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Keeseville resident Yamuna Turco is Miss Vermont 2023

Keeseville resident Yamuna Turco is Miss Vermont 2023

Jun. 3—KEESEVILLE — A black mustang convertible, emblazoned with Miss Vermont and Miss Vermont’s Teen, is not lost on the west bank of Lake Champlain.

It means Miss Vermont 2023, Yamuna Turco, is visiting her family’s Keeseville farm, Manzini, ‘Place of Water’ in Zulu.

“That’s apparently something that no one expected,” she said.

“I do get asked about it pretty frequently, so I made a post on the Instagram about it, with me and some of the cows. People don’t expect people to live on farms in real life a lot of the time.”

The Manzini herd fluctuates between 150 and 250 cows — Angus, Herefords and Black Baldies.

“They kind of roam around and eat the grass and just get to hang out,” she said.

FARM GIRL TO PAGEANT MISS

The crowning went down on April 16 at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe, Vt.

Yamuna, Class of 2025, is studying psychology and political science at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt.

She is the daughter of SUNY Plattsburgh adjunct lecturer, Dr. Marco Turco, and assistant professor, Dr. Portia Allie-Turco, and big sister of Graziella Turco, a Plattsburgh High School sophomore.

“Yamuna is an Indian name, and I’m not from India,” she said.

“But my dad lived on and off there for several years. It’s the holy river that flows behind the Taj Mahal, the goddess protecting the river. But also the Taj Mahal was a tomb built for Mumtaz (Empress consort of the Mughal Empire). He (The Fifth Mughal Emperor: Shah Jahan 1592 — 1666) built it for her when she died as this enduring symbol of love, so he can make sure he kept adoring her and kept her presence constant. It’s a symbol of love and endurance. Yamuna.”

MISS GREEN MOUNTAINS

Yamuna’s pageant saga began a year ago, when she heard about the Miss Vermont Scholarship Organization Inc. from a college mate, who competed, and reached out to Darcy Fisher, executive, director of the organization, which is affiliated with the Miss America Organization.

“They focus on education, and that’s all aspects not just college,” she said.

“You can go to tech school. I decided I’ll like to do it because one, why not? It’s a brand new experience. I get to meet so many new people. I can get a scholarship if I place or if I win.”

In September, she became a local title holder, Miss Green Mountains.

“In Vermont, I don’t have to compete in a local competition,” she said.

“I basically said I wanted to do this. I picked a title based on my location. So, I was Miss Green Mountains. I live in the Green Mountains in Colchester. I began my Community Service Initiative (CSI), which is called ‘One Book, One Child.’ I collect books, and I donate them to schools, community centers, and libraries.”

Yamuna came up with the whole concept and pitched it to her parents, who thought it was a good idea.

“Books have always been important to me,” she said.

“I love reading. My parents really encouraged that love of reading and education in me. From there, I began developing this Community Service Initiative.”

PHASES PREP

In January 2023, Yamuna locked into competition mode.

“There are different phases,” she said.

“We have an interview, which is nine minutes with just us and the judges. So, I did a mock interview with that. They look over the resume that I submitted, which talks about my scholastic achievements, kind of my volunteering, my CSI statement, which talks about my service project. So I did the mock interview, and they go over different questions that they can ask me.”

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For her talent portion, she sang a “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.

“So, I really began practicing that this January,” she said.

“Then we have a fitness portion, which is kind of like modeling. It’s more a confidence thing. You get to pick really the premise of the outfit you wear. It’s more about how you feel presenting yourself. You just strike a few poses. You do a little walk to music.”

The music is selected by the organization, and Yamuna wore sneakers and leggings. Others wore leggings and a T-shirt or leggings and a tank top.

“Then, we have the onstage question portion,” she said.

“That is about your Community Service Initiative. We cannot prepare for that. We just go onstage, and they ask us a question. That is about 30 seconds. It’s very short. Then, we have the gown portion. Interview and gown are my favorite parts because interview is a conversation, and then gown, I get to wear a beautiful dress and feel beautiful and present myself in this way.”

Yamuna wore a blue-beaded gown at the Stowe event.

“Then after that, we have crowning, and crowning comes with different awards that people can win,” she said.

“So, you can win People’s Choice. There’s outside scholarships that you can also win. Then, we go into the Top Five. So five names are called at random if you were picked, and then the next is in order. and how they announce you’ve won, they do not announce your name.

“So the other delegate that competed with me that was first-runner up, Malia Smith (Miss Chittenden County). She goes to Champlain College. We were standing next to each other talking. It felt like 10 minutes, but in reality it was 30 seconds. They called her name, and that’s how I found out I won. I did not hear my name, and that’s how I knew I won.”

IN SHOCK

Yamuna said every single photograph of her from that point on, her mouth is open.

“For five minutes,” she said.

“I am in shock. Completely. I would say the first week was absolutely a whirlwind just finding my footing in this whole new experience. I had an exam the next day. I had to take a psych exam. Overall, it’s been a great experience. I’ve got to meet so many people.”

Yamuna has visited several different schools so far, and will continue to do so during her year of service.

“I expand my CSI,” she said.

“So we’re basically trying to take it all across Vermont and not just in my area. I have been to schools in Middlebury. I have been to schools in Fairfax. I’m going to another school in Vergennes. Really trying to just get the program going, obviously, on a larger scale.”

During her reign, her goal is to visit Vermont’s 180 libraries, donate books, give talks, access reading programs to get kids into libraries, sign up for library cards, check out books.

FACETIME

Yamuna’s duties include her CSI, promote the Miss Vermont Scholarship Organization, and make appearances at events, parades, festivals.

“For the Fourth of July weekend, I’m in Brandon, Montpelier and Stowe, which is three days in a row,” she said.

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“It’s really just engaging with people and finding different ways to support the different communities in Vermont,” she said.

“I think it was a great experience to have. I’ve never competed in a competition prior to this in this way at this level at all. And, I think it was a great experience, not just in terms of the connections that you make but the confidence to go onstage and present yourself in a way that you want to, the way that fits how you are, and your personality.”

The opportunity to win scholarship funds is pretty incredible.

“I won $7,000 toward college,” she said.

“That goes directly to my college, and then I go to compete at Miss America in January, yet to be determined where, in 2024. I think the first two weeks in January.”

Yes, take that in. Yamuna, Miss Vermont 2023, will compete in the 2024 Miss America contest.

“It was my first time competing,” she said.

“It was my first time trying something like this. I’ve performed in plays, musicals, and various singing capacities, but I’ve never done something that is solely based on something I cannot dictate. I’ve no clue what the judges wanted, and I’m Miss Vermont for 2023.”

Yamuna was born March 25, 2003 at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh.

Her parents, immigrated to the United States from South Africa.

“We were up at the Miner Institute,” she said.

“Then, we moved to Essex. Then, we moved to Keeseville.”

Being a first-generation American was one of the factors that influenced her CSI choice.

“My parents really solidified for me the importance or reading and also education,” she said.

“My mother is a first-generation college student. She wants me to have the opportunities that she had to fight extra hard to have. I want a child to be able to have those gateways and those opportunities to see themselves reflected in different stories, in different books, but also realizing that there’s not one type of book that works for everyone. So seeing yourself reflected in different stories can help you connect with the world around you, connect with your family, but also connect with your story as an individual I would say.”

Yamuna is in a process of working with a vocal coach to narrow down songs for her to sing at the Miss America competition.

Contestants are now called delegates, and the Teen delegates and the Miss delegates will compete during the same January cycle.

“It’s about leadership skills, the quality of your character, your skills and things you have, so this is the shift that is being made,” she said.

“The distinction of the Miss America Organization is that it’s a scholarship organization, and it’s one of the largest scholarship organizations for young women in the world. Once you get to the national level, there’s scholarships for women in STEM, for women in marketing, branding, volunteering.”

SURREAL

After winning Miss Vermont on Sunday, April 16, Yamuna woke up the next day.

“I looked over at my desk, and I saw the crown sitting there, I was like oh my goodness. Oh, my goodness,” she said.

“It is my crown. I do get to keep it and the sash.”

Stepping to the national level, her goal is to make everything bigger and solidify it.

“I will probably have my song picked in early June,” she said.

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“To practice singing it because you want to build the muscle and the strength in your voice. I’m going to pick a gown sometime soon as well. I’m very excited about that.”

The Miss Vermont Organization has a sponsor in Warwick, Rhode Island.

“I have my first official photo shoot in June. I will have a makeup artist and clothes are picked,” she said.

“I have traditional Hausa clothing that I would like to take pictures in. At the very least, earrings and a necklace.

“So my dad works currently in northern Ghana. At the university, which he works with, they actually are making me a dress, like hand-making me a dress. That’s just a whole level of connection. I’ve never met these people, and they’re doing this incredible kind thing for me and they supported me.”

SUMMER

This summer, Yamuna is a student-worker at St. Michael’s College.

“I got through finals okay,” she said.

“Everything went well. I had a great semester, I think. I did keep it on the low. I didn’t really tell everyone. I did until like two days in, and then people started saying things. The day after, no one noticed or said anything. I did reach out to my professors though. I was like, ‘I’m just letting you know, because this weekend was a lot. It was all over, and this will effectively change my life.’ And, it has. People have been very nice, at school, in public. People are curious, and I’m more than happy to answer a question.”

TWO MISSES

Miss Teen Vermont 2023, Ginger Ragaishis of Manchester, Vt., will dedicate her next year to raising awareness about hidden disabilities.

“We’re both excited and ready for this new opportunity,” Yamuna said.

“We’ve met up a couple of times at different events together. Our Community Service Initiatives are near each other, but not completely overlapping all the time, so we bounce ideas off of each other and kind of give each other different platforms. The goal is to support each other and help make our year great.”

Vermont is the only state to have never made it to the top 15 in Miss America.

“And, I’m going to change that. I have to manifest it,” she said.

“I’m the third Black woman to be Miss Vermont, and I’m the first-generation American to be Miss Vermont. We’ve not had that many women of color. Last year’s Miss Vermont, Alexina Federhen, was the first Latino woman to be Miss Vermont. It was nice to have that connection that she crowned me.

“It was also the first time that there were two Black women who were the final two in Miss Vermont history. So, it was Malia and me.

“We made it onto the Instagram, Black Girls In Pageants, and that’s how we knew that we did it. She’s from Atlanta. To compete in Vermont, you have to live in Vermont, work in Vermont or go to school in Vermont.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter@RobinCaudell

  • June 3, 2023