Less than 48 hours after being crowned Miss Texas 2023 on July 1, Ellie Breaux ('23) found herself in a seemingly unlikely place given her circumstance: seated in a classroom at UNT's Business Leadership Building.
With a pair of marketing capstone courses to complete this summer, Breaux -- who celebrated commencement in May and spent the past year as the reigning Miss Tarrant County prior to winning the state title -- hardly had time to catch her breath following the pageant victory before continuing her studies.
Upon returning to campus, "I felt like a normal student until somebody looked at me funny and said, 'Didn't you just win Miss Texas?,' and I was like, 'Yeah, I did,'" she recalled this week during a brief break in her schedule, which has been packed as of late with media interviews, photo shoots and public appearances.
As Miss Texas, 22-year-old Breaux, who was a member of the North Texas Dancers for three years, will compete for the Miss America 2024 title. She is the latest in a line of UNT students and alumni who have graced high-profile pageant stages. Phyllis George took the Miss America crown in 1971; Shirley Cothran Barret ('73, '74 M.Ed) won Miss America in 1975; and R'Bonney Gabriel ('18) was named Miss Universe earlier this year.
Cothran Barret was onstage at the Miss Texas pageant and congratulated Breaux on her win.
"She grabbed my arms and we were exchanging words. I could just feel her energy, like, 'You have to go get Miss America,'" Breaux says. "It was a plea, like, 'Please go follow in my footsteps.'"
A Houston native, Breaux says her time and experiences at UNT have readied her to represent the Lone Star State. On the dance team, she served as an ambassador for the university and now she's taking on a similar role for Texas. And UNT's campus environment has prepared her for connecting with the state's diverse population.
"Learning how to talk to different people and be comfortable with people from a variety of backgrounds is something that I learned at this school," Breaux says.
She first became involved with pageants through the North Texas Dancers after coach Brittani McLaurin shared an email with Breaux about the competitions that award scholarship dollars to winning contestants.
"Ellie is someone who says yes abundantly. She has that go-getter mentality. She does not want to miss an opportunity to be able to be her best self," McLaurin says, adding that Breaux brought "a bright light and true transparency" to the North Texas Dancers program. "I'm just beyond excited of the woman that she's become."
Competing in her first-ever pageant in 2020, Breaux won the Miss Keller title. The following year, she claimed the Miss Park Cities crown and in 2022 became Miss Tarrant County. She has competed three times for the Miss Texas title and was fourth runner-up at last year's pageant.
Having won more than $20,000 in scholarships at the Miss Texas 2023 pageant, she says she may use the funds in the future to pursue a master's degree in mass communication.
Beaux also models professionally for companies including Plano-based Varsity Spirit, retailer Terry Costa and fashion designer Sherri Hill.
At the recent Miss Texas pageant, she wore the same sparkling red one-shouldered dress that she donned during her first run at the title in 2021. This time around, she won both the evening gown competition and the talent competition, in which she performed a dance-and-rhythmic gymnastics routine.
"When you think about other states' pageants, some of them only have 15 or 20 girls competing. Texas had 57 girls competing, so we are bigger than the Miss America pageant in numbers. To represent Texas is right on track to represent America," she says. "All of those girls tried just as hard as me to win the crown. I just was the lucky one who walked out with it. It is a huge honor."
Breaux says she intends to use the Miss Texas platform to do something bigger than herself.
The daughter of a law enforcement officer, she calls her social initiative "Cops in the Community." It aims to help people of all ages better understand police officers, and for police officers to understand their communities.
"When that happens, we are moving into a safer society," Breaux says. "We need to understand each other and have those uncomfortable conversations to heal those relationships and grow."
As Miss Texas, she plans to continue working in partnership with an organization called Patrol Stories, which teaches safety lessons to elementary school students throughout the state.
"Once we educate the youth, the future is bright."