Receiving a university degree is nothing compared to being crowned Miss Manawatu.
When 21-year-old winner Trudy Leslie, of Palmerston North, swished off the stage to a trail of confetti and riotous applause last night, she couldn't keep the smile off her face.
"It was more exciting than graduation, like by 10 times a millionfold," Ms Leslie said, clutching a bouquet of flowers to her midnight-blue ballgown.
The new Miss Manawatu reigned supreme over 15 other beauty contestants, winning the right to represent Manawatu at the Miss New Zealand or Miss Earth New Zealand pageant later this year.
Competition was tough, with the final challenge seeing Ms Leslie and the four other finalists faced with answering a surprise question.
Luckily "world peace," wasn't an issue, with contestants managing to answer "Who do you believe to be a great legend?" without resorting to the beauty queen cliche.
Ms Leslie, a trained nurse, took a moment under the spotlight before choosing celebrated war nurse Florence Nightingale as her hero.
"This probably sounds cheesy, but she is a woman who pioneered better health conditions, and that is a philosophy I try and live my life by. When I see someone suffering I put my foot down and try and help them."
Afterwards, Ms Leslie said she had been terrified. "The first thing that popped into my mind was Jesus, but then I thought I wouldn't know where to go with that one ... Florence Nightingale got into my head and then I managed to turn it round and make it sound relevant."
A crowd of more than 1000 packed into the Regent on Broadway, many sporting high heels and makeup to rival the girls on stage.
Contestants arrived in movie-star style, with a bright-pink stretch Hummer limousine dropping them outside the doors.
The lovely ladies were accompanied into the theatre by six trainee pilots from Ohakea Air Force Base.
Backstage at halftime, Kendall Dooley of Pilot Training Squadron 08-2 said pilots had whipped their hands into the air when asked if they wanted to help out at Miss Manawatu.
A draw had to be held to select the final six, of around 20 hopefuls and it was a sweet deal, Mr Dooley, 19, said. "We got the chicks out of the hummer and then we escorted them on the stage ... it's almost what heaven would be like."
Organiser Kate Balfour said the girls had been practising for six weeks, with a full regime of dance rehearsals and lessons on makeup, hairstyling, deportment and public speaking.
"It's gone very smoothly ... the girls have been great all helping each other out, no cattiness or anything."
Entertainment was provided by Maximum dance group dancers, with singer Louise Flynn keeping the crowd captivated during the judges' deliberations.
Nga Tawa student Lauren Pescini won the crown of Miss Teen Manawatu.
Results: Miss Manawatu: Miss Photogenic, Katie Carkeek; Miss Friendship, Amanda Dickson; Miss Potential, Sjan Giles-Oza; Miss Best in Ballgown, Jessica Galloway; second runner-up, Jessica Poynton; first runner-up, Amelia Jenkinson; winner, Trudy Leslie.
Miss Teen Manawatu: Miss Photogenic, Bryony Tyler-Whiteman; Miss Friendship, Lisa Nes; Miss Potential, Kimberly Ashcroft; Miss Best in Ballgown, Ellie Paddy; second runner-up, Ellie Paddy; first runner-up, Amy Carlyon; winner, Lauren Pescini.
- Manawatu Standard
Is this the best summer ever?Related story: Wellington sizzles in January heat