Twenty girls gathered at the First Parish Church on Meetinghouse Hill last Saturday (May 10) to participate in Dorchester’s traditional Little Miss and Young Miss Dorchester contests. They were there to reflect on what makes their community special, and ultimately, to compete for a spot in the Dorchester Day Parade.
One by one, the girls stood in front of an audience of proud family members and friends to answer questions about themselves and about what they think makes their community special. From nice neighbors, to ice cream at Savin Scoop, to sledding on Savin Hill — each had their own idea of what makes Dorchester great.
Gina Cruz, 12, won the title for the Young Miss category. She was joined by First Runner-up Brianna Sapienza, 12, and Second Runner-up MaryEllen Tevnan, also 12.
Cruz said this year was her second shot at the competition. When the judges announced her name, “At first it felt surprising,” she said, “but then it just felt really good.”
Eleanor Moye-Gibbons, 9, won first place in the Little Miss category. Along with her, Sarah McDonnell, 9, won First Runner-up, and Grace Foley, 8, Second Runner-up.
In her speech, Eleanor Moye-Gibbons said her favorite place in Dorchester is her kitchen, the place, “where my family most connects”—and also, she added, the place where birthday cakes get baked.
After the event, Moye-Gibbons, who was competing for her third year in a row, said she thought she had performed well. But, she said, “It was hard expressing what you like about Dorchester in just 50 words.”
Moye-Gibbons was joined by her mother, Jenny Moye, at the event.
“I think the experience is a lot of fun for her. From the contest to the parade,” she said.
Vivian Hoang, 11, who was competing in the event for her second time, said she too had a fun time preparing for the contest.
“My friends supported me, with luck and hope,” Hoang said. It’s always been her dream to be in the Dorchester Day Parade.
Lucille Heffernan, 8, and Josephine Bailey, 10, were also awarded for their outstanding essays written as a part of their applications for the contest.
After a 15-minute intermission for the judges to confer behind closed doors, each contestant received a medal and a pink carnation—and then the winners were announced. The contestants competed in two categories: Little Miss, for girls between ages 7 and 9, and Young Miss, for girls between 10 and 12.
The Little Miss Dorchester Contest is a community event that has been taking place for more than 60 years now. Annissa Essaibi George, who has been organizing the event for over a decade, said both she and her sister participated in the event when they were young.
“It’s a cool piece of our Dorchester history that continues today. Dorchester being a big place, it’s still an old school feel of a good neighborhood event,” she said.
The contest for the Young Miss age group, however, is a newer addition. It was added in 2010 to allow girls to compete even after they outgrow the 9-year age limit. After all, competitors who might not win on their first attempt are encouraged to return to try again, year after year.
And, said Essaibi George, having the older girls participate adds something special to the event. “They’re mature. They can speak more about what they feel about Dorchester.”
Whether official winners or not, said Essaibi George, the event is great for all the girls who participate. “It gives kids an opportunity to public speak. Often times you don’t really do much public speaking until much older. I think it’s fantastic to get them on stage.”
“Kids that you think normally might not be able to get up in front of a group of people and talk, do—and they do it fabulously,” she added.
Those involved with the contest are quick to point out that—despite the connotations of the name—the Little Miss/Young Miss contest is not a traditional pageant. Essaibi George explained the judges decide winners based on “stage presence and charisma.” And, she said, girls come dressed in “all sorts of attire,” from “pretty fluffy dresses” to “khakis or sports uniforms.”
Moye-Gibbons and her mother affirmed this sentiment. “It’s not a beauty event, it’s a community event,” said Moye.