In 2012, Jessica Casebolt took the stage at University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts and made audiences swoon with her rendition of the song “Superstar” as part of the talent competition for Miss Kentucky.
On May 13, 2017, the Pikeville native crossed another stage, and though there was no singing involved, she still proved to be quite the superstar, graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in economics and globalization and international affairs and as an Honors Scholar.
Casebolt first became interested in pageants during high school, when she learned of the scholarship opportunities. A first-generation college-student, she made education a top priority at a young age. “I have always been a passionate student, and completing my education became a goal as soon as I learned what college was.”
Before she began pageantry, however, Casebolt wasn’t sure how to achieve that goal. “In addition to the college application and ACT test, many students like myself find they must complete an additional level of the admissions test: negotiating the means of financing their degree,” she explained.
Upon learning that the Miss America was the largest scholarship organization for women in the world, Casebolt decided to enter her first pageant, a decision that changed her life.
A student at Pikeville High School, Casebolt entered the Miss Kentucky Junior Teen pageant in 2008, where she was named second runner up. She went on to win the volunteer service, talent, top model, photogenic, casual wear and spokesmodel awards at the Miss Kentucky Teen Pageant in 2009, and placed fourth runner-up in the Miss Kentucky Teen USA 2010 pageant.
Her shining moment, however, was her capture of the Miss Kentucky 2012 title. She would later go on to place in the top 16 of the Miss American pageant in 2013. Casebolt reflected on her Miss Kentucky win as life-changing. “It is no overstatement,” she said, “to say that my year as Miss Kentucky was the best year of my life to date.”
Boasting a platform of heart health awareness, Casebolt spent her reigning year driving more than 40,000 miles across the Commonwealth to speak at schools, conventions, and even on national television, advocating for the American Heart Association and encouraging people to live their best lives.
Perhaps the greatest takeaway, though, was the $15,000 scholarship that Casebolt used to attend EKU, in addition to a full-tuition scholarship from the University. Her lifelong dream of completing her education was finally obtainable. “The impact of my Miss Kentucky scholarship has been immense,” she declared, “and I genuinely can’t imagine how I might have achieved the goal of graduating from EKU had I not been blessed with this gift.”
It was that decision to use her pageant winnings to attend EKU that enabled her to become the capable business woman she is today. Like many students, Casebolt spent her freshman year jumping from major to major, trying to find the best fit, when she found herself in Dr. Fred Ruppel’s “Economic Issues” class.
“It didn’t take long for Dr. Ruppel’s contagious enthusiasm to catch on. I felt like he was giving me a look behind the curtain of how the world works. He’s been such a source of encouragement throughout my college experience, and I hope to continue a close relationship for years to come.”
Casebolt also expressed gratitude for the Honors Program. “I loved being in a community of deep thinkers who are each working toward answers to problems that cover the academic spectrum. I also am thankful for the opportunity to pursue my own line of research. I felt like the Honors Program allowed me to tailor my academic experience around my interests resulting in many positive externalities in the process.”
Casebolt is looking for a position in corporate finance in the Nashville, Tennessee, area. She also plans to return to school within the next five years to obtain a master’s degree in business administration.
Though her time as a Colonel is up, Casebolt said that she will always look back on EKU as the place where she found her passion. Her simple decision to enter the Miss Kentucky pageant five years ago led to her places greater than she ever imagined, and she couldn’t be more grateful.
She advised future students to be wary of always following the beaten path. “Be open to new experiences, go for big goals, and let life surprise you with how wonderful it can be.”
-- by Yasmin White, Student Writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management