University of Mississippi Parade of Beauties winner educates the community about dyslexia

Lily Grace Duce
Oxford Stories

Tupelo native Helen McDougald is a lifelong pageant girl who is hoping to use her platform about dyslexia and the arts to influence the University of Mississippi and Oxford communities.

McDougald, 19, is the first true freshman to ever win the UM Parade of Beauties pageant, and she also broke the six-year brunette streak.

She recalled her early days as a young 8-year-old entering the pageant world not knowing what to expect, but she was sure of her early love for the stage. 

“Dance, show choir, and pageants were my whole life growing up,” said McDougald, who attended Tupelo Christian Preparatory School and Tupelo High School, where she was highly involved with her school’s dance team and show choir.

“I wanted to switch to Tupelo High school to be a part of show choir because it is a big part of the foundation the school was built on,” she said.

While still involved in school, she competed across the state in Miss USA- and Miss America-sponsored pageants. 

Ole Miss was an easy choice for McDougald. Family tradition is something she values, and she comes from a long line of Rebels. She entered Ole Miss as a nursing and allied health major and hopes to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner.

Her mother, a former beauty queen, is a huge inspiration to her daughter, and she wanted to carry on that legacy. She did that in more ways than one. McDougald not only shares a pageant bond with her mother, but she is also carrying on the legacy of Alpha Delta Pi. 

“As a young child, she was eager to put on her ballet shoes, but she would just as quickly throw on her mud boots,” her mother, Rebecca McDougald, said. “She’s used her years in pageants as an outlet to try new things and share what she’s passionate about on a stage.”

As a young child who struggled with a learning disability, McDougald faced obstacles.

“Growing up, I was teased by some of the other girls, which is why I found myself with more guy friends,” she said. “It wasn’t until high school when I was able to get deeply involved with the arts that I made friends who truly got me.

“My whole platform is raising awareness for dyslexia, and since there is no cure, we can only hope and pray that, eventually, we figure out better ways to treat it.”

She said she has raised over $10,000 for Tupelo Rehabilitation Center and advocates for young adults who struggle the same way she does. 

When McDougald entered college, it was important that she have a strong support system through her university that she could rely on for her academic needs. She is very passionate about finding ways to help people with learning disabilities, so having a place to turn was vital.

“I think a lot of people forget that when you get older, you still have learning disabilities, so I’m hoping to bring more awareness to the university and Oxford communities through promoting the SDS center and the Student Disability Office,” she said. “College is hard and it’s very difficult with a disability.”

As a student who struggles with dyslexia, McDougald said she has to put in extra study hours and dedicate a lot of time to her courses. She has utilized the SDS office and its resources to aid her while she navigates her first year of college. She credits a lot of her academic success to the offices.

“The staff is eager to help with any need and has been able to help me through many of my academic struggles” she says “I feel strongly about promoting our student disability resources because of how much they are able to truly help.”

The Oxford art scene is made up of many new and young creative minds. McDougald has contributed in her own way by forging a new path for herself. As a freshman, it is difficult to make an impact so quickly.

“I hope to bring more of a media presence to the arts on campus,” she said “There is a large population of students who love to go to the Ford Center and watch productions, but I feel it should be publicized more and made more of a priority.”

McDougald said she was intimidated by the older girls who were competing in the campus pageant, but she let her talents shine.

“I wasn’t even going to do it,” she said. “I paid a late entry fee in order to compete. I remember walking in and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. They’re all so pretty.’”

She hopes this will prove that, “No matter your age or interests, you can do anything you set your heart to.”

After winning, she was welcomed into the Ole Miss community, but said she still faced criticism. Though some had negative opinions, she said she was doing what she loved, and it allowed her to show her art form.

“After I competed in the pageant, I started to realize this is a huge thing here on campus,” she said “I always thought it was just football and baseball that took precedence, but there’s a whole world within Ole Miss that gets overshadowed by common SEC school activities.” 

As a lifelong resident of Mississippi, McDougald said, “The arts don’t really change. They just modify in a way. We continue to elect the same people into office with the same views, and I think it’s time for some change in reference to the creative minds within the state.” 

The young minds that make up our artistic future will contribute to the maturity of the Oxford arts scene. Young adults like McDougald have the power to impact the community through their artistic passions.

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