Highs and lows of past year help Vancouver teen gain perspective


Skyview High School’s Payton May has had quite a year since being named Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2020

VANCOUVER — The past year has provided Payton May the impetus to form a myriad of feelings, emotions and insights about her own young life, future and the lives of others. The Vancouver teen has experienced incredible highs during the past 10 months, followed by some difficult lows. Throughout it all, she’s persevered and done so with a fresh outlook on life.

Skyview High School’s Payton May was named Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2020 last summer but her reign, and senior year at Skyview High School, were deeply impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Mike Schultz
Skyview High School’s Payton May was named Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2020 last summer but her reign, and senior year at Skyview High School, were deeply impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Mike Schultz

“I honestly think it’s given me a whole new perspective that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life,’’ said the soon-to-be Skyview High School graduate, who like all Clark County students, has been impacted by the state closure of schools. “It’s so rare that we’re ever given time to just slow down and be with our thoughts. So, this three-month break, as unwelcome as it was, really allowed me to understand my goals and desires and how I can constantly strive to be a better individual and role model.’’

Last July, May was named Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2020 (MAOT) at a competition held in Orlando, Florida. Her year-long reign includes much more than just the acquisition of a title. There are responsibilities, opportunities, and expectations. She took several trips and made appearances all over the country as well as locally, right here in Clark County.

Vancouver’s Payton May is shown here shortly after being crowned Miss America’s Outstanding Teen at a competition held in Orlando, Florida in July. Photo provided to ClarkCountyToday.com through social media
Vancouver’s Payton May is shown here shortly after being crowned Miss America’s Outstanding Teen at a competition held in Orlando, Florida in July. Photo provided to ClarkCountyToday.com through social media

“It’s honestly been incredible,’’ May said of the experience. “Although going to school full-time while carrying this title was a challenge, I’ve been able to do some really remarkable things this past year that I don’t think many other 18-year-olds get to experience. Being able to perform at Miss America was probably the highlight of my year thus far. My passion is singing and sharing music with others so that was such a special moment for me. I was also given the opportunity to perform in so many incredible parades and share my platform of civic engagement and voter registration with students throughout the country.’’

And, like so many other things, the global coronavirus pandemic put May’s experiences as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen on pause.

“It has pretty much brought my year to a complete halt,’’ she said. “Although I’m able to share things via Instagram or Facebook, such a huge part of being Miss America’s Outstanding Teen is making those one-on-one connections with people and getting to do service work out in the community; both things this pandemic has made virtually impossible. Roughly two weeks after everything started hitting the fan, I was supposed to head to Washington, D.C to perform in the Cherry Blossom Parade, tour the White House, and meet with my representatives, all things I was ecstatically looking towards.’’

School experiences lost

Obviously, that disappointment was doubled by the fact that not only did her reign come to an abrupt halt, but so did her senior year of high school. And, for May, that meant going from a teen whose plate was overflowing to one that was, at least at times, uncharacteristically empty.

Despite the state school closure, Payton May has continued to contribute to her school in recent months. May looks forward to a graduation ceremony planned for Aug. 14 at Kiggins Bowl. Photo by Mike Schultz
Despite the state school closure, Payton May has continued to contribute to her school in recent months. May looks forward to a graduation ceremony planned for Aug. 14 at Kiggins Bowl. Photo by Mike Schultz

“Payton has handled the last year with kindness and grace,’’ said Skyview High School Biology teacher Lindsey Hathaway. “Although Payton was very busy this fall with MAOT responsibilities, when she was in class she was constantly contributing and actively engaging in class activities and events. As a member of the varsity cheer team, she represented Skyview at sporting events and school assemblies. She was nominated for Homecoming Court, and won the title of Queen. Payton has handled this year with kindness and grace.’’

Hathaway also serves as the advisor for the Associated Student Body (ASB).

“Payton was nominated by her classmates last spring to be our Executive ASB president,’’ Hathaway said. “Shortly after, she won her title as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. After she won her title, she reached out to me and decided to step down from her president role within ASB with all of her new responsibilities, but has stayed an invaluable member of our ASB class this year. I had heard that Payton was an outstanding leader, but she has shown her leadership consistently throughout the year.’’

After the school closure, Hathaway said she interacted with May on a regular basis.

“Payton was always sure to check in with me to make sure all details were accounted for and to offer help,’’ Hathaway said. “The aspect about Payton that I have appreciated so much as an advisor is Payton’s ability to step back and look at the greater good of our school. She takes multiple perspectives into account from many student groups and will often offer new insights which make our class discussions and decisions more rich in content.

“Since school has been shut down this spring, Payton has continued to play an active role in our school leadership,’’ Hathaway added. “She has engaged in our virtual meetings and helped interview and select student leaders for next year’s class. She has also taken it upon herself to create a senior Instagram page to promote and celebrate the college and post high school plans of our graduating seniors. The instagram account (@skyviewhsseniors) currently has 73 posts and 373 followers. In addition to the Instagram, Payton has helped me type and reformat our ASB constitution, which will guide our elections and class in the years to come.’’

Skyview High School senior Payton May (left) poses with her 5-year-old niece Garrity Mattocks at the 2019 season finale of the Ridgefield Raptors. Photo by Mike Schultz
Skyview High School senior Payton May (left) poses with her 5-year-old niece Garrity Mattocks at the 2019 season finale of the Ridgefield Raptors. Photo by Mike Schultz

One of May’s deepest passions is performing live, something she had an opportunity to do with the Chamber Choir at Skyview High School.

“Payton was an amazing member of Chamber Choir at Skyview High School,’’ said Philip Denton, the choir director. “She was a social leader and brought project ideas that helped all students grow and bond together and become a better choir.  She was one of a few students selected to perform a vocal solo in the Skyview Follies! show, and she will be performing via video for Skyview’s graduation.  She is an amazing singer and I look forward to watching her make a difference wherever she goes.’’

May didn’t sugarcoat what the school closure experience has been like.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s been brutal,’’ she said. “As someone who is heavily involved at school, I’ve had to mourn the loss of my senior prom, final choir performance, club nationals, the Circle of Life assembly, senior grad party, and most of all, a real graduation. I value closure so much, so not having something to solidify the end of what has been a monumental chapter in my life has been very difficult for me.’’

What lies ahead?

May is obviously unsure of everything the future has in store for her. She is excited about Skyview’s upcoming graduation celebration and the summer.

“Although it looks different than what I imagined, I’m really planning on just cherishing these last few months I have with my family and friends,’’ May said. “Anyone who knows me knows my parents are my best friends, so leaving them is definitely going to be a challenge. As for right now, we’re spending lots of quality time together binge-watching shows and playing Scrabble. I also will be having a graduation. It’s going to be held August 14th at Kiggins Bowl with only students and staff, so I’m hopeful it will still be able to happen.’’

As far as a resumption, or extension, of her Miss America’s Outstanding Teen experience, May has no idea what will take place.

“It will definitely look a lot different because I’m heading to college next year, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to pick back up where I left off, and continue travelling the country performing and promoting my platform,’’ she said.

May had many options to select from for her collegiate experience.

“The college process was definitely a challenging one for me,’’ she said. “As someone who puts so much weight on my accomplishments and other’s perceptions of me, I struggled to figure out what I really wanted and where I would thrive. Eventually, I came to the decision to attend the University of San Diego next fall where I’ll be earning a dual degree in political science and communications on the pre-law track. The school is such a good fit for me, and I cannot wait to spend the next four years in San Diego.’’

That whole, new perspective

Due to the challenges of the past few months, May will head off to San Diego with a new perspective.

“I’ve really taken this time to reflect and evaluate what’s important to me in life,’’ she said. “As cliché as it sounds, this has really made me think about the kind of people I surround myself with, and what kind of person I want to be as I go through life.

“My friends and family have been the most remarkable people through all of this. Scheduling family Zoom calls, facetiming friends, writing letters to one another; all of it has made me feel so connected and at peace during this crazy time, and I am forever thankful for the individuals who have reached out and offered their support.“ This was something I realized recently, but I wish I would have known it so much sooner. Your life is in your own hands. If you want something, set goals and work hard until you achieve it. We so often let fear, rejection, or excuses get in the way of our dreams and what we want, but once you realize that you’re in control of your own story and you write the narrative, you’ll be unstoppable.’’

About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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