Reigning Miss Montana Maddie Murray walked into St. Matthew’s Catholic School gym on Friday, her crown twinkling in the light.
She stood before a row of large colorful boxes topped with ribbon as kindergarten and fourth-grade students filed in, waving and smiling at Murray before taking a seat on the bleachers.
Murray, 19, of Corvallis has been visiting Flathead Valley schools over the past few weeks speaking on her platform, “Gift Your Gift of Service.”
“This entire year is not about the crown, or the dresses, it actually is all about going around and helping other people,” Murray said.
The year of service for Murray includes speaking at schools, volunteering with different organizations and being an ambassador for Shodair Children’s Hospital.
At St. Matthew’s, Murray turned on a short video to show how one simple gesture helping someone in need leads to a chain of people “paying it forward. Each person helped, helps someone else until everything comes to a full circle.
“One way we can help others is by using our talents and gifts.
“We all have a bunch of different talents and a bunch of different gifts. And those gifts and talents are completely unique to us,” Murray said, noting that not everyone can be perfect at everything.
With students expectantly waiting to discover what the colorful boxes contained, Murray asked them to raise their hands if they were good at math, science, art, music and sports. She then selected students and a teacher to stand behind each box. For the last box, she asked a student to nominate a classmate who is nice.
“Being really nice or being really kind to people is also something we can be good at,” Murray said.
The group was then given the choice to either gift the box to a classmate or keep it.
“I want you to open up the box and give whatever is inside the box to them,” Murray said. “Or, if you keep your box [that] means you’re going to stay here.”
The choice was tempting. Some students immediately picked up the boxes and handed them over to classmates. A couple of students lingered behind. Eventually, all but one person gave the boxes away.
Lining back up in front of the bleachers, the students placed the now empty boxes back on the floor. Murray then replaced each one with a new box — except the one that wasn’t given away. She asked the group to open them and hold up what was inside.
Pulling back the lids, each student reached inside and held up bracelets.
The teacher, who didn’t give her box away, pulled out tissue paper, tossing it aside, but found nothing inside.
“Does anybody know why? Because she didn’t give her gift,” Murray said, explaining that she had earlier instructed the teacher not to gift the box, so she could illustrate her message that everyone can benefit from giving.
“So everyone who gave their gift away got something back,” Murray said.
Later in her talk, Murray explained, “It’s really important to take care of ourselves and do things that make us happy, but we can do that at the same exact time while helping people.”
Murray also talked about dreams and goals.
“Now raise your hand if have a dream or a goal. All of us, right?” Murray said.
After sustaining a severe sports injury and undergoing surgery, Murray, who was a track athlete, learned she wouldn’t be able to run very well again and was given advice to pursue other interests, which she did.
“Then one summer I decided I was going to take medical mission trips to Nicaragua,” she said.
Between the medical mission trip and an interest in science, Murray set a goal to pursue a career in medicine.
Going into the medical field meant she needed to fund college, which she could do by earning scholarships.
“I realized a new dream to become Miss Montana,” she said.
Yet it didn’t happen on the first try, the second, or the third.
“I worked really hard at something and it didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I could have given up,” she said. She had come close, finishing in second twice.
“I still wanted to become a doctor, still wanted to get money for school, still wanted to become Miss Montana.”
Finally in June she was crowned Miss Montana and competed in the Miss America competition on Sept. 10.
She is now a sophomore at Gonzaga University majoring in human physiology with the goal of becoming a physician assistant.
Murray closed her presentation with two reminders.
“I want you guys to remember, number one — always gift your gift,” she said.
“The other thing I want you to remember is to always be nice to each other because sometimes we’re having kind of a sad day. Sometimes we’re having a really good day and we don’t know if our friends, or the people around us, are having a good day or a bad day. We need to remember that no matter what, we should be nice to each other,” she said.
Third-grader Gracie Odon summed up her favorite thing about Murray’s talk.
“Her kindness,” Odon said.
For more information on how to compete in the Miss Montana Scholarship Program visit www.missmontana.com. The deadline to apply to be a contestant is March 1.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.