Ponte Vedra Beach native Leila Sabet was recently crowned Miss Tallahassee 2018 at the Miss America Organization’s annual Miss Tallahassee Scholarship Pageant, held March 24 at Florida A&M University’s Lee Hall Auditorium.
One of seven total contestants, Sabet won the private interview and swimsuit segments of the competition, and also received awards for having the highest ticket and program book advertisement sales. A graduate of Ponte Vedra High School, Sabet attributes her love and appreciation for pageantry to her time as a Shark.
“My first pageant ever was actually the Miss Ponte Vedra High School pageant, and that pageant kind of opened my eyes to what pageantry actually is,” the 22-year-old said. “I had this misconception where I honestly thought that I couldn’t be the kind of person that would compete in pageants. I didn’t know much about it. … But after competing in that pageant, I won, and I really got the ‘pageant bug.’”
Following her first foray into the pageant world, Sabet said she learned pageantry could be much more than just a crown and a sash, and ultimately decided to get involved with the Miss America Organization.
“What I love about the Miss America Organization is it’s the No. 1 provider of scholarships for education for women in the world, and I’ve gained a lot of scholarship money from being a part of the Miss America Organization,” Sabet said. “I paid for my school myself, and because of the Miss America Organization, I’ve been able to continue my education and enhance my academic skills.”
Indeed, with her recent win, Sabet earned not only the title of Miss Tallahassee, but also a $1,000 scholarship. Currently a senior at Florida State University, she is studying psychology and advanced leadership studies, with hopes of pursuing a career in people operations and management.
“With psychology, my focus is industrial and organizational psychology,” Sabet said. “So, it’s more the people side of things, understanding behaviors, strengths and skills, and assessing those and placing employees in the proper areas of a company.”
In the meantime, while she completes her undergraduate education, Sabet has chosen to utilize her new title to help “create a future free from heart disease.” Inspired by her father’s struggles with the illness, Sabet founded START4URHeart, a program that aims to raise awareness about heart disease and the importance of forming healthy habits early on in life.
“The title and the crown give you a voice and a platform for people to listen to you, and to pay attention and hear what you have to say,” she explained. “With this title, I have been able to speak to a lot of different people through schools, different organizations and especially on campus in different clubs, and I’m able to spread awareness about the prevalence of heart disease—it’s the No. 1 killer in the nation over all cancers combined. So, that’s an issue that’s really important to me because it directly affects my family, and through this organization, I can make a difference in the communities that I am in.”
June 27-30, Sabet will compete for the title of Miss Florida in Lakeland. For the talent portion of the competition, she will be dancing to the same song she danced to in her very first pageant: “What’s a Girl Gotta Do?” by Basement Jaxx.
“I wanted to go back to my roots and where it all started, so it’s just kind of nostalgic for me,” she said. “I took three years off from competing in pageants, and now that I’m back, I really want to be completely, authentically and genuinely myself, so I’m doing the same talent song and I’m really excited.”
As she begins to prepare for the next level of the competition, Sabet said she has been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement she continues to receive from folks back home.
“I feel so much support and love from the Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville community, and it means so much to me,” she said. “It motivates me and keeps me going, so I just want them to know how grateful and thankful I am. Especially because it’s my hometown, it’s very fulfilling, my heart is warmed, and I feel so loved.”