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Empowering pageantry: La Jolla Country Day student is crowned Miss American Teen

Jenna Rain Hernandez, an incoming senior at La Jolla Country Day School, is the 2020 Miss American Teen pageant winner.
(Courtesy)

A La Jolla Country Day School student has won the title of Miss American Teen 2020 and plans to use her victory to help empower young minority women in her community.

“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Jenna Rain Hernandez, a 17-year-old incoming senior at La Jolla Country Day, said of her winning the pageant, which took place July 26 in Miami.

Jenna Rain, who lives on the Barona Reservation near Lakeside, said she was crowned winner after two days of competition, shortened from the normal week-long schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The national pageant was the next step after Jenna Rain was selected to represent first Southern California and then California in a series of virtual events (normally in person) that began with submitting a headshot, transcripts, a list of extracurricular activities and an application letter.

The Miss American Teen pageant aims to provide a “great pageantry experience for the modern girl on her way to success,” according to its website.

Miss American Teen “looks for a very well-rounded female,” Jenna Rain said, citing her array of interests as fitting the bill. In addition to honor roll grades, she has competed with her school’s cross country team, played lacrosse for nine years, started a local nonprofit and danced ballet, among other pursuits.

“I do a lot of different things,” she said. “I like to challenge myself. Encompassing all of that really helps.”

This was the first pageant for Jenna Rain, who said she was inspired to enter after seeing an Instagram post about it.

Intending to enter the military after high school, “if was there was any time to try [a pageant], it would be now, to challenge myself differently,” she said.

“The actual pageant is very different from anything I’m used to,” Jenna Rain said, adding that she “really gained a lot of information when we had our preparation day.”

“You’re supposed to exude confidence,” she said. “Leading up to it, knowing that there are some things girls are going to have a one-up on me, they’re going to know how to walk … talk … I watched the girl ahead of me, I watched the girl after me.”

One surprise of the pageant process was the camaraderie among the contestants, Jenna Rain said. “I thought girls were going to be really ruthless and very competitive,” she said. “Backstage, it’s all smiles and positive feedback. Everyone is just as nervous as you are. It surprised me how easily I was able to make friends with people from a bunch of different states.”

Jenna Rain Hernandez plans to use her Miss American Teen win to help empower young minority women.
Jenna Rain Hernandez plans to use her Miss American Teen win to help empower young minority women.
(Courtesy)

She said that experience fits with what she called a Miss American Teen pageant focus: uplifting women’s movements. The pageant asked each entrant to choose a small, local women’s movement to help, and she selected the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, which seeks to raise awareness about violence that indigenous women face throughout the United States and Canada.

“Being a Native American, knowing it’s a big issue, I know I want to do work to help that,” she said. “Right now, I’m participating in smaller protests.”

To further elevate young women in her community, Jenna Rain started a nonprofit in 2018 called Vaqueras Lacrosse, which is open to elementary through high school girls.

“We teach young girls how to play lacrosse ... [and] give them extracurricular activities, teach them leadership [and] sportsmanship skills,” Jenna Rain said.

“I’m grateful and blessed to be able to go to [La Jolla] Country Day,” she said, but other girls who live on the reservation often “don’t participate in extracurriculars” due to access problems and other constraints.

“I am big into leadership,” Jenna Rain said. “I think that’s going to help me anywhere I go. I’m good at delegating and being inspiring.”

With leadership experience as captain of her cross country and track teams, president of her Fellowship of Christian Athletes club and a leader in a student diversity leadership committee, “I really try to get myself in a position to help other people,” she said.

As the reigning Miss American Teen, Jenna Rain anticipates involvement in other efforts to empower women. She’s been invited to participate as a speaker at an Aug. 26 rally presented by La Jolla Country Day to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “It’s something that I care about. Girls bringing up girls is something I’m really into.”

Jenna Rain also looks forward to her hoped-for entrance into the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland after high school. She’s a child of two graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., to which she also will apply.

“I really want to serve in the military; my parents [brought] me up in a mentality to perform my best and to try to be the best version of myself I can be.”

For more information about Vaqueras Lacrosse, visit vaqueraslax.org.

For more information about the Miss American Teen pageant, go to missamericanteeninternational.com.