St. John To Crown Its 50th Festival Queen

Contestant #1 Jah’Vena Q. Nisbett

Contestant #2 Shante’ Monsanto-Weeks

Contestant #3 Abigail F. Hyndman

Contestant #4 Nanyamka A. Cagan

On one evening each year for nearly a half century, a St. John tradition fills the island with a bit more glitz, glamour and poise than any other night.

This year, the Festival and Cultural Organization of St. John will crown its 50th queen — giving one deserving young woman the title of Miss St. John after its sure-to-be riveting selection pageant slated for 8 p.m. Saturday, June 26, at the Winston Wells ball park.

“The first queen was elected in 1960 so this is actually the 50th queen we will be electing this year,” said Enid Doway, pageants committee chairperson.

Elsie Thomas-Trotman became the first Miss St. John in 1960, and four promising young ladies are vying to be Festival 2010’s queen.

Jah Vena Q. Nisbett of St. Thomas, a 20-year-old sophomore enrolled in the American Military University’s distance learning program, is the daughter of Karen Nisbett; Shante Monsanto-Weeks of St. Thomas, a 17-year-old soon-to-be senior at Antilles Private School, is the daughter of Phylis Jones-Monsanto and Darryl Weeks; Abigail Hyndman, a 20-year-old third year student at Xavier University of Louisiana, is the daughter of Cheryl and Elias Willie and Iran Hyndman, and Nanyamka A. Cagan of St. John, a 19-year-old recent graduate of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, is the daughter of Abigail Hendricks and Brice Cagan.

The contestants will be judged on the following six categories: introductory speech, swim wear, a combined international wear and talent segment, evening wear, impromptu question and answer and a personal interview conducted the evening before the pageant.

“This is an excellent opportunity to see these young ladies at their best,” Doway said. “They have worked really hard in preparing for the pageant and giving the audience an evening they won’t forget.”

Some of this year’s contestants have been entertaining the thought of a crown long before they filled out an application.

Cagan said she has wanted to be a part of the Miss St. John pageant since she was 16.

“I saw this as an opportunity for me to be up on the stage instead of on the sidelines,” said Cagan, explaining that her mother has been on the chaperone team for many years. “From the time I was 16, I have wanted to do this. I just wanted to wait until after I graduated so this could be my main focus. School was very important to me and I didn’t want any distractions.”

In August, Cagan will be attending the University of the Virgin Islands to study pre-med biology with an eventual goal of becoming a pediatrician.

Born and raised on St. Thomas, Hyndman said she has always felt at home on St. John and has been dreaming of participating in the Festival’s queen pageant for years.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Hyndman said. “St. John is really a second home to me — I have family who lives there, and I have been visiting St. John since I was young.”

Hyndman, a pre-med biology major, said she wants to work in healthcare and return to her native home to pursue a medical career.

“My long-term goal is to be an anesthesiologist and I want to come back home and definitely practice in the Virgin Islands,” Hyndman said.

“I think this opportunity and experience will help with my self confidence and help with my interaction and meeting new people and just enjoying Festival and the people of St. John.”

Monsanto-Weeks also believes the process of running for Miss St. John will strengthen her personal skills as well as help her to become a positive role model for young girls.

“I wanted to do this to improve my socializing skills, to learn the different types of modeling there are, and to hopefully win and be a positive influence for the rest of the community,” Monsanto-Weeks said.

Monsonto-Weeks hopes to attend the University of Georgia and pursue her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering.

“If I become an environmental engineer, I would like to help with the pollution around the world, especially with the recent oil crisis,” Monsonto-Weeks said. “I hope to help resolve these kinds of problems and prevent them from happening in the future.”

Nisbett, who is going on her second year in the Army National Guard and majoring in transportation and logistics management, said pageant training has been particularly challenging for her.

“It’s been rough coming from military training,” Nisbett said. “I am used to military marching and modeling is totally different. I have to go from walking in boots to walking in heels — and not just wearing heels, but walking gracefully in them.”

Nisbett said she is now wearing heels outside of pageant practice and is becoming more and more comfortable as the days go by.

“Since running for Miss Eudora Kean in 2006, I have wanted to do another pageant so when I heard that St. John had opened its contest to St. Thomas girls as well, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity,” Nisbett said.

Pageant contestants must be between 16- and 21-years-old, but due to a lack of St. John participants in recent years, the committee decided to include young ladies from St. Thomas — a move Doway said makes the process more about preparing young women for life than crowing a queen.

“It is not about the crown, it is about the process of grooming for the crown,” Doway said. “We would rather open it up to St. Thomas and have the girls go through the different classes and training so the contestant who receives the title is actually groomed rather than just appointed.”

The skills young women acquire during the pageant process transfer to real-world situations; for example, Doway said contestants receive professional interview training during pageant preparation which will be a tremendous benefit as they apply for future jobs.

“Honestly, this is why I like pageants so much — I can actually see the change in the young ladies from the time they submit an application to the night of the show,” Doway said. “It’s not just in the way they walk, but also the way they talk and the way they present themselves to the public.