PALM HARBOR — They told her not to talk about it.
As she prepared for medical school interviews, some of her premed advisors at the University of Miami told Victoria Humphrey to speak of her grades, her goals and her Ivy League summer research internship in New York City.
But they didn't tell the Palm Harbor resident to talk about tiaras and sashes and congeniality and makeup.
Maybe because they didn't realize pageants go beyond all those trite stereotypes.
Fortunately, Humphrey went against that advice. Instead of hiding her involvement in the Miss America Scholarship program, the Palm Harbor University High School graduate made it a big part of her applications.
Instead of using, as she says, a "selfie shot in a dark room," she went with a photo of her wearing a sparkly crown.
And it worked.
"I can't tell you how many people were fascinated," said Humphrey, 23. "They had never met someone involved in pageants. They had never received a professional headshot.
"It made me personable. Medical education is so book heavy, so scholastic, but doctors deal with people. If you don't have people skills, you're not going to be successful."
Humphrey eventually earned acceptance to five medical schools: Pittsburgh, Case Western, Virginia, Cincinnati and Tulane. She will start med school at Pitt in the fall.
Unless she is Miss Florida.
When 48 preliminary pageant winners from across Florida start competing in the 81st Miss Florida Scholarship Pageant on Sunday in Lakeland, Humphrey will join four other contenders from the Tampa Bay area: Rachel Smith (Miss Florida Gator) and Austi Critchfield (Miss St. Petersburg) of Clearwater, Olivia Butler (Miss Pasco County) of Tampa and Morgan Boykin (Miss Tampa) of Thonotosassa.
Humphrey reigns as Miss Winter Park, her fourth title since she became Miss University of Miami in 2011 as a freshman at UM. In the years since she first entered the world of pageants, Humphrey also has won the Miss Coral Gables and the Miss Pasco County Fair titles.
But so much more has transpired in her life since earning that first title.
She's earned scholastic honors, studied abroad in Italy, rappelled down a 19-story Miami skyscraper (twice), developed an organization to back her platform (Apples 4 Education) and graduated summa cum laude from UM with a bachelors of science in biology and religious studies.
She's also cherished the love of her mother Leisha — a flight attendant who raised her as a single parent — and endured the loss of her father in 2015.
All and all, a lifetime of memories in five short years.
"I have a much better idea of who I am as a person," Humphrey said. "I'm more mature, more experienced. I have a better idea of what strengths I bring to the table."
And clearly one of her strengths involves defying what people may think of a pageant contestant. Or a medical school student.
"When I go into classrooms to talk to young girls about education and seizing their opportunities, sometimes they look at me like I'm crazy because I'm wearing a sparkly crown and wearing high heels," Humphrey said. "They see I'm Miss Winter Park and then I tell them I'm going to be a doctor.
"Just because I compete, that doesn't mean I'm not multifaceted. One of the best parts of the job is shattering the stereotypes."
What Humphrey and so many others in the Miss America program tell us is one thing: it's okay to play along with the judge during the pageant, but it's not okay to prejudge before the pageant.
That's all I'm saying.