June 12, 2023

Miss Mississippi Vivan O’Neal looks forward to serving Mississippi

Therese Apel

New Miss Mississippi Vivian O'Neal is crowned in Vicksburg on Saturday night.

Vivian O’Neal said the shock of becoming Miss Mississippi hasn’t really set in just yet, especially as she stood on stage in Vicksburg just after the crowning, and someone told her, “You’re going to Miss America!”

She’s what she said her dad describes as “a party in a box.” She said her talent, in which she danced to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” was right up her alley.

“Really high energy,” she said. “I don’t know if you watched the production numbers, but it definitely felt like, very much my style.”

O’Neal, from Hattiesburg, has been in the Miss Mississippi Pageant now five times after starting in 2017, and on Sunday became the 65th woman to wear the crown.

There’s a lot of adjusting to being Miss Mississippi, even in the first few hours, O’Neal said. It’s everything from having a new job and answering all the phone calls down to finding the perfect cover photo for her Facebook page.

She’s a dancer at heart, she said.

“I have danced on many stages, down many aisles,” she said. “Down many Target aisles, Walmart aisles.”

A thing people don’t realize about college is that it prepares you for the real world, O’Neal said. It wasn’t just her special undergrad years at the University of Southern Mississippi, it was also the time she spent as the recruitment coordinator for her alma mater that she feels prepared her for the task that now lies before her.

O’Neal’s platform, CapABLE, helps to bridge the gaps between students with disabilities and students without, she says, and it was all inspired by her brother, Josiah, who has special needs. It started with a program for K-3, and then she was contacted by USM to create a version for grades 4-6. Then the lessons were developed to include college students.

There are so many stories, O’Neal said, about children who have been affected by the CapABLE program. The book that goes along with the program talks about students who have special powers. After reading the book at school, one child went home to tell his mother how his brother was a superhero.

The CapABLE non-profit has provided disability resources to educators and so far has reached over 20,000 students in five states.

“I’m really, really excited to serve the state of Mississippi,” she said. “At my core, I’m a Mississippi girl.”

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