Miss Tennessee 2016
Grace Burgess was awarded the opportunity of a lifetime when she was crowned Miss Tennessee on June 18, 2016, at the Carl Perkins Civic Center in Jackson, Tennessee. As the newly crowned Miss Tennessee, Kirkland’s Inc. sponsors Grace as she serves as Governor Haslam’s Official Spokesperson for Character Education and travels over 80,000 miles speaking to 50,000 schoolchildren about Character Education. Throughout her year of travels, Grace also serves as Tennessee’s Goodwill Ambassador for the five Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals across the state. She also holds positions as an Official Spokesperson for Governor Haslam’s Books From Birth Foundation, Official Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Board Intern and as Volunteer Tennessee’s Honorary Board Chair.
Grace is a senior at The University of Memphis pursuing a Bachelor of Professional Studies Degree in Child Development with a minor in Psychology. At U of M, Grace has been on the Dean’s List, is a recipient of the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship, and is a member of The National Society of Leadership and Success. She was one of 50 students awarded the U of M Emerging Leaders Scholarship, and received the Alpha Gamma Delta “Strive For Pi” award. For her outstanding leadership and service, Grace was recently selected from the entire student body to receive the U of M President’s Leadership Recognition Award for Distinguished Service.
Grace has been awarded over $37,000 in college scholarships from her participation in the Miss America program! She received the coveted Miss Tennessee Quality of Life Award 2016, was the First Runner Up to the CMN Miracle Maker Award in 2015 and 2016, achieved the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal, and was a Preliminary Talent Winner this year as she captured the Miss Tennessee crown. Thanks to these scholarships from the Miss Tennessee and Miss America Organizations, Grace will be able to graduate debt-free and go on to pursue a Master’s degree!
For the past six years, Grace has been dedicated to promoting and fundraising for childhood literacy through her “Ready, Set, Read!” program. She has raised over $11,000 for multiple childhood literacy organizations by developing her own original fundraisers such as “Lollipops for Literacy,” “Ballerinas Balance Books,” “Locked Up For Literacy,” and a “For The Love of Literacy Luncheon.” Those fundraising efforts have enabled her to purchase, collect and donate over 5,000 new and used books to children across the state of Tennessee!
For her efforts in childhood literacy, Grace was one of seven Miss America state titleholders who was named a Jean Bartel Quality of Life Finalist and was recognized at the Official Miss America Arrival Ceremony in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Grace has also received a Gubernatorial Proclamation from Governor Bill Haslam declaring March 2, 2015 as “Read Across America Day” in Tennessee, a Daily Point of Light Award from President George W. Bush, and President Obama’s Gold Level Presidential Volunteer Service Award.
Grace is a National Spokesperson for Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) and has served as a RIF Coordinator for the implementation of her statewide Books For Ownership Program. Grace is now partnering with RIF to lobby Tennessee’s U.S. Congressional leaders about childhood literacy challenges facing our schools. Her program established a new library in Memphis College Prep Elementary School, and created “Grace’s Reading Spaces” in many elementary school classrooms, which were filled with donated books and completed with bookshelves which she personally refurbished and assembled.
In addition, Grace is the Official Spokesperson for the Tennessee Reading Association and has been a keynote speaker and volunteer for the association’s Annual Conference. Grace also works diligently as Governor Haslam’s Spokesperson for the Books From Birth Foundation and Dolly Parton’s Tennessee Imagination Library, that provides books to children once a month from birth to age five. To date, Tennessee children have received over 26 million books! Grace volunteered every week for a year in her local Memphis chapter assisting with these mass mailings of books to registered children. Grace is also an advocate for Tennessee’s First Lady, Chrissie Haslam’s Read20 program that encourages families to read together for at least 20 minutes a day. These precious minutes together promote bonding time and a love for reading.
Grace already has a passion for reading books, and has spent countless hours sharing her love for reading in classrooms all over the West Tennessee area. She coordinated “Read Across the Mid-South” week in conjunction with Read Across America, and has personally read aloud to over 4,500 children. In order to ensure the legacy of literacy in the Memphis and Mid-South region, Grace established the inaugural Mid-South Literacy Council comprised of middle school and high school aged students in Shelby and Tipton Counties. This council provides leadership opportunities for young people and allows them to be proactive in the education process. As Grace travels the state as Governor Haslam’s Character Education spokesperson, she will be coordinating book drives in advance of selected appearances by developing an online toolkit for Ready, Set, Read!, which can be followed through her social media platforms and the website she developed: www.readtn.net.
Pursuing a career as a Child Life Specialist in the hospital setting, Grace is also a state spokesperson for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. She is an advocate for the West Tennessee STEM Hub, and will help launch STEM programs in several Tennessee counties this year. Grace is the author of a children’s book promoting STEM education titled YES, Girls Can! that encourages girls to pursue their dreams in any field, and proceeds from the sale of the book go toward literacy initiatives. Grace also introduced a Girl Scout STEM patch, and founded a “Secret Scientist” program at Tipton Rosemark Academy.
Over the past two years, Grace has raised over $20,000 for Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) Hospitals through the establishment of an annual Miracle Miles 5K and four “Miracle Jeans Day” fundraisers. She has traveled to each of the five CMN hospitals across the state of Tennessee. During these visits, Grace reads to the children who are patients, and has donated over 1,000 brand new books to CMN Hospitals through her “Miracle Book Drive.” She worked with CMN representatives to recognize Lucy Krull, Tennessee’s Champion Child. Grace is a trained LeBonheur Child Life Volunteer who has logged an average of three hours a week working directly with patients, and has been hands-on with patients in LeBonheur’s Reach Out And Read program. For her efforts, Grace was honored by Governor Haslam with a Day of Recognition for her service and also received two mayoral proclamations.
In addition to her fundraising efforts for CMN, Grace has volunteered for Dairy Queen’s CMN Miracle Treat Day, IHOP’s CMN National Pancake Day, and Queen/Superhero for a Day events for the past few years. Grace volunteered by participating in the opening of Speedway Gas Stations with proceeds going to CMN, as well as volunteering for Nashville’s Channel 5 Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital CMN Telethon and Sundae With Friends events.
Grace traveled to Atlantic City in September 2016 to compete for the title of Miss America and placed in the Top Ten. In addition to being named a Quality of Life Finalist, Grace won a Talent Preliminary Award for Tennessee for the first time in thirty years at the Miss America Pageant. Grace is honored, humbled and blessed to have the unique opportunity to be a role model and mentor to thousands of students across the state of Tennessee.