SOUTH HOLLAND | Entrepreneur, pageant contestant and college student are just three of the many ways to describe busy 2010 Thornwood High School graduate Brittany Middlebrooks.
In December, the personable 21-year-old competed in the Miss Illinois USA pageant. In the same competition in 2011, Middlebrooks won the best interview award in what was her first pageant.
"I love the camaraderie amongst the girls and just meeting new people and the networking opportunities," Middlebrooks said. "And I think it's really great to reach out to see other girls who are doing positive things in their communities."
Now that America's National Teenager Scholarship Organization has added a National Miss division, Middlebrooks plans to compete in that pageant this spring. She described the pageant as more academic-based than a typical beauty pageant and said it will take into account academic achievements, entrepreneurial skills and community involvement.
Middlebrooks would seem to have all those bases covered.
A student at DePaul University, Middlebrooks is working toward a degree in public relations and advertising and plans to double major in hospitality with a focus on event planning.
"I hope to be the top fashion PR firm in the entire world," she said.
As she works toward that goal, Middlebrooks now earns money by selling items from her own clothing line, Bobby Soxer, at bobbysoxer.bigcartel.com.
"I love the 1930s and '50s era and so this is basically my interpretation of what a modern bobbysoxer or someone from that era would wear," she said. "So I take a lot of classic bow tie pieces and put hardware and spikes and studs and make them really cool and modern."
In order to serve her community, Middlebrooks plans to establish a program at local elementary and middle schools to help young girls deal with bullying and a lack of self-confidence.
She said those issues have deep personal meaning for her because her fraternal twin sister developed a confidence issue while growing up and being compared to Middlebrooks.
"I'm going to put together a program for young girls after school to help them build their confidence, their beauty and just strengthen them to not tear each other down, but to help each other be strong," Middlebrooks said. "I worked in the United Nations Summer Leadership Academy for two consecutive summers, so I have the appropriate contacts necessary to put this in action, so I'm really excited about it."
She has also given thought to establishing a foundation or helping out the American Heart Association, following a diagnosis last year that revealed she has hyperkinetic heart disorder, which causes palpitations of the heart.
"I hope I set a good example for young women that they don't have to be like 'Jersey Shore' or 'Teen Mom' or just an outlandish reality show," Middlebrooks said. "They can just be good people and help each other."
In addition to her grandmother, Emily May, Middlebrooks considers Klara Kocevar one of her biggest influences. Kocevar taught Middlebrooks in music and choir class at McKinley Junior High School in South Holland.
"She really taught her kids about responsibility and punctuality and just the business world," Middlebrooks said. "She tries to teach you how to be all you can be but in a very loving kind of way."
Kocevar, who has taught at the school for more than 25 years, recalls Middlebrooks as being a quiet but dependable, hard worker with strong family support.
Kocevar said Middlebrooks took part in any outreach efforts the choir did, such as performing for shut-ins.
"They were not mandatory, but she always chose to participate," Kocevar said.
Her teacher said although Middlebrooks was a pretty girl, she remained humble.
"She was accepting of everybody," Kocevar said. "She didn't have the typical cheerleader mentality."
Kocevar said it is encouraging to know her former student still remembers the lessons instilled.
"It makes me want to keep on," she said.