Hattiesburg native Vivian O’Neal has begun her role as Miss Mississippi after receiving the crown on Saturday night.
O’Neal explained during an interview on MidDays with Gerard Gibert that this year was her fifth time competing for the title of Miss Mississippi.
“I’ve been involved in this organization for a really long time and last year I had decided ‘You know what? I’m going to be done, it’s time to move on, start my career,'” O’Neal said. “There were so many different areas of my life where things had fallen into place that pointed to competing again and I just felt a really strong tug on my heart to come back and compete one more time.”
Formerly Miss Pine Belt, O’Neal was awarded the crown and title following a high-ranking score from the judges during the preliminary rounds and after being named the winner of the Quality of Life portion of the competition.
The Quality of Life award is given to the competitor that best demonstrates leadership while serving her community, with O’Neal receiving the scholarship funding for her work in the nonprofit organization CapABLE.
Founded in 2019, CapABLE gives educators across the state access to disability inclusion resources aimed at helping bridge the gap between students with disabilities and students without.
“I had a very unique lens through which I’ve viewed students with disabilities and I kind of had an inside look on the struggles and disparities within the public school system that the students face through my little brother’s experience with a very rare form of muscular dystrophy called nemaline myopathy,” O’Neal said.
Since then, O’Neal has expanded the organization to reach over 20,000 students located in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and North Carolina while obtaining her master’s degree at the University of Southern Mississippi.
During last year’s Miss Mississippi competition, the Southern Mississippi alumna was named second alternative for the crown during her time as Miss Hattiesburg. Prior to that, O’Neal had finished as first runner-up in 2021 while competing as Miss University of Southern Mississippi.
Now, O’Neal has begun fulfilling the duties of Miss Mississippi after taking the torch from last year’s titleholder, Emmie Perkins.
“Emmie Perkins is also a Hattiesburg native as well and I’m from Hattiesburg, so I’ve known Emmie for a long time,” O’Neal added. “Mary Margaret Hyer is a former Miss Mississippi and she’s from Hattiesburg as well. All three of us were involved in show choir in some way whenever we were in high school, so a lot of commonalities there.”
O’Neal will represent the Magnolia State in next year’s Miss America competition in hopes that she will bring the winning title home for the fifth time in Mississippi history.