coming back.

“It’s the incredible women I am surrounded by each and every year, the friendships I’ve made and the scholarships I have earned. I have a master’s in higher education that has been paid for by the Miss Mississippi Organization,” she said. “I also credit so many of my accomplishments to this organization and the skills it gave me. And I am just so thankful to be here and it’s those things, it’s the people, it’s those experiences that kept me coming back.”

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In vying for the title, O’Neal said she reminded herself that whatever happened was meant to be.

“One thing this year, specifically, that I really tried to focus on was reminding myself that I could fall out of every turn, I could bomb my onstage question, but if God intended for me to be Miss Mississippi 2023 there is nothing, I could do to stop that from happening,” she said.

But on the flip side, she said, even if her performance was flawless and she was not supposed to be Miss Mississippi 2023, there was nothing she could do to change that either.

“Just resting in that and my preparation and knowing that God has a plan regardless of what happens was what was bringing me comfort at that moment,” O’Neal said, of being one of two delegates left before being crowned

Ironically, Miss Leaf River Valley Neely Robertson, who was named first runner-up to Miss Mississippi, had been O’Neal’s roommate throughout the week of competition.

Right before the winner was announced, O’Neal and Robertson could be seen whispering to one another on stage and when asked what they were talking about, O’Neal said they were recalling a story Miss Mississippi head hostess Mary Beth Grogan-White had shared with them.

“The night before, Miss Mary Beth, who is our head hostess told us the story about Taryn Foshee (Miss Mississippi 2006) and her roommate,” O’Neal said.

Grogan-White had shared with the delegates how that was the last time roommates had been Miss Mississippi and first runner-up.

“That story was fresh on our minds, and we were talking about that at that moment and how special it was for us to spend that week together and get close,” O’Neal said.

Also on her mind was the possibility she may become Miss Mississippi.

“This is one of those things where you always think that this could happen. I’ve worked really hard and I’m capable of making this happen, but you never think it is going to come to fruition. That thought had crossed my mind and I knew it was a possibility, but it still didn’t feel like it would be real,” she said.

O’Neal began her journey with the Miss Mississippi organization competing in the Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen competition.

As a dancer, she said she has always loved performing and the competitions gave her that opportunity.  For this year’s Miss Mississippi competition, O’Neal performed a high-energy dance routine to “I Want to Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston.

As Miss Mississippi, O’Neal said she plans to continue to promote her service initiative CapABLE, which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower students to embrace their differences and bridge the gap between students with disabilities and students without disabilities through education. And she is hopeful that one day, CapABLE will become a nationally recognized non-profit organization that she can run.

In the midst of serving her state, O’Neal will also be preparing for the Miss America Competition.

“I plan to just continue to do the things I do in my everyday life — fitness was already a part of my life, dancing was already a part of my life for talent, and interviewing. I was a recruiter for USM (University of Southern Mississippi) so I’m used to public speaking and interviewing people and being interviewed. So honestly, I think the job roles I have had up until this point in my life have prepared me in a really unique way (for the Miss America Competition) and so I am excited to expand upon that preparation even more,” she said.

O’Neal added that she will also have an “incredible prep team” that will also be helping her prepare.

“I am really excited to begin working with them. They have done an incredible job with the Miss Mississippis that have come before me, so I am in good hands,” she said.