Wonder Woman may have helped Joanna Wicks advance to the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, but the reigning Miss Delaware will rely on a higher power to help her stay calm during that competition.
Wicks, 24, speed-painted Wonder Woman as her talent when she won the Miss Delaware title in June. She will again paint Wonder Woman during her 90-second talent act in Atlantic City.
Drawing Wonder Woman seemed a perfect fit not only for Wicks, who teaches art at St. Thomas More Academy in Magnolia, but for the competition as well. “The Miss America organization [is] about empowering women and seeing women as strong individuals,” she said. “Thematically, Wonder Woman fits right in. She’s just awesome!”
But the fictional superhero won’t help Wicks beyond the talent segment during 12 days of appearances, rehearsals and competition at the pageant, which ends Sept. 9. Instead, Wicks will turn to God and her faith to “help calm me down [when] it gets really hectic.”
Her favorite scriptural passage, John 1:5, has helped her stay on task this past year as she juggled her schedule to stay up with everything. That passage goes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.”
“Last school year was my first year at St. Thomas More and I was doing the Miss Wilmington and Miss Delaware [competitions], and I was in my last year of study for teacher certification” through an alternative program to an education major in college, Wicks recalled during an interview in her art classroom. She became good friends with fellow St. Thomas More teacher Rebecca Gasperetti, who was first runner-up to Wicks in the Miss Delaware pageant. The two helped one another prepare for the contest. They also worked together on St. Thomas More’s spring production, “High School Musical,” with Gasperetti as director and Wicks as set designer.
That hectic pace continued in August as Wicks made appearances as Miss Delaware; practiced most of each day for the Miss America pageant, “whether it was mock interviews or practicing my talent.” She also packed for her trip, tended to her rescue dog, a shepherd mix named Chief, and prepared for classes at STMA which start Sept. 4. She will miss at least the first week of classes for the competition – and two additional weeks should she be crowned Miss America – so she needed to have everything ready for substitute teachers during that period.
Wicks could easily have been overwhelmed by those different pressures but relied on that Gospel passage. “No matter what you are going through, nothing should dim your light,” she said.
Her students have a stake in Wicks’ success, though she thinks some of them did not see her as potential Miss America material when she announced she was entering the Miss Wilmington competition. “I dress differently for work — I get messy every day [teaching art] — than I do for the Miss Delaware side of things. [That’s] all glamorous and evening gowns and such.”
The students sometimes helped her practice, even during class. “They would be drawing, and they’d raise their hand and say, ‘So, Miss Wicks, how do you plan to end global warming?’ They would give me interview questions all the time.”
Wicks never imagined herself as a possible Miss America while growing up in Baltimore County, Md., one of two children of Andrew and Jodi Wicks. But she knew she wanted to teach. “I’m from a family of teachers,” she said, noting that her mother teaches high school English and a grandmother teaches middle school math.
She chose art. “I love literature – my brother and I were always reading books — but art is what I get most excited about. I just fell in love with it, especially oil painting.” That led her to the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, a magnet school she attended in Towson, Md., and to the University of Delaware.
Her first taste of pageant life came as a high school senior, when she entered he Miss Maryland Teen USA competition. She also participated in the Miss Delaware USA pageant in 2014 before joining the Miss America program. The Atlantic City competition marks her fifth pageant.
She will use her status as Miss Delaware to promote awareness and prevention of domestic violence after learning of its widespread impact while minoring in women’s studies at the University of Delaware.
A common thread through Wick’s art, teaching, pageant life, and work against domestic violence is her Catholicism. Take domestic violence, where she said her work “is all about love and acceptance and respecting other people. Those are core values that you find in Catholicism and Christianity.”
While some may wonder what contests like the Miss America program have to do with faith, Wicks has met many fellow contestants willing to share their faith. Backstage at the Miss Delaware competition, she said, “a bunch of us were holding hands and praying together, praying that everyone did well.”
Her faith provided an attitude that saw her through the Miss Delaware competition, which she will use in Atlantic City.
“Throughout the whole process I was like, ‘OK, if I’m meant to be Miss Delaware, great, but if not, I know that there is something else I’m supposed to be doing,’ ” Wicks said. “So, I just went out there and tried to do my best and left the rest up to God.”