BY TRONE DOWD
Groups of students rushed to a table located at the rear of the St. Mary Gate of Heaven Catholic Academy lunchroom. The table, filled with a variety of chocolate, funfetti, red velvet cakes, cupcakes and other baked goods was prepared by one hardworking Ozone Park teenager hoping to win the ultimate opportunity to inspire others across the country.
Sixteen-year-old Nishta Jaikarran, a former student at SMGH and a current sophomore at the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture just received news that she will be a contestant for Miss Teen New York, set to take place in January 2017. To Jaikarran, the chance at winning the upcoming competition and going on to represent the state at Miss Teen USA next June is a grand one that she didn’t see coming.
“I wasn’t expecting it really,” Jaikarran said. “I saw an ad about it and I figured okay, let’s see if I get in. When I got a call months later and I was shocked. My whole mindset changed. I said to myself, ‘this is game time! I have to start getting ready for this!’”
To Jaikarran, there’s more to winning Miss Teen New York than the spotlight. Though she was surprised to get the call, she has since translated that surprise into her drive to win for a good cause: helping other girls around the country realize their potential and their dreams.
“I want to spread the message of the importance of being confident in their own bodies and to be happy with themselves,” she explained. “To just really feel like they can be themselves and not strive to be anyone else. To just be happy with the way they are.”
In addition to the lengthy process to be a part of the competition, there is also a pretty hefty entry fee. Jaikarran says that the original plan to pay for the fee was to fundraise as instructed by the acceptance letter. But she instead took matters into her own hands.
“When I got the letter, it said just ask people for money,’” she said. “I figured ‘why don’t I work for it?’ I can do a bake sale, I can give the kids something and I can get something in return. I thought it was a good idea because I know that kids like goodies.”
She reached out to her old school and organized a day to bring in her homemade baked goods all made by the Miss Teen New York hopeful. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d use her passion for baking to fundraise towards a good cause. Jaikarran told the Queens Tribune that she began regularly participating in cancer walks in the city in sixth grade as a student at SMGH. During those three years, she would raise money selling her baked goods to other students. She said that coming back to her old school to fundraise was a no-brainer considering it has “always been supportive.”
“I’ve really enjoyed my years here,” she continued. “The teachers are so friendly, the whole school is family oriented. They have so many programs that you can get into and really just learn about yourself.”
Attending SMGH was a family tradition; all of her cousins and her younger brother are attending or have attended. Her older brother, a 22-year-old serving in the United States Navy and currently stationed in Japan, also attended SMGH and has been a huge supporter and influence in Jaikarran’s life.
“When I told my brother the news, he told me ‘don’t go for second place, go for first,’” she recalled. “‘If you don’t win, it’s fine. But keep trying until you win.’ That hit me hard because I knew if he was here he would have kept pushing me, he would have tried to push me and expose to different things. I know his support would have raised my chances at winning. He’s always been one of my big supporters and he remains one of my biggest inspirations.”
Jaikarran has been a trailblazer in the classroom. Outside of being active in her academic life, she has also been a star student. In her two years in high school so far, she has earned top honors, receiving awards in science, history and English for academic excellence. She has recently be enrolled in AP English and and Composition and looks forward to the challenge.
“English is something that I’ve always enjoyed doing,” she said. “I’m excited to start.”
As she continues to excel in school, she also remains focused on her chance to become Miss Teen New York. She hopes to get a chance to talk to people from all over the country, hearing firsthand about their hardships and getting their perspective on things and trying to help in any way she can. She also hopes to make her family proud.
“The opportunities that they give you if you win are invaluable,” Jaikarran said. “If I do win for example, I would receive a scholarship towards a college education. I would bring home something that would make my family so proud. To me, that is a wonderful thing.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly