Audrey Whisman ’27 brings passion for pageantry and public service to Gettysburg College

Audrey Whisman ’27 sings “Defying Gravity”
Audrey Whisman ’27 sings “Defying Gravity” at the Miss Teen Volunteer America pageant this past March.

At Gettysburg College, students discover their passions and careers through its unique approach to a liberal arts and sciences education. Arriving as Miss District of Columbia Teen Volunteer and later crowned Miss Harrisburg this April, Audrey Whisman ’27 approached her first year on campus with purpose. The psychology and sociology double major, who also minors in Spanish and educational studies, expanded her experiences through the Gettysburg Approach, building upon her ongoing community service initiatives and passion for pageantry.

Inspired by her tap teacher, who was a former Miss Lancaster County honoree, Whisman signed up for her first pageant in middle school. The Manheim Township High School graduate won Miss Greater Reading Outstanding Teen in 2022 and Miss York County Teen in 2023, two recognitions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition to her honors this year, she finished in the top 16 for the Miss Teen Volunteer America pageant.

Whisman’s success on the pageantry circuit comes despite dealing with an anxiety disorder called selective mutism, which causes one to be nonverbal in stressful social situations. Diagnosed in fifth grade, Whisman never spoke in class and struggled to fit in with her classmates. With the help of treatment and support from the pageant community, Whisman overcame selective mutism and now aims to share her story with others suffering from similar disorders.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much pageantry helps with confidence,” said Whisman. “When I first started pageants, I would get on and off that stage as quickly as possible. Especially in fifth grade, I couldn’t answer a question in class if someone called. Now I can get on stage, sing, and speak in front of thousands of people or on national broadcasts.”

Audrey Whisman ’27 walking on stage
Pageantry helped Whisman overcome selective mutism and she uses her platform to help children overcome similar obstacles.

Pageantry has allowed Whisman to serve local communities, including as part of the S.E.R.V.E. Initiative, centered around scholarship, education, and volunteerism. Through her program, Bold and Brave, Whisman has visited more than 2,500 children at hundreds of elementary schools, where she reads books or sings with the students. Her goal is to empower children to move beyond the labels others ascribe to them, just as she was able to do in her journey to overcome selective mutism.

Her work on the S.E.R.V.E. Initiative inspired Whisman’s Celebration of Academic First-Year Engagement (CAFE) Symposium project, “Selective Mutism in the Classroom,” for which she created a guidebook and curriculum for educators to support students with selective mutism. Most students show symptoms in schools, but teachers may not know how to identify and support them. Showing teachers how to identify selective mutism can get students the help they need, according to Whisman.

“I was passionate about helping people when they came up to me, but I was scared to share that story. I realized, however, that sharing my story helps other people realize they have selective mutism themselves, so I really wanted to advocate for it with the CAFE Symposium,” said Whisman.

Audrey Whisman ’27
Whisman was nominated for the Woman of Distinction award during her first year at Gettysburg.

Whisman’s impact has expanded beyond the classroom, engaging with the Gettysburg community through co-curricular activities. Through the Center for Public Service, Whisman has volunteered with Vida Charter School to tutor and assist students with their learning. She is also the vice president of the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, enabling her to lead many different community service activities. One of the fraternity’s more recent projects involved writing more than 100 love letters for children struggling with cancer at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Since winning her first crown as Miss Greater Reading in 2022, Whisman has documented her pageant journey on social media and guest-starred on shows and podcasts, sharing her story and empowering others. In January, ABC27 interviewed her for a PA Live! segment to promote her work with Bold and Brave. Watching her sing and joke with the program’s anchors during the interview, viewers can see an individual whose pageantry experience has shaped her self-confidence.

After the spring semester ends, Whisman will head off to compete for the title of Miss Pennsylvania in June, and in the fall, she’ll return to campus and continue her studies toward becoming a clinical psychologist. Guided by the Gettysburg Approach, she will apply the breadth and depth of knowledge and enduring skills gained at Gettysburg to help with this career goal. Without the support of her family and those at the treatment center assisting her in overcoming her disorder and improving her communication skills, such an intensive courseload would not have been possible.

“It was really hard in elementary school, and my family didn’t know if I would be able to graduate—and now I’m at Gettysburg College double-majoring. I like to use that to inspire other kids when I go to their schools. I didn’t know if I was going to graduate, and now I’m here. If you really work hard, you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Learn how the Gettysburg Approach helps students build enduring skills such as communication to support their curricular and co-curricular activities.

By Katie Lauriello ’25
Photos provided by Audrey Whisman ’27
Posted: 05/22/24

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