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A year ago, as Jonet Nichelle stood on stage as a finalist of the Miss Connecticut Pageant, she was filled with disbelief. Nichelle was in a position, a moment away from capturing the state crown and heading to Miss America, she had never thought was possible.

Jonet Nichelle will compete in Miss Connecticut next month.

Jonet Nichelle

“There was a tremendous level of preparation that went into last year’s pageant,” said Nichelle. “I entered the pageant with a very open mind, knowing this was my first Miss Connecticut and that I was one of the youngest contestants, I never expected to find myself amongst the final contestants.”

Nichelle, a Post University junior, ended up finishing as the state’s first runner-up, second only to 2015 Miss Connecticut Colleen Ward.

“It was such an amazing experience and an unforgettable moment,” she said. “It started to sink in when I heard my name called as a top-five finisher. I remember thinking when it was all over how much I hoped to be back on that stage.”

Next month, Nichelle will be back.

After winning the Miss Stamford 2016 Competition, Nichelle has again qualified for the Miss Connecticut pageant, and a chance to claim the state crown.  The bright lights and the stage will be the same in 2016, but in a way, this time around, everything will be different.

“A lot has changed in my life over the past year,” she said. “There has been positive change and negative change, but all of it has shaped me into where I am at this very moment,” she said.

The most significant change came earlier this year, when Nichelle lost her grandfather, and one of her biggest supporters, to cancer. After mourning his loss, Nichelle has used his memory as a motivating factor, in hopes of honoring him through her hard work and dedication.

“Losing my grandfather has been extremely hard, she said. “But his loss has made me want to compete even harder and fight for every opportunity I have.”

This led to Nichelle’s increased dedication to her personal pageant platform over the past year. Each Miss Connecticut contestant must have a platform, or a cause that they choose to volunteer their time towards. As a Human Services major at Post, Nichelle chose to put her education to work by volunteering to guide and mentor Waterbury’s at risk youth. Nichelle worked with children in Department of Children and Families (DCF) custody, foster care and with incarcerated youths.

“Working with the at risk youths in the Waterbury afterschool program has been life changing,” she said. “I knew before I started my platform that after college I wanted to become a DCF case worker and better the lives of those around me, but this experience has cemented my passion.”

As Nichelle prepares for the upcoming pageant, she has allowed herself to momentarily think about what the moment would be like this year, if hers was the final name called on the Miss Connecticut stage. As one can imagine, much of the past year would be running through her mind.

“I would think about all of the people that have helped me get here—my mother, my grandfather, so many others,” she said. “It would mean everything to me to make them proud and to get a chance to represent my state in the Miss America pageant.”

That chance will come on Saturday, June 18 as Nichelle and 16 other contestants from around the state compete for the Miss Connecticut crown.