In the Nebraska History Museum’s Miss America exhibit are telling artifacts from Patrick Henry College sophomore Teresa Scanlan’s last seven years of life: the beaded white gown she wore at age seventeen, when she became the youngest Miss America since 1937; the jelly-strap shoes she wore to pageants at age thirteen, and a bouquet of duct tape flowers from an Ohio duct tape festival. s
But as local politicians lauded her beauty and potential, Scanlan wrestled with conflicted thoughts about the price of success.
Is my whole life going to have to be trying to fill this museum with more accomplishments? she wondered. I don’t want to live another day if I’m constantly striving to reach the next rung on the ladder.
As she began to transition from national celebrity to Patrick Henry College college freshman, post-traumatic stress began to set in. The pressure of maintaining her public life by traveling most weekends while balancing the rigorous academic demands at Patrick Henry College brought Scanlan to a crisis point.
To maintain her grades, she pulled eight all-nighters in her first fall semester and two more in the spring. With every test and paper, she fought an overwhelming fear of letting everybody down.
“For the first part of the year, I had been … trying to handle everything myself, and it got worse and worse,” Scanlan recalls. “The depression was really bad, and the anxiety got horrible … Every week this past year, I was thinking of quitting.”
In March of 2013, midway through her second semester, she talked about her depression to her parents and reached out for help. For the first time in two years, she realized she had friends she could trust and that she needed to rely on God and the community of believers.
“I’ve opened up about things this past year that I never, never had, to anybody,” Scanlan said. “There’s something about [the Patrick Henry College] community that fosters that: there’s no judgment, there’s help, support, and encouragement … March [of 2013] was the very lowest point of my life, and I’m grateful to God to say it’s been uphill from there.” Last fall she decided to take a semester off and “tie up loose ends” so that she could focus on school in the spring. During that semester she pursued her physical trainer certification, took Croatian and piano, and fulfilled a number of traveling and speaking engagements.
She also invested in another passion—Haiti. In March of 2012, Scanlan’s Croatian uncle invited Teresa to serve at the orphanage he had founded in Haiti.
“I thought, ‘I’ll go there for a week, help with this fundraiser, and be done,’” she said. “Instead I went down there and it completely changed my life … and I came back incredibly on fire.” She stayed two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s and met forty-six kids housed at the orphanage, ranging from ages one to 16. “You fall in love with every single one,” she said.
Last December, Scanlan and her three sisters were able to go back to Haiti together. They also received 501(c)3 status for their Haiti-focused charity, Hearts Inside Out. The charity focuses on supporting the orphan ministries that she and her sisters have visited and helped families with adoption costs.
Her spring 2014 semester at Patrick Henry College has brought a number of changes, and in some ways, a fresh start. She has moved on campus, slowed her travel schedule to focus more on school, and rediscovered her discipline for daily spiritual refreshment. “I’m slowly learning to slow down, to relax, and to stop worrying and stressing. I’m starting to learn to trust God more and more each day,” she said.
“It’s so encouraging to say to the Lord, ‘I’m clay in Your hands, and I’m going to do whatever You wish for me.’ I’m no longer going to try to keep achieving and achieving for the sake of praise, accolades, and not disappointing other people,” Scanlan said.
“People may be disappointed if I graduate Patrick Henry College and don’t go to law school and instead decide to be a missionary in Haiti—which I’m actually strongly considering at this point. And they might say, ‘You could have been President’ and ‘You could have done this,’ but I’m finally realizing that all that matters is that I please my God.”