Pamplin’s Own Miss Virginia Represented Community Well

Published 12:45 pm Tuesday, June 23, 2015

She came within an eyelash of winning the Miss America crown, and some, especially here, would argue, quite well, that she was the clear winner that September night, her operatic voice reverberating on TVs all across America with Parla Piu Piano (in Italian, nonetheless!).

Courtney Garrett, Miss Virginia, has represented her state and community with dignity, distinction and passion this past year. This month, her reign officially comes to an end as a new Miss Virginia will be crowned.

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Garrett, the daughter of Steven and Prince Edward Elementary School Assistant Principal Jeanine Garrett, shared her story with the Prince Edward County High School Class of 2015 as the featured graduation speaker, only five years removed from walking across the same stage to receive her own diploma. She has earned a communications degree from Liberty University and has garnered multiple awards and recognitions. And, yes, she was the first runner-up in the Miss America pageant that magical night.

Hers is a story of how the little girl from Pamplin in rural Prince Edward dreamed big and persevered to win the Miss Virginia crown. Pamplin, on the line separating Appomattox and Prince Edward counties, with a listed population of 220, is not a metropolis by any stretch, and Garrett, with her support team, indeed proved that someone with big dreams from a small community could succeed.

She is a special young woman who will be remembered as one of Prince Edward County High School’s most famous graduates.

It is, however, her platform that could have an impact long after the glitter from the crown has faded. Her focus really hasn’t changed since she was the first runner-up in Miss Virginia 2011. Her platform then, which grew from having a handicapped brother, was C.A.R.E., or Communication and Respect for Everyone. It focused on promoting understanding and awareness. This year, it focused on defying disabilities.

It is a resonating theme, and one that comes through personal experience. Garrett’s 18-year-old brother, Austin, a member of the Class of 2015, was born with a pneumothorax (small hole in his lung). Austin suffered an extensive loss of oxygen, and his brain was damaged.

God, Garrett would tell graduates, wasn’t finished with Austin. He had bigger plans.

Austin had developmental delays after being diagnosed with cerebral palsy and autism. Still, Garrett reflected that it was a “blessing God chose our family to give this very special angel to. I am the person I am today because of the things Austin has taught me. And one of the things is to be determined.”

Austin, with a little help from his big sis, was able to walk across the stage and pick up his diploma.

Every life impacts others.

Austin didn’t physically stand on the Miss America stage as 10 million viewers looked on last September, but his life touched his older sister.

“They said he’d be a vegetable, he’d never walk, he’d never talk, he wouldn’t amount to anything … Boy, were they wrong,” Garrett told the Class of 2015. “Austin not only walks, he runs in Special Olympics events each year. He very clearly communicates what he does and does not want on a daily basis, and he is anything but a vegetable. He didn’t give up.”

Garrett didn’t give up, either. As her brother inspired her, let us be inspired by her words, to respect and to reach out to those with disabilities.

And to not give up.

Rob Chapman is a staff writer for The Farmville Herald. His email address is