When St. John’s Taylor Clark was crowned Miss Kansas 2021 on July 10, it was, in one sense, a culmination of many years of hard work and learning. In another sense, it was just the first step of hopefully a lifetime of helping young people reach their own potentials as others helped her.
Clark has been part of the Miss Kansas organization since early childhood. Her parents helped her get involved in what is now known as the Sunflower Mentoring Program at the age of 5. The program allows youth ages 5 through 12 to be mentored by Miss Kansas, Miss Kansas’ Outstanding Teen and Outstanding Teen candidates or Miss Kansas candidates.
Clark said she was inspired in several areas of her own life by the Miss Kansas candidate who mentored her as a youth.
“It’s really exciting getting to see her walk down the runway,” Clark said. “She had a heart for service and she was a really kind individual, and really the service aspect and the talent aspect are two things that really kept me involved.”
After being in that program through the age of 12, she participated in the Miss KSOT program through the age of 18, before graduating from St. John High School in 2018. As part of the teen program, Clark took the title of Miss Kansas Outstanding Teen in 2017.
After taking a year off to focus on her schooling at K-State, she re-entered competition during her sophomore year.
Earlier this year, Clark competed in, and won, the local title of Miss Augusta, allowing her to move on to the Miss Kansas competition last week.
Far from the images some hold of pageant life and pageant competitors, Clark said the Miss Kansas/Miss America programs are, first and foremost, scholarship organizations, providing opportunities for growth, empowerment, and community service for many young women. The modern pageant puts much more focus on-stage interviews, education, and social impact.
“We’re seeing what the modern woman looks like on stage,” Clark said.
Being involved in the program, she said, also helped her grow as a public speaker as well as stoking a passion for public service.
As the Miss Kansas title holder, Clark will go on to compete at the Miss America pageant at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut in early December, with a throng of family and community members to cheer her on.
Outside of that, her upcoming year as Miss Kansas will include numerous appearances and participating in several service projects throughout the state, working with several state organizations to do many different types of educational presentations.
“I’ll get to work with (people across the state( and learn about networking, and build connections that will help me not only now as Miss Kansas, but in my future career,” she said.
One thing she is most looking forward to as Miss Kansas, though, is the opportunity to go into schools and share her own passions with school children across this state.
“This is going to give me firsthand experience as to what it’s working like with children day to day,” she said.
For her, this is more than just a duty of Miss Kansas, its the start of what she hopes is her life’s work.
A life’s calling
Clark’s family has resided in Stafford County for seven generations. Those roots were instrumental as she pursued her goal of winning the Miss Kansas title.
“I couldn’t have done it without the community and everyone rallying together,” Clark said. “Really all across the board, people have been super supportive, that’s been great because it definitely takes a village (to succeed).”
She said community members have not only offered supportive messages, but have been actively involved in helping out her pursuit in several capacities, including promotion, training, fitness routines and more.
Clark’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all teachers in the area, so early on, she said, they instilled in her a strong value in the educational experience, particularly in the area of the arts. She knew from an early age she wanted to be a teacher.
Along with teaching, she soon also found a passion for music while playing drums for her middle and high school bands. Play in honor bands in middle school and high school around people who shared her passion for music help cement her career path.
“I just knew I wanted to keep music in my life forever,” she said.
She started taking lessons with local music teacher Kurtis Koch, and her passion for music continued to grow from there.
“He was really a driving supporter that helped me get to where I am today,” Clark said.
After high school, she headed to K-State to pursue a degree in music education with a certification in K-12 band, choir and orchestra. She sees music education as an opportunity to pursue both of her passions, playing music and influencing the lives of young people through teaching.
Being involved in the Miss Kansas organization also provided Clark opportunities to explore these passions, and given her a platform to share that passion with others.
While at the competition, shared her musical talent with the audience through a drum solo, as well as campaigning for broad music education for all as part of her social impact initiative as a Miss Kansas candidate.
“Music connects everyone in the community, everyone in that music classroom is an important part of the team, (where) everyone contributes,” she said. “Music is great for healing purposes for those who are sick or hurting.
“It’s also a great way to bring communities together to open up diverse conversation, and really get into issues that are dividing our country. but music can bring us together and find similarities amongst everyone.”
With the competitions she has won this year, Clark has received over already received more than $10,000 in scholarships toward her own education.
After taking a year off to fulfill duties as Miss Kansas 2021, Clark will have one more year of school to complete.
After that, she plans to pursue a career as a high school band and choir teacher. She said she would like to return to the Golden Belt area where her own family has put down roots for so long.
“It’s (important), staying here and continuing to contribute to this community, because it’s contributed and poured into me so many times year after year,” she said.