The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Q&A with Miss Illinois United States Aaliyah Kissick


Aaliyah Kissick, senior in ACES, placed top 10 in the Miss United States pageant, which took place in Memphis, Tennesse from Oct. 26-31.

At the pageant, she was the state representative for Illinois, since she was awarded the title of Miss Illinois in July. 

Growing up in the small town of Athens, Illinois, Kissick has been doing beauty pageants her entire life, along with modeling, acting and becoming a veteran of the Illinois Army National Guard.

With her title, she is focusing on promoting her platform of financial literacy and is planning to try to visit every county in Illinois to make a difference over the next six months.   

The Daily Illini sat down with Kissick to ask her about her pageantry experience. 

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  


The Daily Illini: What does the Miss Illinois United States title mean?   

Kissick: Miss Illinois United States is a beauty pageant, but it’s also celebrating the fact that we go out in the community and we make a difference with our chosen platform. What I really love about Miss Illinois United States is they allow us to choose our own platform, and they help us promote it. 


DI: What happened at the beauty pageant?  

Kissick: The pageant consists of four different parts. There is your interview, where you have three minutes to basically give an elevator pitch of who you are, why the pageant system should choose you as the representative, what you represent and why.  

The next part of the competition is swimwear. As a size 12 individual, I used to be very insecure about swimwear. I am a veteran of the Illinois Army National Guard, but even at my best shape, I never had a flat stomach. So I could be working out seven days a week. I could be running five miles a day. Still never had a flat stomach. This year, I really think it was my way to show that I am still in shape. I am still considered a contender for a title, even though I don’t have that size two figure that has traditionally been associated with beauty pageants. But for me, it was liberating to be able to compete and place at the top 10. 

After swimwear, we have the formal gown, which is used to demonstrate grace and poise. Mostly, it’s about showing your confidence on stage. You also get to show a lot of your personality in the dress that you choose, and that means something to the judges as well.

The fourth aspect of the judging for the pageant is platform advocacy. I chose financial literacy, and then every woman who competed had their own platform. 


DI: How do you feel right before you’re about to go on stage for each event? 

Kissick: I’m so nervous. I want to bring this back to being a soldier, actually. 

One of the scariest things that I did in basic training, which is like the process of becoming a soldier, I had to rappel down a 40-foot tower. 

So this was about two years ago, I was going through basic training, and I was so scared. I thought I was going to die because I didn’t think I had the strength to get down 40 feet.

You feel scared before you do things like this. It’s part of doing scary things. You never get past the fear. You just learn how to overcome it. So even if you’ve done this type of stuff every day, like, these people were combat veterans who are teaching us, you see the fear, you acknowledge the fear and then you push past it.  

So I don’t want anyone to think that I’m not scared of doing things like this, getting in front of so many people and putting myself out there, it is so scary, but you just learn how to say yes rather than pretending like it doesn’t exist. If you pretend like it doesn’t exist, you won’t do well. You’ll do something crazy. You’ll do something completely different than you practiced and look kind of silly.


DI: How do you feel when you’re on stage?   

Kissick: It is one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I competed for my first pageant when I was 5, and I fell in love with it; that’s why I keep doing it. And what I really like about it too is that I think for me, pageantry is a way to connect with some of my past selves. 

When I was 5, I picked out a black dress to wear in this pageant. And then even now as an adult, I just keep going gravitating back to that black dress. There’s a certain image that I’ve had in my head since I was a little girl, and it’s so fun to see myself actually self-actualizing that now that I’m a woman.

Long story short, there’s a lot more that goes into it than just vanity. It’s about showing your personality. It’s about showing who you are. And yes, it’s a competition, but aside from that, I’ve gotten more out of it than just competing on a stage. Every day I try to embody, “She’s beauty and she’s grace, she’s Miss United States.” So I tried to embody that every day. It’s more than just competing onstage.  


DI: Can you tell me more about your platform of financial literacy? 

Kissick: Financial literacy is the ability to earn, spend, save and invest in a way that aligns with one’s goals. It requires knowledge about the institutions and intermediaries that one uses in order to obtain cash or spend cash. 

It also requires information about the business and the government. There are so many different aspects of financial literacy that you can get into, but earn, spend, save, invest — those are the parts that everyone should have a working knowledge about. 

Recently, there was a mandate passed to require financial literacy education in ages K-12; that mandate goes unfunded, though. And so part of what I do is advocating for the funding of the mandate, balancing the budget in a way that allows for schools to properly teach this because what’s happening right now is consumer economics is being used in order to squeeze financial literacy into it. It’s such a big subject, it either needs a class of its own or it needs proper funding in order to condense it.

Another initiative that I think should happen is financial literacy should also be taught, mandated at the collegiate level. We have so many electives that, while enriching, don’t really have a practical application to students.

I think that financial literacy is something that all students require, especially because many of us take on student debt in order to get here, proper knowledge about debt management and the ways that we can help to prevent that student loan crisis that we have. 


DI: How did you prepare and practice for the pageant?  

Kissick: Oh goodness, I had so many things. So I had a fitness coach and then I worked with an interview and speech coach. I watched a lot of YouTube videos too because not everything has to be something that you learn from an individual. I practiced interviews with my friends. My family is also super supportive and they practice with me too. I was my own stylist. I was sponsored by a few different small businesses in the Central Illinois area who helped me prepare, and then a lot of it is just going through and, like, calling people to try to get the sponsorships. 

As far as preparing for my platform, I just have a day where I sat down, I wrote down my goals. I have a 40-page platform plan. And the scary thing about that, though, is you have to condense 40 pages into, like, one minute to tell the judges what you’re doing. 


DI: You also manage your own business, AK Boutique, can you describe more about that?  

Kissick: It was summer 2017, and I love thrifting and this was actually before the thrifting boom happened in, like, 2019, 2020. I love thrifting and I realized that I wanted to be a stylist, and so I put those two things together and I created a curated collection of thrifted clothing. And I called AK Boutique after my name because it was my thing, I curated. I started off in my mom’s garage, and that was my little summer break project. 

I would go out in the garage. I would open it up every day at noon and I was a shop owner. And so I had a little cash box and I had a paper sign that I would hold up on the road until someone came in. 

Then eventually I start listing things on Facebook and people are actually buying things off Facebook Marketplace. So I make, like, $100 from it, and my mom’s like, “This is actually going to go somewhere. It’s not just a little random thing that she’s doing.”

I started doing pop-ups around Central Illinois, started making more money every single time I went. My main goal was keeping costs down but making up for an experience. 

So I built the business. I had my first brick-and-mortar when I was 17 in Athens. It was super small. But I had that vision from the beginning from the garage, and I worked my way up every time I made a profit and I had some surplus income, I reinvested; I made the store look a little bit nicer, reinvested; got more racks and I built my way up to having two brick-and-mortar stores.

I had one in Athens and one in Springfield. When the pandemic hit, I had to make some important decisions. And I weighed both options. I realized that going to college now would be better for me in the long run than keeping the store open. And I couldn’t do both given the pandemic. 

I realized that I could continue to list things online. I could focus on building skills that are translatable to the workplace and I was also a little bit of that risk management. But now I get to run my business. I have it online. I get to do whatever I want. I can list when I want to. I ship pretty much every day, some items.     


DI: What are some of your goals?  

Kissick: I am planning to compete on a different system moving forward. I’m a little bit nervous about it because I’ve been in the United States system for so long. But I know that there are more opportunities out there and this has been something I’ve worked for my whole life; I can maximize my abilities by competing in a different system. 

So after this year, I do plan to prepare for another pageant system; I’m very excited about that. As a financial advisor, I plan to make as many households as I can a more harmonious place aligned with their goals. 

As Miss Illinois United States specifically, I want to visit every county in the state of Illinois. I’m going to make it happen one way or another, planning that now, and then I plan to be the best graduate student that I can. So I’m gonna be studying here at the University of Illinois as a grad student.  


DI: What have you taken away from the pageantry process in a summary-type manner?   

Kissick: What I’ve taken away is that I am so thankful to contribute to making this world that I’ve loved from a young age, a more inclusive and diverse environment. Being a nontraditional pageant queen and still placing well is something that means a lot to me. I’ve also loved seeing the amount of intelligence and philanthropy that’s going on in this industry now. I love the glitz and glamor, but I love that it means something too. We’re doing this for purpose, we’re driving attention to things that need to change in the world.  


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