It was the happy birthday toast that only Utah could provide, as Miss America's Outstanding Teen Elizabeth Fechtel spent the second day of her five-day visit to the state being serenaded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Fechtel, who hails from near Orlando, Fla., has been serving as Miss America's Outstanding Teen since she won the national title in August 2011. As MAOT, she is the face of the sister program to the Miss America scholarship pageant. MAOT was founded in 2005 to emphasize scholarship and service for girls ages 13 through 17.
For Fechtel, her involvement with pageants came as she followed in the footsteps of her younger sister, Mary Katherine. Mary Katherine, who served as Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen in 2010, passed her crown on to her older sister, who never expected to walk away from the national competition with the title.
"I went to nationals looking at it as I wanted to take what I learned from my sister and use that to really do my best," Fechtel said. "But I knew that she hadn't placed in the top 15, and that I could still have a really great experience without that. There was no pressure; it was all in God's hands."
Out of the 53 girls competing for the MAOT title, Fechtel came out on top, saying she felt as though she and her sister won the title together.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it without the advice she had given me," Fechtel said.
Since winning the national title, Fechtel has been traveling around the U.S., discussing her platform of volunteerism and acting as a spokeswoman for the Children's Miracle Network. In addition to all of this, she is also finishing up her last year in high school — something she said has been a challenge.
"There are a lot of little things I have to do throughout the day and there are things that are always on my mind," Fechtel said. "But at the same time I have the opportunity to travel a lot and meet new people, and really expand my knowledge of places and what I want to do in the future."
While Fechtel eventually plans to get a degree in telecommunications from the University of Florida, for now she's focused on promoting service. With Utah consistently ranked first in volunteerism, it's a language the state speaks well — far better, in fact, than Fechtel's home state.
"Florida is ranked 47th in volunteering, which is odd because we have more young people and more old people than anywhere else, so you'd think they'd have more time than the average adult," Fechtel said. "But for volunteering, Utah is a beautiful place to be."
As an advocate for volunteerism, Fechtel encourages teen and youth especially to find small ways to serve.
"I read a quote once to the effect of, people think that they have to donate a vast majority of their time in order to make a difference; they think that they have to do something extremely monumental, but in reality it's the little things," Fechtel said. "Hold the door open, pick the wrapper up off the floor, push your chair in and do other things like that. That's a form of volunteering in and of itself. If everyone would do those types of little things, then everyone would have more time to do the monumental things."
During her visit to Utah, Fechtel will be celebrating her 18th birthday with a party at the Provo Beach Resort on Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. The party, while celebrating her birthday, is also serving as a volunteer effort for the Children's Miracle Network. Guests are encouraged to help by donating cash, children's books or coloring books.
Acting as a spokeswoman for the Children's Miracle Network has been one of Fechtel's favorite things about winning the national title, and it's a relationship she intends to keep building for years to come.
"I didn't really understand what the Children's Miracle Network did and how much it affected kids before, because there are a lot of charities out there and they kind of all blend together," Fechtel said. "But when I actually met the kids and I heard the same story about how they didn't have to worry because they knew they were going to be taken care of at that time of need in their lives, it's truly incredible."
While this is Fechtel's second visit to Utah, this is her first visit as Miss America's Outstanding Teen. It's a position she's proud to hold, and one she encourages younger girls to aspire to.
"Miss Utah's Outstanding Teen is really one of the best run teen pageants in the nation, and it's a great way for girls to really get involved and have a voice," Fechtel said. "For anyone who feels like they have something to say, or they want to improve their speaking skills, or they want to share their talents, this program really makes you a well-rounded person … Even if you don't win, the experience you gain and the friends you make are absolutely unbelievable."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company