Stephanie Deleon’s journey of bridging advocacy and pageantry started with a poster outside of her piano studio after practice.
It was an advertisement for what would become her first experience competing in a pageant.
“I told her, ‘You already have the talent, so why not try?’” Stephanie’s mom, Clarita Deleon, explains.
At 10 years old, much older than the age most girls start getting involved in pageants, Stephanie Deleon came in second place at her first competition.
Today, Deleon, a freshman and film and media studies major at ASU, holds multiple state titles, is preparing to compete for a national title with the Miss America Organization and is an active advocate in the community, standing up for depression and suicide prevention.
Her involvement in pageantry goes far beyond the stereotypes of girls dressed in swimsuits with fake eyelashes in a fog of hairspray. Deleon’s platform, For a Brighter Day, has shaped her into a role model in the community and brought her across the state spreading messages of positivity and self-love to middle and elementary school students.
“After losing my 15-year-old cousin to suicide and helping friends through their struggles with depression, it’s a subject I am very passionate about,” Deleon says.
Deleon says her personal experience battling anxiety has also informed the work she does for her platform. “I want to show people that no matter what you have going on in your personal life, you still have the power to advocate for something that is important to you and be an example of someone making a difference,” she says.
After attending multiple forums to learn suicide prevention tactics designed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, grieving the loss of her cousin and aiding friends in seeking medical attention for mental health concerns, Deleon says she is able to provide crucial information to her peers in an approachable way.
She regularly visits elementary and middle schools to give presentations about her personal experience, facts and statistics regarding depression and suicide and how to seek help. At the end of every presentation, Deleon gives out her personal phone number and email.
The interactions she has with the students after the presentations give meaning to her efforts, Deleon says. “It is just really heartbreaking because they are so young and they don’t feel like their emotions are being validated by others,” she explains. “It’s touching for me that I can have an impact on their lives.”
While awards and accolades are not her primary objective, Deleon’s efforts have not gone unnoticed in the community.
In 2017, she was nominated and awarded the Brilliant, Beautiful and Bold Role Model Award by the Girls Rule Foundation, which included a $500 scholarship to further her dreams and a year of success and leadership mentorship.
Chosen among over 50 other applicants, Deleon says the award gave her an opportunity to empower and support others through her organization. Girls Rule Foundation, which seeks to help girls to achieve their dreams, celebrates four girls who are role models in their community every year with the prestigious award.
Deleon says she talks regularly over the phone with her mentors, Girls Rule Foundation volunteers Laurie Sliva and Lori Severson, whom she was paired with as part of the award.
“It is like having another set of mothers I can go to for help in my career and personal life,” Deleon says. “They have helped guide me through this really transformative time in my life.”
Sliva, who is president of the executive board of directors, says they discussed one of the 12 leadership principles and how they apply to their dreams and goals throughout the program.
In addition to helping Deleon navigate the journey to reaching her goals, Sliva says she connects her with other opportunities within the Girls Rule Foundation, including speaking at their monthly summits and an internship Deleon accepted with the foundation.
Her drive to effect change is radiated through her ambitious goals and optimistic disposition, Sliva says.
“She really embodies this optimism and joy — she just has such a joyful energy that comes through in her smile and you know it is very genuine,” Sliva says. “There is no doubt in my mind that she is going to change the world with her passion to help others.”
Deleon says she plans to develop her platform, For a Brighter Day, into a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.
While she dedicates a lot of time to her platform and preparation for upcoming competitions, often driving several hours to attend events and give presentations, Deleon doesn’t lose sight of the present.
She is enjoying her time as a college freshman by being active in her sorority, Kappa Delta, and pursuing her passion for film.
With so much on her plate, she says the “joy of helping others” keeps her motivated. “I want to reach out to other people to make their days better and help them realize they have a purpose, so if I can do one thing every day to help another person, I feel like I am making a difference.”