Here She Comes?

Junior Samira Zabian, Miss Massachusetts, will compete in the Miss America Pageant next weekend

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Samira Zebian '99, has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and as the 1997 Miss Massachusetts she's not planning to stop now.

So when she takes the stage for the Miss America Pageant talent competition on Sept. 13, rather than showcase the jazz and tap styles in which she is most experienced, Zebian will perform a traditional Irish step dance. But Zebian, who is of Lebanese descent, does not feel that showcasing Celtic culture is beyond her ken.

"Dance is universal and inside me there's a redhead with freckles trying to get out," quipped Zebian, who was inspired by "Riverdance" to take up step-dancing.

There is much about Zebian which defies pigeonholing. The 20-year-old Westfield junior could easily be typecast as an NBA cheerleader, but Zebian, who envisions a career in sports management, would rather run her own basketball team from the executive suite. She has compiled a 3.4 grade point average while pursuing a double major in biology and economics.

It's little wonder Zebian has no use for beauty queen stereotypes.

"A lot of people think many pageant contestants are bubbleheads," said Zebian. "That really bothers me, because if you look at the resumes of all the contestants going to Miss America, they are dean's list students, they are graduates, they are going on to even higher education.
Samira Zebian poses with her Miss Massachusetts crown. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

"These are girls who really are determined, incredibly intelligent and well-spoken, who are doing things in this community that so many people who criticize them aren't doing," she said.

When not cracking the books, Zebian is pumping iron at the gym, where she spends two hours a day keeping in shape for dancing. She is currently director of the Boston College Dance Ensemble, which stages shows at Robsham Theater in fall and spring, and last year she co-captained the dance squad of the BC Marching Band.

Since topping a field of 20 to win the Miss Massachusetts title at the state pageant in New Bedford in June, her schedule has grown a good deal busier. In ceremonial coronet and ribbon, she will preside at ribbon-cuttings and fairs across the state.

Meanwhile, Zebian has adopted the anti-smoking platform as her official cause as Miss Massachusetts, and will work with the American Lung Association on fund-raising and other projects while speaking to schoolchildren on the dangers of tobacco.

"I've always been involved in community," she said. "This will be my greatest opportunity to go out and speak across the commonwealth about something that I think is very important and that is affecting people who choose not to smoke as well as those who do. I think it's very important to educate people, to try to make them understand the ramifications of tobacco use."

Winning the title has been rewarding in more than just publicity. For taking the state crown, Zebian won $8,000, plus another $1,500 for winning the talent and interview competitions during the pageant preliminaries. She will receive another $3,000 for appearing in the national pageant in Atlantic City.

The winner of the Miss America pageant receives a $40,000 scholarship, and usually earns about $200,000 by the end of a busy year of appearances. Although Zebian would certainly relish those rewards, she is realistic about her chances of winning the Miss America crown, which has yet to go to a contestant from Massachusetts. Her goal is "to make the top 10."

But win or lose, she said, she will value the experience.

"This is the epitome of my competition career," said Zebian. "It's something that I've worked for for a very long time - maybe not necessarily the Miss America Pageant, but to succeed in dance and to really make a difference in the community."

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