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Pageant serves as a platform

Shazia Siddiqi is proving by example that being deaf doesn't need to stand in the way of achieving a dream. A student in Dartmouth's master's of public health (M.P.H.) program, she was recently crowned Miss Deaf California. Not that being a pageant contestant was a childhood dream for Siddiqi. Her excitement stems from her plan to use the position to improve health care for the deaf community.

Dartmouth M.P.H. student Shazia Siddiqi—second from the right, in the gold sash and tiara—was recently crowned Miss Deaf California.

Friends told her about the pageant three years ago. "I wanted to promote healthy habits in the deaf community," she says. "There is no monetary reward" that goes with the title, Siddiqi adds, "but I get to show others that anything is possible, encourage my platform, and have fun doing it."

Over winter break in January, Siddiqi participated in a jampacked, four-day schedule, starting with workshops and rehearsals and ending with the pageant. Though the contestants promenaded in evening gowns, there was no swimsuit competition and the focus was on talent. Siddiqi made a three-minute presentation urging deaf people to take care of their health.

She was "surprised and dazed" when she won the state title. She credits the M.P.H. program with giving her the knowledge and skills to do so. "During the interviews, the judges asked me what I wanted to change at the government level," says Siddiqi. "I went on and on about improving the health-care system for disabled people and quoted materials from my classes." In the classroom, she uses sign language interpreters to follow lectures and discussions.

In July, she'll travel to Kansas City, Mo., to compete for the Miss Deaf America title. If she wins, she'll go on several speaking tours to promote her platform and serve as a positive role model, especially for deaf children. But while she's encouraging others to reach their goals, Siddiqi has one of her own: to become an M.D. She's waiting to hear from several medical schools, including her first choice—Dartmouth.

Laura Jean Whitcomb

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