Soon after 22-year-old Holly Harrar was crowned Miss Philadelphia on Saturday night, the text messages and calls started flooding in from friends and family. With no time to return them between celebrating and an early-morning television appearance, she had more than 100 unanswered messages by Sunday morning.
"I just want to tell them 'I'm sorry I haven't responded!' " Harrar, of Pottstown, said with a laugh Sunday.
Harrar, a senior communications and journalism major at Shippensburg University who will graduate in May, beat out 17 contestants at the Miss Philadelphia Pageant, held at Drexel University. She will go on to compete against dozens of women from around the state in the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant in June. The winner of that pageant would represent Pennsylvania in the Miss America Pageant, held in Atlantic City later this year.
Along with the crown, Harrar won $10,000 in scholarship money. She will spend the year making public appearances and working to raise awareness of disability-rights issues, her chosen platform as a pageant contestant.
As a child, Harrar was close with a cousin her age who suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which caused her hands to clench and made it difficult for her to write or handle objects in school.
Harrar's cousin died at 11 from complications related to her medication. Now Harrar thinks about the impact her cousin had on her classmates, who sometimes asked what was wrong with her hands. Harrar knows that her cousin was likely the first person many of them had met who struggled with a physical disability.
"I always knew she had challenges, but they never stopped her," Harrar said. "I just wanted to continue her legacy of hard work and dedication."
Harrar is also completing a minor in disability studies, through which she said she has learned about a variety of disabilities through volunteer opportunities. In the years to come, she sees herself working as either a disability-rights advocate or a broadcast journalist.
"I'd like to be here in Philadelphia, reporting for a local news station," she said.
The Miss Philadelphia Scholarship Organization started in 1921 as part of the Miss America Organization. Contestants must live, work or go to school full time in Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester, or Philadelphia Counties.