Some may say it was her destiny.

Her mother was a Miss Mississippi contestant, her father has been an avid pageant supporter for years, and she has had her own turns in the pageant world before — serving as a princess, winning the Miss Mississippi Outstanding Teen title in 2013 and being selected as first runner-up in last year’s state pageant.

Miss Mississippi 2017 Anne Elizabeth Buys / Photo by Susan McCarty for Miss Mississippi Corporation

Miss Mississippi Anne Elizabeth Buys is like everyone’s old friend. Ever humble, she has a genuine personality that shines as big and as bright as her smile. Even with the pageant passion flowing through her blood, she by no means assumed this would be her year to win the
state title.

Buys was competing as Miss Vicksburg in the state pageant in Vicksburg in July, and while incredibly proud to be representing her hometown, the odds were stacked against her. A Miss Vicksburg had not been named Miss Mississippi since Karen Hopson in 1981. Also a Vicksburg native, Hopson, too, had strong family ties to the pageant world.

“I tell people this a lot, but as the Top 10 were standing there on stage and the winners were being called, I just took a second to look out in the audience, and all I saw was familiar faces,” said the 21-year-old. “It was such an amazing moment to see people who I call family. This community has had my back from the start and has been so supportive through every aspect.”

The support continued into the days and months following the pageant, particularly during the short nine weeks until she would represent the state in the Miss America Pageant. During that time, Buys spent her time balancing appearances around the state with daily preparation for Atlantic City and the national pageant.

“In the final weeks before Miss America, every minute is accounted for,” Buys said in late August, just days before leaving for New Jersey. “I’ve been going to alterations for final fittings every other day, rehearsing my talent to ensure it’s the best it can be, working out every day to keep up my physical fitness. All of that mixed with watching the news, going to interviews, discussing the hot topics, a mixture of all of that throughout the day. Time-management skills have really been put to the test for sure.

“For me, the most challenging part of preparing for the national competition is handling both your appearances and prep work,” she said. “You want to be the best Miss Mississippi you can be and go to appearances, but at the same time you want to be sure you’re doing everything you can and making the most of your time getting ready before Miss America.”

Buys rides in the historic shoe parade prior to competing in Miss America. / Photo by Susan McCarty for Miss Mississippi Corporation

Another challenging part of pageant preparation is the not-so-simple act of packing for three events every day for two weeks.

“It really tests your organization skills,” she said. “Knowing that you will be expected to wear three different outfits along with cowgirl boots canada each day with your photo taken in each one, wardrobe is a complicated thing. You have to think about how to get all of this out there, and then when you leave the hotel each day, you don’t come back before the competition nights, so you have to know exactly what you need for the entire day.”

That is when support comes in handy, and Buys was fortunate enough to have a team behind her to help her stay organized, stay focused and stay humble.

Buys during the interview portion of Miss America / Photo by Susan McCarty for Miss Mississippi Corporation

From the moment she arrived in Atlantic City, the Mississippi delegation of family, friends and fans grew by the day, reaching more than 80 for the final night of competition. Waving signs, wearing T-shirts, buttons and cheering louder than even some of the larger states, the group was a force to be reckoned with and a constant reminder to Buys that Mississippi was behind her.

A servant’s heart has carried Buys through the process as a winner, and not just in the competitive sense. Each day, and especially while in Atlantic City, she made it a point to count her blessings and remember that she represents Mississippi in all aspects.

“The welcome ceremony was the second night we were there on the Atlantic City boardwalk,” she recalled after her return from Atlantic City. “One by one, each contestant introduces herself and gets to sign on our state on a big map of the United States. That was the moment that was so surreal to me in the fact that I was the ambassador for Mississippi. It was incredible.”

From that moment on, Buys tried to savor every moment of the two weeks, knowing they’d pass fleetingly and, regardless of the outcome, this would all soon be a memory.

“Every experience there was so amazing to me. It went by so fast, but I really tried to step back and take in every moment to remember it,” she said. “Right before the first night of competition, I was on the stage, and they were singing the National Anthem. I remember standing there thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m about to be able to achieve what I’ve been working for for so very long. I’m about to compete in Miss America.’ It was so rewarding to be on that stage. It was more incredible than I could have ever dreamed.”

Anne Elizabeth Buys on the Miss America stage / Photo by Susan McCarty for Miss Mississippi Corporation

Although Buys did not bring home the Miss America crown, she said she would not have changed a thing about her experience.

“I have no regrets about any aspect or area of competition. I am a Christian, and I fully surrendered to God’s plan and God’s timing. I was at peace. I knew whatever happened was all in God’s plan. Of course, there’s a little disappointment, but it was more rewarding to know that it was God’s will,” she said.

Buys also walked away from the experience with some wonderful new friendships, a kinship shared among many of the competitors.

“Everyone told me before I went to really embrace the opportunity to get to know these girls and form friendships. You don’t even know what it means to really embrace that until you’re actually there. We were constantly laughing, constantly having a great time; you never would have known we were competing against one another,” she said.

Three of the Top Five — including Miss North Dakota Cara Mund who took the Miss America crown — were in Buys’ competition group.

“I got to know them all so well, and I was so genuinely proud of them as they were announced,” she said. “My best friend there was Jennifer Davis, Miss Missouri, who actually was named first runner-up. We were attached at the hip the whole time for two weeks. We still keep in touch. We had the best time together.”

Buys said the judges absolutely made the right choice in naming Mund Miss America.

“She is an amazing young woman — so intelligent and so extremely accomplished. She will be a wonderful representative for our Miss America class,” she said.

When the live night of competition ended, Buys was ecstatic to be able to see all of her family and friends, whom she had seen only shortly during the week. The reunion was short, however, because the dreaded chore of packing up was still ahead.

“I had packed up most of my room earlier in the day, but going to Atlantic City we had to ship my wardrobe, so of course we had to pack it back up to ship it home,” she said. “We had three trunks and five huge rolling suitcases that we had to get down to the lobby at 2 a.m. It was hectic.”

The next day, Buys was scheduled to fly home at 1 p.m., but Hurricane Maria was battering Florida and altering travel plans up and down the East Coast.

Buys with her family during the Miss America pageant week / Photo by Susan McCarty for Miss Mississippi Corporation

“We slept for about three hours before it was time to catch the bus to the airport in Philadelphia. Once on the plane they announced that we were not able to land in Atlanta due to all the air traffic and weather, so they diverted us to Knoxville, Tennessee,” she said. “When we finally landed in Knoxville, it was two and a half hours before we could get off the plane, and then we had to run through the pouring rain on the tarmac to get inside the airport.”

So eager to finally get home, Buys and her family rented a minivan and drove nearly eight hours back to Vicksburg in the rain.

“It was insane — my parents, my three over-6-foot-tall brothers and me all in a minivan. Honestly, looking back, I am so thankful for that. It was the first time in a long time that I was in a car with my family. It was an enclosed space, and there was nothing I could do but finally relax. We took it easy, and I slept. It was one of those stories we’ll always remember, I think,” she said.

These days, Buys is spending her time traveling across the state, speaking at events and promoting her platform, Water for Life.

“The appearances are nonstop, and I love it. I’ve been in a different town almost every day. I’m constantly on the road, but it’s great knowing I get to serve Mississippi and make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “From schools to Batson’s Children’s Hospital to nursing homes and community groups, it’s so humbling. I feel like my purpose is to bring a brighter day to people. I’m so excited for what the rest of this year holds.”

After her reign is over this summer, Buys will return to Starkville for her final year at Mississippi State University, where she’s studying to be a sports broadcaster.

Buys walks across the Miss America stage. / Photo by Susan McCarty for Miss Mississippi Corporation

It’s a career path that the pageant life has prepared her for in many ways — from the poise and professionalism to the public speaking and interview portions of the competition.

“I’ve never been one to be scared to voice my opinion. I believe in individuality and that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That’s the beautiful thing about living in America,” Buys said. “Of course, I hate that some things could offend people, but I try to never deliver things in a way that could be offensive. I really want to show love in all aspects of my life.”

And to those who meet her, that is exactly what she does through that big smile and even bigger heart.

Elizabeth Grey

Elizabeth Grey is a native of Hattiesburg. She grew up writing short stories for fun and turned that passion into a degree in journalism from the University of Southern Mississippi. After college, Elizabeth took a features writing position with The Vicksburg Post, and, eventually, her role shifted to education and news writer, as well as copy editor. Her work has been recognized by The Associated Press and the Mississippi Press Association. She's covered everything from pageants and celebrity appearances to school board meetings and elections, but her heart belongs to feature writing and old-fashioned storytelling. Elizabeth has lived in the Capitol City since 2007 and works in media relations and communications for the Mississippi State Department of Health. She contributes regularly to The ’Sip as a writer and associate editor.