On September 22, 2001,
the life of 21-year-old Katie Harman from Gresham, Oregon changed forever. As she walked the runway to the pulsing applause of nearly 60,000 people (with 24 million more watching on television) and the wafting tune of “There she is…Miss America,” she thought of the women that had walked the same steps before her and the new path she was about to pave...especially in light of the recent September 11th attacks on America mere days before.
"Walking that famed runway on crowning night, I could not have imagined the weight of being Miss America in the wake of 9/11. Not until I was fastened in the gaze of a rescue worker at then still-smoldering ground zero, expressing with tears in his eyes how moved he was to see the pageant and how much pride it gave him to see the fabric of America untorn by terrorism. It was in that moment alone that I understood the relevance of my position resided not in the sparkles of my crown but in all that the legacy of Miss America represented: the pursuit of a better life tucked within the American dream."
Gathering for the first day of rehearsal of the 2001 Miss America Pageant on September 11, 2001, the motivation and focus of 51 state contestants changed dramatically as word was delivered that terrorists had attacked. Fear struck the hearts of each contestant—just as it had struck every American. Miss America Organization and ABC Network Television executives announced that the fate of the pageant was uncertain. Would the American people even want to see a Miss America Pageant at this horrible, unsettling time? Is the pageant still relevant? Will the contestants want to continue? Emotions ran high and worries even higher. On September 12th, executives gave the 51 contestants the chance to decide whether the pageant should continue. In a closed-door meeting, the contestants discussed the choice at hand.
After much debate, many tears, and countless thoughtful and inspiring statements, each young lady cast her anonymous yea or nay vote on a small, torn strip of yellow paper. Before tallying the votes, they agreed that no matter how each had individually voted, as a collective they would firmly stand by the final decision. After a 2:1 vote in favor of continuing with the pageant, the contestants united to participate in a Miss America Pageant and year of service unlike any before or since. Their decision was a message to the American people that our way of life is precious—especially the dreams of young people to influence our world—and cannot be destroyed by murderous acts of hate. In the first minutes of a telecast watched by over 24 million people, pageant host Tony Danza said,
“We don’t carry on to make less of what happened.
We carry on to make more of it,
and add resolve to the nation’s voice.”
After being named Miss America 2002, Katie would encounter both a heart wrenching and heartwarming firsthand look at the nation in its rise from the ashes. Some said that she went “from the runway to the rubble.” Katie’s role during her year of service had expanded from an advocate for her personal cause to a messenger of comfort and encouragement for the nation and its people. She was quickly heralded as the “Ambassador of Hope” by publications and organizations. Immediately, after having been crowned, she was taken to New York City. After media appearances, she was taken to Ground Zero, where she met with rescue workers and provided aid alongside the USO. She was then flown to Washington D.C. where she met with the First Lady in a private meeting. She then met with rescue and construction workers at the Pentagon, and later taken to meet with families of those lost in the attack on the Pentagon. After a visit to Dover Air Force Base to bid God-speed to the first troops deployed to Afghanistan (for what would become a 20-year war), Katie began a year-long tour that would take her across the nation at an astounding pace of 20,000 miles each month.
Harman connected with countless numbers of individuals: rescue workers, military officials, medical professionals, healthcare advocacy groups, legislators, patients, cancer survivors, executives, businesses, students, and media entities. Katie’s engagements included hospital visits, legislative lobbying, speaking before health care advocacy groups, several USO events, visits to military bases around the nation, Children’s Miracle Network events, Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, the Boston Pops Fourth of July Concert, Evelyn Lauder’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation Annual Benefit at the Waldorf Astoria, the Kentucky Derby, and so many, many more. Additionally, Katie appeared alongside President George W. Bush, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Quincy Jones, Art Linkletter, Senator Bob Dole, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Elton John, Diana Krawl, Angelica Houston, Kurt Warner, Donny & Marie Osmond, John Schneider and others.