Before earning the chance to represent Colorado in the Miss America pageant next month, Shannon Patilla had to overcome adversity — including losing her father unexpectedly her freshman year in high school.
“I had to take more of a leadership role in my family,” the eldest of three children says. “My mom wasn’t expecting to be a single parent. It was hard on all of us.”
But the 2015 Colorado State University graduate persevered, relying in part on her love of music to get her through. Patilla developed a passion and talent for singing while attending middle and high school at the Denver School of the Arts.
She chose CSU partly because “it was far enough away to feel independent, but close enough to go home when I needed to,” the Denver native says. She landed a prestigious Daniels Fund scholarship that covered her tuition for four years.
When she got to Colorado State, Patilla decided she had taken her study of music as far as it could go, so she pursued an academic path related to health care instead. She started out studying sports medicine in the Department of Health and Exercise Science.
“It was a fabulous program,” Patilla says. “It was so much fun, I loved the interaction with the other students and the hands-on activities we got to do.”
But after shadowing a physician’s assistant she began to rethink her path.
“I think everyone hits this place in college where you say, ‘Am I doing what I want to do?’” Patilla explains. “I didn’t like the heavy science focus, so I switched my concentration to health promotion, and my grades improved. I was much happier. It kind of boosted my confidence. I was actually excited to graduate and not wondering what I was going to do after college.”
After graduating, she completed a corporate wellness internship at Oracle in Broomfield and served as an admissions counselor in Denver for the online Ashford University. Then she started working on a master’s degree in health care administration from CSU-Global.
Her fondest memories of CSU include singing the national anthem before basketball and volleyball games as well as going to football games — especially the 2014 Homecoming game, because she attended with her family. (Her younger brother Shawn will graduate from CSU in December with a degree in ethnic studies.)
Patilla’s fifth year of coursework for her undergraduate degree was partially funded by a scholarship awarded through her participation in the Miss Colorado program.
She had done her very first beauty pageant at age 16, and competed in a Miss CSU pageant during Homecoming in 2012. That was when Hannah Medved, who won Miss Colorado that year, inspired Patilla.
“Hannah was a warm, charismatic person who had a passion for serving her community,” she recalls. “That’s what drew me into the Miss Colorado program.”
“It was very unexpected, I felt like I’d won,” she says.
The following year she got fourth runner-up, and in 2015 third runner-up. This year was Patilla’s fourth and final year of eligibility, and she had built up an impressive record of community service, which is a big part of the Miss Colorado program. She had started volunteering at age 14, serving as a counselor at a church arts camp for underprivileged children that she herself had attended.
“I came full circle, from being a camper and seeing how much the counselors poured into it, to becoming one of those people,” Patilla says. “It was really meaningful.”
Other community service
Her community service continued at Children’s Hospital, where she volunteered in a childhood obesity prevention program and in an activity room that she says was designed to “get the patients’ minds off of why they’re in the hospital, to get them playing and being kids again.”
Since she had gone through the Miss Colorado competition three times before, she was familiar with delivering her platform speech, the interview process, the swimsuit and evening gown events, and the final judge’s question — which can be on any topic.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” Patilla says. “That, to me, was the most nerve-wracking.”
Her favorite part of the competition? The talent portion, because it allowed her to revisit her love of singing. At the June 11 competition, Patilla performed “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” in the style of Christina Aguilera from the movie Burlesque.
“I love music, and I feel like I can portray that best through singing,” she says.
The final moments
At the end, it was just Patilla and her friend Meredith Winnefeld left standing.
“They called her name as first runner-up, and I just dropped to the floor on my knees,” Patilla recalls. “I really couldn’t believe it. You always imagine it, but it’s incredible, the world just stops for a minute.”
But she didn’t start crying until she saw her mother and siblings, with whom she’d been through so much since the loss of her dad.
“I really lost it when I saw my family, and they were all crying,” Patilla says. “My floodgates just opened. They’d seen all the hard work I’d put in over the years.”
Patilla visited campus Aug. 10 to help stuff backpacks for the School is Cool program and toured the new Department of Health and Exercise Science teaching facility.
The 2016 Miss American Pageant will be held Sept. 11 in Atlantic City. For more information, visit http://missamerica.org/.