by Latoya Burnham
From the time Shaquwn Thomas strode purposefully to the microphone at last weekend’s Mr. and Miss Parkinson Pageant, she declared outright that she was ready to be crowned.
When her best friend Christopher Alleyne, 17, made his own introductions, he too alerted the crowd to the fact that he would see them at the end when he walked away with the coveted titles.
They both did. But for Christopher, despite confidence and a solid showing, it still came as a surprise.
“It was really a surprise. I was there watching all the other guys go up for trophies…,” he said, as his friend joined in, “and we were like not getting anything. It happened to both of us that we did not get anything, but my mom said we got the best of it all,” Shaquwn, 15, laughed.
Shaquwn still speaks with a lilt of her Guyana hometown accent, and when she introduced herself, she was sure to inform the audience of her proud origins. She entered the competition because she loves modelling and pageants and saw this one as another stepping stone toward her dream of turning modelling into a profession. Christopher entered because it was his last year at school and well, this was his last opportunity to try something different.
Sitting in the office of Principal Jeff Broomes, we chat and laugh a bit before the start of the interview when they both glance with a slight squint and ask “with or without sashes”.
The bright yellow sashes, along with Shaquwn’s tiara are the official symbols that here sit the king and queen of this school, so we decide to don the emblems of their honours.
Despite having entered pageants before, this is Shaquwn’s first successful outcome, having placed third in a school competition back home in Guyana. She is careful in her speech and selects each word carefully, while the confident Christopher is not above lapsing into a little Bajan here and there as his words roll quickly off his tongue. These two are comfortable together. In fact, they confide that they helped each other throughout the competition, as any set of best friends would.
“We had some late modelling classes, a lot of rehearsals that finished very late and a boot camp. It [the boot camp] was 24 hours where we slept here at the school and we went on a hike, and the night before that we had team-building exercises,” said Chris, noting that more than anything this camp brought the group together as a unit.
“I never liked anything like hiking so that was really difficult for me,” confided Shaquwn.
“From then [the entire group] started working as one team, helping each other with areas we were having difficulties with,” her king stated, as she agreed, “Yeah, I learnt a lot about teamwork.
“I am usually very independent but after this I learnt that we do need to depend on someone sometimes and that others can give you a helping hand, so I learnt a lot,” she said.
And the learning experience was beneficial for both because the organising committee paired the contestants and created “pair projects” where each couple would come up with an idea for an area of the school that they through needed improvements and execute that plan.
Shaquwn’s project was the beautification of the cafeteria, which she and her partner repainted and introduced a healthy menu, while Christopher and his partner chose the main staircase to the teachers’ rooms and cleaned and repainted that.
“We kind of helped each other out with that, even though we weren’t paired together,” said Christopher, glancing at Shaquwn for confirmation.
“Yeah, he helped me get the paint and I helped him out in other areas,” she rejoined.
They noted that it gave them a particular sense of pride to have been able to contribute in a tangible way to the physical improvement of the school, though for both, winning was figuratively speaking – the cherry on the cake.
It was confirmation of what Shaquwn knew she could achieve but still had a little niggling doubt would come; true and for Christopher it was the ultimate farewell.
“Besides dat, basically shopping fuh my outfit [was the highlight],” laughed Christopher who donned a black Italian suit in his formal wear segment of the competition and left the females in the audience screaming when he graced the stage in the fitted suit and shades to match.
Shaquwn still smiles when she thinks about the modelling aspects of the show. Beyond her own crowning, getting to strut her stuff in the casual and evening gown sections made the experience even more worthwhile.
What they both found difficult was the Q&A segment, which gave most of the ten contestants a challenge. Both admitted that it required quite a bit of thought and they could feel the pressure of the crowd as they took a moment to digest the questions and come up with the appropriate response.
“You had to think a lot and put the brains to work,” Shaquwn nodded as she recalled how tough it was.
“Yeah we were able to prepare fuh de questions, but then you had nerves kicking in and de fear… De nerves got to a lot o’ people,” said Christopher.
“For me I was supporting the other girls and telling them yes we can make it, we just have to focus and listen to the questions. We were just asking each other questions and trying to work out how we would answer, trying to be helpful to one another,” Shaquwn said.
Christopher, who was probably one of the calmer respondents in the section, remarked that he does quite a bit of public speaking that came in handy during the Q&A.
Now the two have tasted victory, it has opened up an area for Christopher that he never thought he’d be interested in, while Shaquwn has taken to the win like a proverbial duck to water.
She said: “It has brought me that one step closer to my dream of becoming a model and doing different pageants that I can’t wait to explore. I tell myself if I keep pushing and keep doing what I came to do that I would be successful.”
“For me it means all my hard work paid off and while having the modelling classes, all my friends said Chris you like you could make a good model, and I started thinking about it. So it might be something I will look at doing,” said Christopher, who after school this year will take on his newest challenge, getting the additional subjects he needs to go onto university to study meteorology.
Shaquwn still has another year or two that she will spend helping others in the future pageants to achieve her success, while she continues her march to the proverbial runway. firstname.lastname@example.org