Meet Miss UNA 2022: Claire Hendrickson

Audrey Johnson, Staff Writer

Claire Hendrickson wakes up promptly at 8 a.m. in Appleby West Hall. For breakfast, she makes coffee in her Keurig and eats a Walmart
waffle with sugar. There is no sparkly crown pinned to her head or sash draped across her shoulder. After her coffee/waffle combo, Hendrickson will brush her teeth and pop in her Invisalign before a day of defining what it means to be Miss UNA 2022: real.

Hendrickson is a sophomore pursuing a degree in Mass Communication with a concentration in journalism and digital media. She hopes one day to work as a field reporter then eventually a news anchor. After class, she rehearses with the ROAR–UNA’s dance team and works as a pre-ballet teacher at Allegro Dance and Fitness. Also on her daily calendar, she appears as Miss UNA for events like riding in the Florence Christmas Parade and most recently celebrating the unveiling of UNA’s Year of the Woman mural on Founder’s Day.

“The Miss America Organization has really refocused to think about what we are doing to make a difference,” said Hendrickson. “It’s not, ‘look at this pretty face.’ It’s more about what we are doing to make an impact as opposed to looks.”

The Miss America Organization (MAO) celebrated its centennial birthday in December. Emma Broyles, Miss Alaska, was crowned Miss America. Miss Alabama, Lauren Bradford, won first runner-up. Since the elimination of swimsuit in 2019, MAO has transitioned from a pageant to a competition, and the Miss UNA competition follows these rules. Talent now counts for 35% of a candidates’ score, as well as 35% for the private interview, 15% on-stage interview/social impact pitch and 15% red carpet.

Hendrickson began her year of service as Miss UNA on Nov. 19, 2021 when she was crowned in Norton Auditorium. She performed a jazz dance to “You Can’t Stop the Beat’’ from “Hairspray” and promoted her social impact initiative, Check On Your Friends Before They Check Out, raises awareness for risk factors and warning signs of suicide.

“I really didn’t expect to win at all,” Hendrickson said. “I expected to do Miss UNA for the next three years.”

Before the competition, she travelled to The Clothes Tree in Birmingham– basically, the Mecca of dress stores; The Clothes Tree has dressed Miss Alabama for 22 years–to find a dress she could wear for her three years of Miss UNA competitions.

“I bought [the dress] and the lady said, ‘it’s white so you can wear it at Miss Alabama,’” Hendrickson said. “In my head, I was like ‘yeah, right. I’m never gonna get to do that.’ But here we are.”

At Miss UNA, Senior Cheyenne Johnson was named first runner-up. Junior Aleya Gilley was named second runner-up and received the Outstanding Service Award. Sophomore Sydney Medley was named third runner-up, and junior Laurel Ann Butz was named Miss Congeniality.

“I was really nervous that no one would cheer for me since I’m not in a sorority,” Hendrickson said. “But during my evening gown walk I heard my mom yell ‘we love you Claire!’ and I remembered I didn’t need anyone else to cheer for me as long as I had my family. It was a special moment for sure.”

Hendrickson graduated from Jacksonville High School in Jacksonville, Alabama. There, she developed her passion for dance and took her love for performance to the next level. She added acting and singing to her list of talents and starred in various musicals. Her favorite role she played was Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”

Her experience on stage helped her transition to pageants. In high school, she competed in Miss Jacksonville High School and Miss Relay for Life. Though she never won these crowns, she was voted audience favorite in 2015 and was crowned Homecoming Queen in 2019.

Also at JHS, Hendrickson served as president of the school’s FOCUS program. The Alabama FOCUS program was founded in Jacksonville City Schools in 1997 to prevent risky behavior in students like drinking and driving, drug use and suicide.

FOCUS provided Hendrickson with the knowledge and training to develop her social impact initiative: Check On Your Friends Before They Check Out.

“My main goal is to encourage and empower people to check on others without fear of overstepping into their lives,” Hendrickson said. “I want people to have the knowledge to know the warning signs and risk factors of suicide because a lot of people don’t really know. If you have a really happy friend, they may not actually be really happy.”

Hendrickson hopes her initiative will make a positive change in people’s lives and generate open conversations between friends about mental health.

“It’s definitely a moment where you have the power to check in and change their life as opposed to just sitting back and saying ‘hey, it’s not my place to step in.’” With service as her primary focus, Hendrickson wants people to know Miss UNA is more than just a sparkly crown.

“It is so much more than that,” Hendrickson said. “Miss UNA and any ‘Miss’ title is about connecting with people and making an impact, making a difference–it’s working on your social impact initiative. It’s so much more than just looking pretty.”

Hendrickson will compete for the title of Miss Alabama 2022 this summer. And though she doesn’t expect to win, she’s seen how that mindset has turned out before.