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Marra Aurand is the kind of girl who can walk a runway in a gown and heels one day and the next put you in a headlock so well-executed it would make Stone Cold Steve Austin weep with pride. She can wrangle a wayward farm animal in no time, yet put a professional cheerleader to shame with her team spirit and perkiness. “I have the best of both worlds, I always like to say.”
Aurand is a junior from Mount Union, Pennsylvania. She grew up on a farm with her parents and younger sister. A bubbly, outgoing, and confident child, she carried those personality traits with her through high school and into college, where they have served her quite well. Even her love of pageantry is helping propel her toward a successful professional career.
“When I was little, I always drew myself as a stick figure with a crown. And I would say, ‘as soon as I turn 16, I’m running for Fair Queen!’” As a farm kid, Aurand would spend a week every summer camping out at the Huntingdon County Fairgrounds with her family, showing their animals. She loved the glitz and spotlight that came with being named queen, and true to her childhood word, she did run when she reached 16, in 2010. “All of the other contestants were 20 and 21, and I went in as the little one, but I pulled it off. It was my first time, and I won.” Part of her responsibility as Fair Queen was to promote the county fair and agriculture. As such, she spent some with former Secretary of Agriculture, Sam Hayes Jr., who was on the Penn State Board of Trustees. Hayes brought Aurand to Penn State Altoona and gave her a personal tour of the campus and the communications studio in downtown Altoona. “As soon as I saw that studio, this was the only school I applied to. When I was accepted, I decided I wanted to stay all four years, and I don’t regret that one bit.” Aurand says had she gone elsewhere to study or transferred to University Park after two years, there is no way she could have been as involved as she is here. “Here I have my feet in the waters of everything, just the way I like.”
Even with all of her activities and commitments at school, Aurand hasn’t let her pageant dreams fade. When she was Fair Queen, she went to the state convention for Pennsylvania Fair Queen, where she met a girl who was in the Miss America system. Aurand was fascinated and wanted to learn more about it. She discovered that a preliminary competition to being crowned Miss America was going to be held in Lewistown that year, close to her home. “I said, ‘why not, I’ll give it a shot.” Indeed, she gave it a great shot, placing just behind the girl who would go on to win Miss Pennsylvania then compete for Miss America. “It was very cool and so much fun. I loved it. From there, I kept following the pageant system. It’s not what people think. Those girls are so smart, and the scholarship program is amazing.” Aurand continued for about two years, then took a year off, but is now back in the circuit, fully committed and setting her sights high.
Aurand currently holds the title of Miss Altoona having been crowned last June and will compete at Miss Pennsylvania International in March 2015. She has been using her time as Miss Altoona to promote herself locally and in the surrounding counties. “I’ve been doing different events like speaking to elementary school kids, working with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I was able to throw out the first pitch at one of the Altoona Curve baseball games. I’ve also done some celebrity cow milking,” she laughs. “It’s good to do all of this to become visible and known, so when I step on stage for the upcoming pageant, I’ll have a good resume to show.”
Aurand follows the International pageant system, developed about twenty-seven years ago, and open to women around the world. Created to have “higher standards than other pageant systems,” Aurand was drawn to the community service emphasis of the program as well as being able to choose and promote a platform. Hers is raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Aurand says a lot of contestants like the evening gown portion of a pageant, but she prefers the interview section. “It is usually six to ten judges and you have about ten minutes to prove yourself. They throw questions at you left and right so it’s very intimidating, but it’s taught me to think on my feet quickly.”
If she wins the pageant in March, “First of all, I’ll get a bigger crown and a rhinestone sash! But beyond that, the whole state will be mine to promote my platform. There are so many scholarship and sponsorship opportunities, too.” Aurand would also move on to the Miss International competition in Florida.
One of the best things Aurand gets out of pageantry is being looked up to by little girls. “When a little girl looks at me in my crown, it just melts my heart. I love interacting with them, letting them wear my crown, and making them feel like princesses. That makes it all worth it.”
Somehow amongst all of the pageant glitter, Aurand is keeping up with her school work and long list of campus activities. She’s the president of Penn State Altoona’s Campus Activities Board, an orientation leader captain, a Lion Ambassador, Homecoming committee member (it’s fitting that she was named Penn State Altoona Homecoming Queen in October), belongs to Alpha Sigma Tau, and is part of the student affiliate wrestling club at University Park. She also holds down a part-time job. “I hate not being busy. I have to be busy twenty-four-seven. Besides, I want to make the most of my time at college. I won’t have the chance to do it again, so I might as well do it big now.”
Aurand is especially pleased with her position in the wrestling club. “I’m obsessed with wrestling. I grew up around it. My dad referees it, and all of my cousins in my family wrestled.” Desperate to be a part of the University Park wrestling organization, she emailed the director when she began classes as a first year student. “I just wrote that I go to Penn State Altoona, but I love wrestling and have been a faithful season ticket holder, is there a way I can get involved. The director loved my dedication and passion and offered me a spot right away.” During the off-season, Aurand travels to State College every other Tuesday to work on promotions for the season and help build the student-section. During the season, the club attends the matches, leads cheers, runs the clock, and keep stats. “The team is four-time champions, so more people are starting to notice the team and us as a club. It’s just so much fun.”
Aurand says sometimes it all does become stressful but firmly believes it’s worth it. “Everything I’ve done, everything I’m involved in, is going to set me apart and really help get my name out there in the professional world.” She is already on track to graduate a semester early in December 2015 and took it upon herself to arrange an interview for a summer internship at ESPN, where she would someday love to work as a sports reporter. “I’m so ready to start my career. I’ve definitely grown as a person in college. I’ve always been outgoing but Penn State Altoona has helped me step even further out of my comfort zone.”
What matters perhaps most to Aurand is how happy she’s making her parents. “The most rewarding thing is calling home and telling my mom and dad what I’ve been doing. They are so proud of me. My mom brags about me all the time and that’s a good feeling.” She’s also pleased to leave a legacy at the college. “I like knowing that I’m making an impact and that people are going to compare others to me in future years, like ‘look what Marra did, look what she accomplished and brought to the table.’ I think that will be very gratifying.”